As a new parent, I recently read the book, Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp at the request of a friend. The following thoughts are a review of the book itself, and should not be seen as a reflection on the parenting techniques espoused or those parents who choose those techniques. I’ll cut right to the chase, the books main premise is that communication and “the rod” (which in this book is translated to mean spanking specifically) are the biblical form of parenting. While I currently don’t plan on using spanking as a form of discipline for my children, I’m not completely set on it one way or the other. However, I felt Tripp’s book, while containing some valuable parenting tips, was overall a poor argument for the use of spanking as the only biblical method of discipline.
First of all, I will say that there are a number of things I did appreciate about Tripp’s book. His emphasis on communication is paramount. Any parent who misses the importance of communication will struggle to really connect with their children, I think that’s obvious. But Tripp goes out and says that we’ve begun to emphasis “quality time over quantity time” and he says that this misses the importance of being around and available to our children as much as possible. I think that’s huge.
I also like one of the examples he gave as he talked about the goal being to get to the heart issue of every discipline concern. He gave the example of two kids fighting over a toy. The typical response is to figure out who had it first, or set a timer to force the kids to share, or something like that. But he points out that all of these things miss the importance of kids learning to put others before themselves and being selfless, that’s the root of the issue you could be working on. He also talks about Jesus telling us to “Love our enemies” as something we should instill in our kids and help them address things like the bully on the bus with those sorts of radical values rather then fight or flight.
My main beef with Shepherding a Child’s Heart is that Tripp sets of “straw man” arguments for every other discipline method he disagrees with. What I mean by that is that when he discusses his ‘opponent’ viewpoints (those discipline methods he does not agree with) he does not give solid valid examples, but rather sets up terrible examples (straw men) that even those who espouse those discipline methods would say were bad examples, and thus he makes it easy for the reader to join his side. Let me show you one example, one where I even agree with his point.
Tripp encourages parents to talk with their kids not at their kids. Using dialog to draw out the child’s feelings rather than simply giving your monologue about the situation. I complete agree with him. However, here’s the example of a monologue that he gave (this is a straw man):
(concerning a pair of sneakers you bought for your child)
“Look, I know you don’t like the sneakers, but that’s all I could afford. Don’t be such a baby. What would Jared say if I told him you were crying over something like this? They’re just going to get messed up anyway. In a couple days no one will know what they look like. What do you care about what those kids think about your sneakers? Who made them the experts anyhow? You should be thankful you even have them. Those sneakers you don’t like cost more than my first car. Look, I have to go to work; I have more important things to worry about than sneakers…”
Now, any parent in their right mind would say this is a horrible way to parent, but for Tripp to choose this as an example of the opposing view is unfair. It is possible to give a very sympathetic, heartfelt monologue to your child about their sneakers, even though it’s still better to dialog and let them share their feelings.
Tripp continues to use this technique as he points out all the “Unbiblical Methods” to parenting: I didn’t Turn Out So Bad, Pop Psychology, Behavior Modification, Emotionalism, Punitive Correction, and Erratic Eclecticism. Each time he gives horrible examples of that method which leaves any decent parent completely agreeing that that is not a good way to raise a child. That was my biggest problem with Tripp. By the time I got to the section where he wanted to talk about the “Biblical” way to parent, I wasn’t interested in listening anymore, he’d been so unfair in his critique.
The second thing I had a serious issue with is his use of Scripture. He does very little to give any depth, context, background, or otherwise to the scriptures he references. Your supposed to take them at face value, which would be okay, if he also took them at face value. He uses multiple random Scriptures to critique the “unbiblical” parenting methods, and then multiple other random verses to espouse his “biblical” methods. He leaves himself and his book as the only valid interpretation and doesn’t give any reason or basis to believe it. Here’s what I mean.
Tripp believes the biblical method for parenting is communication and “the rod.” By “the rod” he means:
“The rod is a parent, in faith toward God and faithfulness toward his or her children, undertaking the responsibility of careful, timely, measured and controlled use of physical punishment to underscore the importance of obeying God, thus rescuing the child from continuing in his foolishness until death.” (p. 108)
How in the world he’s able and allowed to draw all of that from a handful of verses that say “the rod”, but others aren’t allowed to follow a similar strategy in choosing their parenting method, I’m not sure. But it gets even more specific than that. He literally spends pages and pages talking about what “the rod” is and is not, as well as the best way to administer “the rod.” What’s unfair again is that he’s taken his specific interpretation and tagged it as “biblical” without allowing others to take a similar look at Scripture and come to a different conclusion. He doesn’t give any reason why the rod doesn’t literally mean a metal or wooden rod of some kind. Here is the “How” of Spanking from the book, with only one scripture reference as any support:
1. Take your child to a private place where he can be spoken with in privacy
2. Tell him specifically what he has done or failed to do.
3. Secure an acknowledgment from the child of what he has done.
4. Remind him that the function of spanking is not venting your frustration or because you are angry, but to restore him to the place in which God has promised blessing.
5. Tell the child how many swats he will receive.
6. Remove his drawers so that the spanking is not lost in the padding of his pants.
7. After you have spanked take the child up on your lap and hug him, telling him how much you love him.
8. Pray with him. (p. 150)
Again, even though there are some good tips on how to discipline here, his stating that this is what is meant by “the rod” and what is the only “Biblical” method for parenting is completely unfounded.
As you can see, overall I didn’t like the book. The two main reasons are above: He sets up straw man arguments of the opposing view and he extrapolates a lot to give his basis for biblical discipline without allowing the same freedom for other parenting methods. But, there’s a few other things that nagged me and I’ll just list them below.
- He mentions twice, sort of underhandedly, that the freedom movements of the 60’s and 70’s where a bad thing in that they taught a generation to rebel against authority. I think it’s these were vaguely concealed sexist and racist remarks…
“The racial and anti-war protests of the 1960s powerfully shaped [Today’s parents] ideas. The protest movement took on the establishment. It changed the way we think about authority and the rights of the individual. As a result, it is no longer culturally acceptable for Dad to be the “boss” at home. Mom doesn’t obediently do what Dad says, or at least pretend she does.” (p. xvi) (he goes on to imply throughout that our rebellion against authority is wrong and even sinful)
- In addressing an FAQ about when I child is old enough he mentions his 8 month old trying to get to a bookshelf his mother had told him not to touch. “Not seeing her, he headed back toward the forbidden bookshelf…Obviously, he was old enough to be disciplined.”(p. 155)
- He also contradicts himself in his parenting advice. Things he critiqued in other parenting methods, like children not connecting the punishment to the disobedience because it’s not enforced immediately gets disregarded when your unable to implement the spanking method because your out in public.
- He uses the Scripture “Honor your father and mother” as something that parents are in charge of enforcing over their children. Basically saying, and I quote, “God has made me your mother and has said that you must treat me with honor.” (p. 137)
- The parenting method of spanking (physical discipline) is a “power over” structure that I think is clearly unbiblical. Tripp even spends a chapter addressing this, and how as your ‘authority’ dwindles your ‘influence’ needs to increase so that you still have control over your child. Discussing the transition from younger to older he says: “The parents’ word is law because they have the physical capacity to enforce it. As a child grows, the ability to control him that way diminishes. The more Junior grows and develops physically and mentally, what you may accomplish through raw authority diminishes.” (p. 97)
- He also uses the male pronoun “he” for nearly all of his examples. Unless he’s talking about a specific situation involving a girl, he always says “he.” I just noticed it and found it bothered me (maybe because I have a girl).
- This passage also bothered me:
“I recall many conversations that went like this:
FATHER: You didn’t obey Daddy, did you?
FATHER: Do you remember what God says Daddy must do if you disobey?
CHILD: Spank Me?
FATHER: That’s right. I must spank you. If I don’t, then I would be disobeying God. You and I would both be wrong. That would not be good for you or for me, would it?
CHILD: No. [a reluctant reply]
Let me conclude by just saying, in no way is this meant to be a critique of spanking as a discipline method (I’ll try and bring up my concerns about it in later blog posts, but that’s not my intent here), nor a condemnation of any parent who chooses to follow that method. I really think there are a lot of godly people who’ve looked at scripture and chosen what they felt is the best way to raise their child, and I commend them for that. I simply feel this book was a poor support of spanking as a biblical discipline and a poor critique of other discipline methods.