Reaching a Child’s Heart
About the Guest
What is the goal of parenting? And how do you know you’ve achieved it? Today, authors Tedd and Margy Tripp talk with Dennis Rainey about instructing a child’s heart through discipline. The Tripps remind parents to respond to children in a loving and forgiving way, since they represent what God is like to their children.
What is the goal of parenting?
Reaching a Child’s Heart
Bob: I think a lot of times, as parents, we tend to zero in on reprove and correct and maybe ignore train and instruct.
Dennis: Yes. Because training and instructing mean that we show them the right way according to how God wants us to live. That is what the Bible is all about.
We have a couple with us today who have written a book that is really based on the biblical blueprints on how you instruct a child. It is entitled Instructing a Child’s Heart. It is by Tedd and Margy Tripp. Margy, Tedd welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Tedd: Thank you.
Margy: Thank you.
Dennis: Tedd is a pastor, an author, a conference speaker. Margy is a former principal. Together, they have three adult children, nine grandchildren. They have written a book called Shepherding a Child’s Heart. That was how long ago?
Tedd: About fifteen years ago.
Dennis: This book I really like because you have followed this up with more of a focus around what Bob was talking about here. How the scripture was given by God to instruct us and what we are to do as parents is to instruct our kids in how to think, how to live, and how to ultimately grow up and become competent. You are talking about a formative instruction. Explain what you mean by that.
Tedd: What I mean by that is it is instruction that forms or shapes our children. We can think by way of analogy of a woodworker with a lathe. He is spinning this block of wood on the lathe. He is using his carving tools to give shape to that wood.
Or a potter with a wheel, he is shaping the clay as the wheel spins. He is bringing that lifeless lump of clay to life with his skilled fingers. He is shaping it that is what we are doing. We are using instruction to shape our children, to shape and form the ways that they think. So, it is formative instruction.
Bob: When you talk about instructing, you are not simply talking about training them not to dump their spaghetti on the floor. It is not just these are the behaviors to do or not to do. You are talking about a bigger view of instruction that you can start with a young child to tell them about God and creation and the fall and redemption and the whole master plan for the scriptures.
Tedd: Absolutely. We want to be giving them God’s ways and God’s truth from the earliest days.
Bob: So, Margie, if they do dump their spaghetti on the floor, obviously there is a discipline issue there. If I am going to train, I do not want them to dump their spaghetti on the floor; but I do not want to just teach them no we do not do that in our house, which is kind of the way most parents will default to. But I want to give it a bigger, grander perspective than no we do not do that in our house. How do I do that with something like dumping your spaghetti on the floor?
Margy: Well, first of all, the way you respond to them dumping spaghetti on the floor is a huge training exercise because we all have things come to us in our life that are unexpected and unpleasant. For the parent to respond to the child in a way that is loving, forgiving, kind, gracious is an excellent start because we are always representing to our children what God is like.
If we are harsh and unforgiving in our response to our children’s childishness in that issue, then we are teaching them that, that is what God is like. So, the first training that is going on in that issue is how is mom responding. If I respond in loving and gracious and godly ways, the child will not resist me taking them to issues of responding appropriately to authority.
Even over issues that are not moral or ethical issues like throwing the spaghetti on the floor, but issues of authority. Mommy has determined that this is not an appropriate thing for you to do or an appropriate time to be involved in childish behavior. God has called you to be a child who obeys mommy.
We take them to Ephesians 6:1-3 that circle of blessing where things go well and we enjoy long life when we live under God’s method and showing to them the paths of life. Really, it is an occasion to show them the spaghetti is not the issue, living as a child in God’s way under parental authority is the issue.
Dennis: Here is what happened in the Rainey household. The child got the instruction. The child got this little cheesy grin on his face, looked at mommy or looked at daddy, then slowly took the spaghetti and pushed it to the edge of the tray and off onto the floor.
Bob: You had those kind of children at your house?
Dennis: Oh, Bob. I know none of our listeners have children like that, and I know the Tripp’s did not have children that pushed back. What do you do in that situation? You have instructed. The child looks right at you, and it is, I mean—
Dennis: In your book you said you got to know a child’s heart. It does not take a rocket scientist at this point to recognize defiance.
Tedd: You have to face that rebellion head on in terms of corrective discipline for that child who has defied you in that way. Depending on his age, that is going to determine exactly what that correction will look like. I think that Margy’s point too is that I want to be giving him a worldview that is attractive—
Tedd: That calls him away from that kind of defiant behavior.
Bob: And this is a daily—I was going to say tireless, but—
Tedd: Tiring is what it is. It is exhausting sometimes.
Bob: It is. I think this is what moms and dads have got to recognize you just some days you just go I’m exhausted doing this. What God is calling us to is everyday having that as our agenda. I’m in the middle of a training session that is going to go on for years.
Dennis: Barbara called a mom the other day—a mom of a bunch of preschoolers. She said you could hear it in her voice, she was overwhelmed. She said “I knew exactly how she felt” because when you have six children in ten years you get a lot of life coming at you. You get urgent in terms of addressing certain issues.
In fact, what we have in the listening audience just outside of the studio is a dad who came in to listen to these broadcasts because he had a couple of issues that were pressing on him. We will let his name be anonymous. But—
Bob: We will just call him Todd. How is that?
Dennis: We will call him Todd. Todd will work. Todd tells us the ages of your children.
Todd: We have a six, four, three, and a two month old.
Dennis: What is your first question Todd?
Todd: My first question was that our oldest, our six year old is a perfectionist by nature, how do we help that child learn to give themselves grace and at the same time manage their frustration?
Bob: Here we are on instructing. How do you instruct a child who—you would not think of perfectionism as being a sinful tendency or pattern. It sounds like you are trying to be good, but there can be a whole self righteous root that is caught up in this perfectionism. So, Margy, how do you handle this perfectionist six year old? How do you train them to adjust their expectations?
Margy: A wonderful place to go, I believe, is what are God’s expectations of us and giving formative instruction that brings to a child that wonderful understanding that you see in passages like Colossians 3. It reads “whatever you do work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for men since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
A person who is a perfectionist—often the roots that are in the heart, the why of the perfectionism have a great of deal to do with many things: a sense of insecurity, a desire to please man, all kinds of things that hide in the heart. Teaching that child to trust God rather than himself.
Bob: Margy, if I say to my perfectionist six year old ‘now you need to do your work heartily as unto the Lord’, isn’t that just going to ratchet them to a higher …. If I’m doing this for the Lord, then it has to be even better than perfect. Doesn’t it?
Margy: I believe that if you go to the passage in Matthew 25, I think it is the parable of the talents. You see that the lord, the master, gave each of his servants according to their ability.
Teaching a child to be content with what God has made them able to do and not expecting of themselves more than God expects of them, I think is a key issue. Their work is as unto the Lord. It is not for themselves. It is not for others. I think key to all of that also is that when God looks at us, as we trust in God through Christ, He sees the Lord Jesus. He doesn’t see us.
Bob: So for that child to know that their relationship with God, His love for them is not tied up with how much they achieve or how well they achieve, that is when they can start to relax and rest a little bit.
Tedd: Yes. I think having a child see that God accepts me and loves me because God accepts me and loves me.
Dennis: It is not based on performance.
Tedd: Exactly. It is not based on performance. It is not based on things in me. It is based on the mystery of the large heart of God which we cannot possibly understand. Helping children see that is very important.
I think you touched on something too, though, a moment ago, Bob. For the parent of the six year old, you might think “what issues of pride and heart idolatry might be there and how can I talk to this child about it in a constructive way”? Not just at those moments of correction because those are never the moments we can make the most gains. Even in some non-confrontational time, how can I bring truth to this kid and help him to begin to identify those idols of the heart that he may be serving with the perfectionism?
Bob: Can I give you an illustration of this? I had dinner with my fifteen year old son the other night—my wife was out of town. So, we just went out for dinner. This had been on my mind for awhile, and here we were having a nice dinner together enjoying it. I just said ‘I have observed something with you that frankly I have seen in me, too’.
This is how I had the conversation. I said ‘Here is what I observed you are a very relaxed, easy-going, adaptable, young man.’ I said ‘I tend to be relaxed. In deference to others, we tend to be pleasers. Somebody will say what do you want to do? I just want to do whatever is going to make everybody else happy.’ I said ‘You know, that is a good thing, but it can be a bad thing’.
I said ‘Here is how it can be a bad thing. God is going to call you, at some point, to be in a relationship where you need to lead. If all you are doing is pleasing instead of leading, it is not going to go well with you. What you are going to be doing is assigning to your wife, at that point, the task of leading, and you are just there to make her happy. It won’t go well. Trust me, I know. I have been down this path young man’.
It was not because of something. I was not even addressing a specific issue that I had seen. Just kind of a general sense of what is going on his life, and I was able to do it by talking about my own issues, my own short comings in that.
Dennis: And what you had learned—
Bob: In the process.
Bob: We did not have any blow-ups. He did not get upset or offended. It was just a good time. As a parent, you walk away from of those moments going ‘was he even paying attention? Did that even sink in?’ But if you are faithful to do what God has called you to do, it is amazing how they will come back to you six months later and go “you remember how we were talking about that, well, I’m seeing it.”
Tedd: See what you did in that situation? Perhaps one of the reasons it went so well is that you were not correcting him at that moment. It was not “I have seen you be a pleaser here, and you’ve got to stop doing that” because then he may very well have dug in his heels. All of us are defensive when we feel under attack. So, you have to look as a parent for those non-confrontational times to be giving the instruction that our kids need.
Dennis: I want to make two points here. First of all, what, Tedd, you and Margy have really calling parents to be and to do is to reflect a biblical viewpoint of how God made their children. We are like mirrors. It says in the Bible the Bible is a mirror we look into it, and we really get an idea of what God expects of us. So, parents need to know the scripture. They need to know that parable of the talents that you quoted Margy.
The second thing—I don’t want to use this as an escape hatch, but I do want to say this for Todd—there are some issues that children battle that they begin to show up when they are two, three, four, five. This is just going to be that child’s Achilles’ heel. It is going to take instruction, coaching, prayer, help, cheerleading with that child—
Bob: A powerful move of the Spirit of God in that child’s life.
Tedd: All of that. I think also it may very well be something that at age 26, 36, 56 is still a tendency. That is okay God’s grace is big for all of that. I do not think we have to look at it from the standpoint we have to fix this kid.
Dennis: That is my point. I think some of the parenting that is taking place today is we are trying to create a little assembly line of cookie cutter kids.
Tedd: Yes. Plastic extrusion press model is the way I describe it sometimes.
Dennis: You know what? With human beings, that is not going to work because they are different. We have time for one more question, Todd. It needs to be quick.
Todd: As a follow up to that question, where is the balance of allowing that child to vent her frustration, her anger? Where do they cross a line to where some discipline should be handed out and what should that discipline look like?
Bob: So, this is a child who gets frustrated by the fact that she is not achieving at her own standards and that frustration shows up in unrighteous anger in the family. What do you do, Margy?
Margy: I believe that you spend of time in passages of scripture like 1Corinthians 10:13, “I won’t tempt you beyond what you are able to bear, but with the temptation I provide a way of escape” and the beautiful passages in Hebrews 2 and 4 where we are taught that Christ was made like His brothers in every way so that He could be a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God.
Children with these kinds of personality profiles that are not likely to change easily need a lot of grace. We do not really teach our children how to get better at living in God’s world. What we can teach them, learning how to beat a path to the cross. The gospel has to be central for this child.
Now is it ever appropriate for this child just to take time away from what is eating him alive in terms of his perfectionism? Absolutely. There may be some occasions where it might be appropriate to even institute some stiffer type of consequence, but I think the bigger issue here is this child learning to live in the freedom as he learns to trust God and know God and to live in the freedom of who he is because of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Dennis: As the child gets older, one of things I would have a child like that do is memorize a scripture around an area of weakness. I believe it is Galatians 5:1that says “it was for freedom, that Christ has set us free.” A child can hide those words in his or her heart, and it can begin to help the way they think about himself or herself.
Tedd: Or another passage John 8:36 “If the Son set you free, you shall be free indeed.” You can even spend some time with that child in a Bible study, teasing out all the aspects of freedom: freedom to fail, freedom to disappoint myself, freedom and so forth—that I am free in Christ.
Bob: I am hearing something pretty major in what we are talking about. Mom and dad need to know God’s word pretty well to be able to do this. I am thinking a lot of listeners who are going “well, how do you find those verses that you are talking about?” So, Tedd, how do you find those verses?
Tedd: Obviously, our own study of the scripture, we need to be working with God’s word all the time ourselves. Even if it is just a matter of my own reading the Bible or listening to it on CD when I’m in the car or listening to it on an MP3 player, but I am getting Bible input into myself if I am going to have truth that I am going to give to my kids.
I cannot just be talking out of my own head because I am not the fountainhead of wisdom, but Christ is. There is unending stores of insight and wisdom in God. I think we have got to bring God’s word to ourselves all the time.
Margy: It is also wonderful opportunity to develop a child rearing concordance as we run across these problems that our children have not only have the discipline problems but the way sin has affected their personality and shaped their young lives.
We need to find the rich treasures in God’s word that bring resolution to those things. We need to become well versed in them. We need to hang them on our walls or put them on 3X5 cards by the sink as we do the dishes or carry them in the car with us—only at stop lights, of course.
Dennis: I’m thinking of the question that was asked by Todd. Usually in a marriage between a husband and a wife there are opposites. I am wondering in his marriage who is the perfectionist and who is the one who is a little more free.
It could be that perfectionist in that marriage may need to go work in his or her own heart and then—as we modeled here and talked about around the table—share God’s work and how God is at work in mommy’s life or daddy’s life to bring freedom to him.
Bob: I think this where as parents we have got to understand our relationship with Christ: how we spend time in God’s word, how we spend time in prayer, how we live our Christian lives. It is not just about us. It is about the children we are raising. If we are not spending time in God’s word, if we are not growing spiritually, that is going to have an impact on our sons and daughters.
I guess I am saying if you are not motivated in your walk with Christ by the impact it will have on your life personally, I would hope you might be motivated by the impact it is going to have on the lives of your children.
In fact, you and Barbara wrote a book Growing a Spiritually Strong Family, and we did a four CD series on the themes from that book. We are making that CD series available this week to those folks who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount. If folks would like more information on how to get those CD’s, they can go to FamilyLifeToday.com to request the CD’s. Again, that is available for a donation of any amount.
If you are making your donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com, just type the word “STRONG” into the online key code box on the donation form. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make a donation over the phone. You can ask for a copy of that CD series on Growing a Spiritually Strong Family.
If you don’t have a copy of Tedd’s book Shepherding a Child’s Heart that is a classic book that we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You ought to get both Shepherding a Child’s Heart and the new book Instructing a Child’s Heart. There is more information about those resources online at FamilyLifeToday.com or call us toll free at 1-800-FL-TODAY. We will let you know how you can get a copy of either or both of those books sent to you.
Now tomorrow Tedd and Margy Tripp will be back with us. We are going to continue talking about how we can help our children to think biblically as they grow. We will talk more about that tomorrow. I hope you can join us.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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