Training my children and the danger of missing the heart in favor of behaviorism…

Much of what I write on my blog is not new nor is it novel.  Most of the time I read something in a book, in an article or on a website and it triggers something I’d like to briefly write about or simply copy all-together (of course giving credit where credit is due).  This post will simply be a regurgitation of what two authors stated in their book.  The authors are Tedd and Margy Tripp and the book is “Instructing a Child’s Heart.”  It has been profoundly insightful, wonderfully encouraging and extremely challenging.  Both Tripps speak of the role and responsibility of parents to teach their children, but not to teach just anything; parents are called to teach their children the story of Scripture, specifically the plan of redemption that has unfolded in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  This concerted effort to teach must be, by the Spirit’s work, taught to take root in their heart that will manifest itself in their behavior.  But the tendency of most parents, even Christian parents is to teach behaviorism, in hopes that the behavior will bring about a change in heart.  However, the Bible tells us that not only is this the opposite of what parents are to be doing but its impossible for someone’s behavior to produce a change of heart.  Hence, the title and emphasis of what Tedd and Margy write about in their book. 

Thus far, in my short time as a parent I have found that I naturally want to focus and emphasize behavior and I constantly need to remind myself that I must teach to the heart.  I’m quite certain that this will be a life-long endeavor – remember, I told you in the beginning that I’m not offering anything new or novel!

Here are some points that Tedd and Margy give in their book concerning behaviorism that I found very helpful:

  • Behaviorism does not address the real need of our children.  “Addressing the behavior without speaking to the heart bypasses the profound needs of the heart” (Tripp, pp. 149).
  • Behaviorism provides our children with a false basis for ethics.  “The basis for ethical choices in behaviorism is pragmatic…In a biblical vision, the basis for ethical decisions is the being, existence and glory of God” (Tripp, pp. 149).
  • Behaviorism trains the heart in wrong paths.  “There is such a close connection between the heart and behavior that whatever is used to constrain the behavior trains the hearts of our children” (Tripp, pp. 149).
  • Behaviorism obscures the message of the Gospel.  “The parent who resorts to shame, guilt, threats or bribes is not placing their hope of change in the gospel” (Tripp, pp. 150).  This is by far the most serious by-product of a parent who teaches behaviorism rather than teaching to the heart.
  • Behaviorism shows the parent’s idols.  When our personal well-being or the perception of other individuals is the catalyst for our correction and discipline of our children and not our concern for their spiritual well-being, we’re exemplifying what we really value, which is our reputation.

As I wrote earlier, their book is tremendously encouraging, but also quite challenging and the task of parenting is without a doubt a daunting one, which is why Lauren and I need to daily “ask, seek and knock” (Matthew 7:7-11) for God’s grace.

One thought on “Training my children and the danger of missing the heart in favor of behaviorism…

  1. Nathan,

    thanks for the post on “Instructing a Child’s Heart.” The book has been on my reading list for some time now. I do appreciate the Tripp’s position here although as you indicate it is a constant parental battle to stop and address the heart instead of simply the behavior.

    At the risk of falling back into the behaviorism trap, does the book go beyond theory and offer parents practical application or at least a process for addressing the heart?


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