Book Excerpt: It Takes a Parent

As perfectly spoiled Veruca so aptly puts it in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (which I've watched at least eighty-seven times with my kids, so I know the dialogue by heart), "But I want it now, Daddy!" And every time, Daddy complies with "Veruca dear's" commands because he doesn't want to cause her any distress.

This is a father who is poisoning his child's heart.

The "heart" issue is fundamental to everything I discuss in this book.

I once heard a Christian speaker give a fine talk on effective discipline. She had some good ideas, and she boasted that her children were so well-behaved that they were the delight of the church nursery. Her children, their proper behavior, and her effective discipline were a source of great pride to her. But I do not remember her talking about their hearts.

What was her purpose in addressing their behavior? What was her purpose in effective discipline? No doubt, expecting good behavior is a good and necessary thing in training our children. But, if our focus is primarily manipulating our children's behavior effectively, it's possible we'll only succeed in teaching them that behaving a certain way is nothing more than the ticket to whatever it is they wanted in the first place, even if it's just the goodwill of Mom and Dad. If we end up just helping them to learn to manipulate their world to reach their own selfish ends—instead of helping to train their hearts to delight in goodness because it is delightful—well then, it's even possible that we've helped shaped those hearts for the worse.

Tedd Tripp discusses this at length in Shepherding a Child's Heart. He talks about parents who eagerly try each new discipline method as it rolls out from the parenting culture's pipeline. He considers how such methods might achieve the right outward behavior, for a time, but not fundamentally change the selfish tendencies of the child's heart.

One method, for instance, is to put a piece of paper in a jar each time a child does something she's asked to do and take one out each time she disobeys. After a specified period, if there are a certain number of slips in the jar, the child gets a prize. As Tripp points out, this is an easy trick to figure out. She learns to watch the scales of right and wrong behavior, and makes very sure that "right" is always tipped just a bit more in her direction. The child has learned how to manipulate her world.

If she's at all bright, she'll quickly figure out that if she saves up enough "good" chits, why, she can indulge in some bad behavior and still come out "ahead." She hasn't learned to disdain disobedience at all; she's just learned how the game works. She hasn't come to see that obeying her parents is a blessing to her and to them—she hasn't learned to love being a blessing.

In another example from Tripp's book, two siblings fight over a toy one has taken from the other. Yes, there's a matter of justice that needs to be addressed, but the wronged child is still putting his "right" to the toy above his relationship with his sibling. What will these children learn if their parents address only the behavior, and not the heart issue behind it?

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