Tripp, Tedd. Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Second Edition. Wapwallopen, PA.: Shepherd Press, 2005. 212 pp. $13.96.

Shepherding a Child’s Heart has, for years, been one of the most foundational texts for Christian parents seeking advice on how to raise their children biblically and soundly.[1] Author Tedd Tripp, a “pastor, counselor, school administrator, and father,” shares key insights from experience within his family and ministry and from Scripture to help parents recognize both the focal issues in disciplining children as well as key methods (back cover). His primary idea for parents to grasp is that discipline is not just about curbing outward behavior, but instead that the parent must focus on the child’s heart, which is inherently sinful and must be “shepherded” toward a Godward focus (xi-xii).


Rather than immediately begin with methods and tips for disciplining children, as many parenting gurus do to provide parents with a quick fix, Tedd Tripp begins his book with an extended thirteen-chapter look into the biblical foundations, key issues, and primary goals of biblical childrearing (vii-viii). Using Proverbs 4:23 to show the root of behavior in the heart and Romans 1 to show man’s natural inclination towards idols in the world and the Bible’s demand of a change of focus to God, the author successfully deals with both nature and nurture to call parents to address the sinful heart of their children and reorient them to God (xi-xii, 10, 19). In chapters four through six, he encourages parents to recognize their God-given authority of stewards of the children God has given them, and to exert that authority to examine the goals they have appropriated for their children—wordly goals such as outward conformity, compliance, or education, or even commendable but secondary goals such as family worship and the child’s salvation—and replace them with the overarching biblical goal of a child that lives to give glory to God (40-44, 45-46).

After a discussion in which he shows the ways in which many childrearing methods lead children toward wordly desires and motivations, Tripp begins his discussion of the Biblical methods of correction, shepherding communication paired with the “rod” of discipline—spanking (67, 70, 99). Acknowledging that adopting a lifestyle of communication in raising children is time-consuming and difficult, the author nonetheless holds that it is most important to develop a dialogue with children that helps parents and children understand their motivations and correct them to a Godward focus (96-98, 72-73, 89-90). Tripp closes this section by discussing the secondary component of biblical discipline—the rod—presenting it as God’s exclusive chosen and blessed method of discipline and as the tactile reinforcement to the communicative shepherding of the heart (101, 113).

In the second section of his book, Tedd Tripp breaks down childhood into three stages—infancy to childhood, childhood, and teenagers—noting the primary heart issues to be addressed at each stage and the best way to address those issues through communication and the rod. For infancy, Tripp suggests parents target developing simple obedience for their children, correcting defiance directly with spanking and a simple dialogue about their disobedience, and helping children understand God’s blessings on obedience (128-131, 134, 145, 150, 139). For elementary aged children, the author focuses on developing character, correcting not only direct defiance but attitudinal issues and selfishness (161-162, 172-176). Addressing teenagers, Tripp holds that parents can avoid much of the dreaded teenage rebellion through their earlier initiatives in shepherding the heart, and that this time can be an excellent time to develop a more mature shepherding relationship with their children leading them to an understanding of the Gospel in practice (184-186

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, 198-203).

Critical Evaluation

In Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp has provided a biblically solid and practical foundation for parents to adopt in their desire to raise Godly children. His admonition to parents to set a goal of shepherding the heart rather than merely addressing behavior is clear and vital to parenting (3-4). Though Christians have long been aware of our sinful nature, parents often forget that God wants to change hearts so that obedience flows out of love for Him. Tripp reminds them that molding outward behavior is treating the symptom rather than the disease, and that it leaves the sinful heart to continue to motivate their children towards worldly values and lusts (20-22).

Dr. Tripp does well in breaking down the parent’s task of communication with their children. Parents are reminded that shepherding the heart means more than just the correction of sin, but that they are also called to encourage, entreaty, instruct, warn, and pray with and for their children (81). His text is full of useful examples of communication that reaches the heart of kids with biblical wisdom, and the age-based breakdown in the second half of the text gives parents useful direction in setting and adjusting goals for their communication as their children grow and change.

The most controversial portion of Shepherding a Child’s Heart is Tripp’s spirited endorsement of spanking as the exclusive biblical method of discipline to reinforce shepherding communication. Though it tweaks many modern sensibilities, Tripp is successful in defending spanking as biblical and effective for softening wills and reorienting hearts (103-104). He successfully defines what the proper use of the rod is and is not, and does a service for parents in helping them to understand its biblical use and common objections to it (105-111).

It is at this same point, however, that Dr. Tripp perhaps overstates the biblical position and pushes his case too stringently. He spends a chapter of his text surveying the many discipline methods in use in homes and systematically dismissing them as reinforcing idols of the heart. He dismisses rewards motivations, because they develop selfishness, greed, and materialism. He dismisses contracts because they are easily circumvented and are superficial—only concerned with behavior (60-61). He dismisses emotional appeals as manipulation and “time-outs” as cruel and ineffective (63). He dismisses grounding as simplistic and punitive without being corrective (64-65). What the author fails to acknowledge is that spanking, by itself, likewise fails the same tests. By itself it is shallow, only concerned with behavior, punitive without being corrective, isolating, and trains the child not to honor God but to avoid pain and live for pleasure and ease.

In fact, though the author defends the rod as the exclusive biblical method of discipline, there are in fact numerous biblical precedents for these other methods. God has, since the beginnings of his interactions with man, related with him through covenants—originally contracted demanding behavior of men and lastly through Christ and a new heart. God motivates men with both warnings of judgment and promises of reward, both temporally in this world and especially eternally. God, through His Word, the prophets, Christ, and the apostles, entreats men to repent and submit to Him through emotionally-laden appeals. In Matthew 18:15-20, even Christ’s disciplinary commands for use in the church can be recognized, in a simplistic way, as a “time-out” for the unrepentant sinner. These methods in the home do not fail because of their motivation, but because—like spanking—they do not properly shepherd the heart when used in isolation. Biblical communication that shepherds the heart is the power behind Tedd Tripp’s child-rearing advice, and is likely to be effective in tandem with a number of accompanying disciplinary tools, whether spanking, time-out, rewards, or grounding.


With good reason, Dr. Tedd Tripp’s Shepherding a Child’s Heart has been at the top of the list for parents looking for biblical counseling on raising their children to honor God. His text is biblically sound, imminently practical, and purposeful in orienting parents and children to action that does not merely produce outward obedience, but a heart seeking to honor God.

[1], “Shepherding A Child’s Heart,” (accessed May 16, 2010).