This week we welcome to the podcast parenting expert Tedd Tripp. He’s the author of two bestselling books: Shepherding a Child’s Heart and Instructing a Child’s Heart. Dr. Tripp, how important is it to help children understand their own hearts and how personal idols work in their heart? What are some practical tips for doing this well?
One of the things I recommend for parents when I do seminars is to develop a heart notebook with your kids and do this in non-confrontational times. So, it is not when you are confronting them about things they are doing wrong, or when you are correcting them or instructing them or disciplining them, but in non-confrontational times — family worship, for example.
Making a Heart Notebook
For five or ten minutes a day — don’t overburden them with it — one or two nights a week, work in your heart notebook. Look up every passage in the Bible you can find on various topics like, for example, revenge or vengeance rather than entrusting myself to God, or pride rather than humility, or fear of man rather than the fear of the Lord, or love of self rather than love of others, or anger rather than peacemaking, and so forth. There are all kinds of heart attitudes. The Bible is rich with heart stuff.
“We need to be wise and understand our hearts. We need to help our children understand their hearts.”
If you think about it, Hebrews 4:12 says, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” That is a very interesting statement, because one of the primary uses of the Bible is to help us to understand our hearts, because the heart is desperately wicked. That is what Jeremiah 17:9 says. So we need to be wise and understand our hearts. We need to help our children understand their hearts.
So I suggest to parents, Get out the heart notebook. Look at every passage you can find on these various topics. Write out all the verses on revenge and vengeance in your heart notebook. Whatever you do, don’t do a computer printout of all the verses and hand it to them. You want them to write it out, because in the writing process, you are learning. And then look up biblical illustrations. Let’s take revenge for example. You have characters like Joab who is always going around disemboweling people out of revenge. I mean, it is a vivid illustration of revenge. Get them to give you illustrations. What does revenge look like in an eight-year-old? They will be able to tell you. Write it out with a heart notebook.
Getting to Know Your Child’s Heart
My point is that over a period of years — not days or weeks, but years — just pecking away at that heart notebook, when kids are school age, say six to twelve, you are working on this heart notebook. You keep adding to it. You are helping your child develop a sense of self-consciousness about internal motivation that then the parent can appeal to in times of correction and discipline.
You know, Margie had a fourteen-year-old girl that came to her at the beginning of the school year. She said, “Mrs. Tripp, I am having trouble getting along with the other girls at school.” Now that is not very surprising. It’s pretty common for fourteen-year-old girls to be catty. What followed was uncommon. The girl said, “I know the problem is I am very self-righteous and proud and judgmental. I think I am off-putting to the other girls.” Now where does that kind of insight come from in a fourteen-year-old? You see, she is in a home where her parents talk about the heart. She is in a church where the pastors are not just urging right behaviors, but they are helping people understand the subtleties of our sin and the ways that our hearts stray from God.
Idols of the Heart
It is fascinating to me. The last verse in 1 John is, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). Now what is amazing is in 107 verses, he has never mentioned idolatry. Yet idolatry is all through the book: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). That is idolatry. I mean, that is the language of idolatry. A contrast is being drawn there in 1 John 2 between loving the world and loving the Father and loving the things that are in the world — the pride of life, the lust of the eyes. All those things are idol issues. And that is why at the end of the book he says, “Keep yourselves from idols.”
You are helping kids grow up with insight into that, but you are not beating them up with it every time they do something wrong: “Oh, you are a problem. You are full of pride.” Not that at all. I am having rich times of Bible study with my kids. We are working on this heart notebook. We are really developing this compendium. I mean, there are almost seven hundred passages in the Bible about the heart — we have got a lot of resources to go to. We are developing these themes in the word of God, and then I am helping kids learn how to do self-assessment. What was pushing and pulling me in that situation? Was it pride? Or was it self-love? Was it anger? Was I acting in revenge?
If you can help kids learn to think in those ways, especially in non-corrective times, then in the times of correction you have this truth that they have imbibed that they can dig into when you are talking to them and correcting them.