A Spectrum of Shepherding Child’s Heart

After reading a book in a parenting class called Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp, I concluded that his own parents must have been obsessive compulsive, since their last name ended with a double p, their son’s first name had to end with a double d.

More importantly, I learned a valuable model for identifying different parenting types. Tripp’s major thesis is that parenting—which is what he means by shepherding a child’s heart—is all about shaping.

I love the metaphor. Shaping. With anything, shaping is a lot of work. Clay…pretty much clay.maxresdefault

And shepherding children is holistic. I’m a fan of continuums, when appropriate, so when we read through Shepherd’s book, outlining good and bad parenting practices, I decided to come up with my own continuum, which is a bit like his, but modified. The English degree in me had to make everything alliterate. It was part of the challenge.

It goes a little something like this:


I’ll explain. The holistic parent shepherds (and shapes) the child, molding them “hands-on” from every possible avenue of love and discipline, letting them form into an adult. A shaper is an ideal approach, but a shepherd is a spiritual ideal approach.

Along the scale we have approaches that grow increasingly hard or soft.

The sharpener is a cold, distant parent who scientifically tries to merely modify behavior. They might succeed on the outside, but do they on the inside?

The sheriff tries to parent by wielding their authority in every disciplinary move with a though swagger. “Because I said so.”

The shamer is a continual negative force on the child’s sense of self, appealing to shame and indignity as motivators, which only sometimes works, and when it does, damages the heart as the child tries in fear to obey—or erupts in rebellion.

But if we grow too soft, we might become merely the shelter, a parent who exudes shaping influences by shielding their child from as much as possible, creating a bubble of naivety.

Or we might skip that and become the shopper, showing the child with praise and gifts simply because they are ours. We act as if we can buy their love or fix every problem with affirmation, toys, and ice cream.

Or become so soft to shaping methods that we are nothing but shifty. Parents of this type are overtly permissive, giving evert excuse for their child’s behavior to themselves, the child, and everyone else.

Now, a dose of each of these methods may be appropriate in certain situations. Scientifically-proven behavior modification works for a reason. Reminding children of our authority over them is necessary. Shame over wrongs must be cultivated. Our duty to our children is to protect and provide. Praise and presents are good rewards. Even shifting allowances in what you permit them to do can demonstrate your trust, forgiveness, and handing of responsibility to them.

But adopting a parenting style based on any of these qualities, without a desire to shape our child by being their primary shepherd, is, I believe, folly.

Is my chart helpful? Or just a gimmick? I don’t know. I am not a clinical psychologist, a minister, or someone who has been a parent for more than 5 years. Regardless, I stand by Tedd Tripp’s primary notion that parenting means shaping not just behavior, but the heart.

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