Instructing a Child’s Heart: Book Review

Instructing a child's heart

Tedd and Margy Tripp have identified the importance of instructing a child, not only to inform his or her mind, but also to impress God’s truth and wisdom upon the heart. Getting away from corrective behavior to the heart of the matter is vital in the formative discipline process presented by Tripp and Tripp. As parents, it can become second nature to focus on the behavior, which requires correction, instead of on the heart issues that are the true source of bad behavior. Solomon demonstrates the importance of the heart in Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Tripp and Tripp explain, “The heart is the seat of motivation, so the when of behavior is the circumstance for the behavior. The what of behavior are things that one does or says and the why of behavior is the motive.”[1] The heart is essentially what makes the person who he or she is and the actions of the heart produce worship and emotions. Tripp and Tripp then illuminate, all children are born to worship; the only question is what he or she will choose to worship: the created things or the Creator?[2]

Satan has built his kingdom on two pillars: ignorance & error, so the job as parents is to remove ignorance and to correct error. Tripp and Tripp clarify, “Our central objective in instruction, discipline, and correction is heart change, not behavior change. This profoundly shapes how we view consequences… Children must understand consequences as God designed them, not as the world teaches them.”[3] This model provides considerable insight on the sowing and reaping principle of Scripture. Thus, the major goal in any form of discipline must be to reach and impact the heart of the child. Sadly, as Tripp and Tripp show, the world uses behaviorism as the answer and it “may be popular – it may even work, but it obscures the gospel. When we can use incentives or punishments to get the behavior we want without God and His redemption, we are teaching our children that they can live in God’s world without Christ and be fine.”[4] Instead, parents should teach children how the principle of sowing and reaping are both positive and negative (Galatians 6:7-8). Tripp and Tripp then suggest, “During times of corrective discipline, we must appeal to formative instruction that helps children understand all the issues of life from the perspective of God’s revelation, the Bible. [In doing so,] children will think about the consequences and implications of the things they say and do.”[5] Ultimately, Tripp and Tripp show parents must first understand his or her role in the process of raising children, by teaching the truths behind formative discipline. With this as the starting point, parents must then teach the consequences behind action, while also demonstrating the forgiving, transforming, and empowering grace and mercy of Jesus Christ found in the gospel.


As a parent myself, I have a much deeper appreciation for all my parents contributed to my upbringing. Growing up in a military family, my dad was gone quite often, so the family dynamic was very skewed and the reintegration process became more difficult each time. As a young child, I can remember going to the base with my mom and having her point to which man was my father. This memory stirred up a lot of deep-rooted emotions I had previously suppressed. I then recalled my mom telling me stories of the horrible upbringing my father had to endure, as the result of his parents getting a divorce. His own mother destroyed virtually every picture of him and threw away most his belongings, out of anger. I harbored resentment against my father for a number of years, until I came to realize he had no framework or reference to emulate in being a father, because he himself never had a father to look up to. He was doing his best, but without Christ as the guiding force, our best is only the capacity to sin, due to our fallen nature. The traditional family is the model God designed to convey His ways, His authority, and His truth to children, but Satan knows this and that is why he is so determined to destroy, counterfeit, and pervert everything God has established. One’s earthly father should serve as but a glimpse of the love the heavenly Father has for His children.

Unfortunately, there is now an entire people group known as the “fatherless” generation, who are currently coming into their young adult years, so never before has there been a time that the body of Christ, the church must stand in the gap to rescue these spiritual orphans and reorient them to the complete love, mercy, and grace found only in Christ Jesus. If this is not done, with the love of Christ being the primary motivator, the cycle will not be broken because we all are products of our environment and our past experiences shape who we are and what we do. Because of this, we must be able to recognize what the Word of God says, so we will be able to differentiate between God’s truth and what the world tells us is normal and acceptable. The battle over our souls is waged within us, (James 4:1) and all around us, (Ephesians 6:12) so, as Tripp and Tripp suggest, “First, we must identify the enemy and acknowledge his troop strength [and strategy.] Second, we must become skilled at using biblical formative instruction as an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy of our children’s souls (Ephesians 6:10-17; 1 Peter 5:8).”[6]


Tripp and Tripp provide substantial content relating to the goals of formative instruction. While Scripture is part of one’s history, it is equally important for parents to relay family history to his or her children. For many, it seems the mistakes, pain, and bad choices, which have occurred in one’s past, are left buried in an attempt to shield the child from thinking less of one’s parent. However, the exact opposite is done and God’s word says, “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11). This is an area Tripp and Tripp could have included which would have strengthened the goal of producing children who are bold and courageous. By omitting family history and the victories and/or failures experienced, children often are left feeling as though he or she are going through things the parents never had to face. Ultimately, a life of transparency is the best model to use, which will convey parents have walked through many of the same trials and temptations faced by children today.

Another area Tripp and Tripp could have explored further, which would have made this book more appealing to a larger audience is how individuals other than the child’s parents can model the behavior and traits needed in instructing a child’s heart. As Alejandra Cancino shows, “Nationwide, 2.7 million grandparents are raising grandchildren, and about one-fifth of those have incomes that fall below the poverty line. The number of grandparents raising grandchildren is up 7 percent from 2009. Experts say the trend is likely to continue as the nation responds to the opiate epidemic. Military deployment and a growth in the number of women incarcerated are other factors forcing grandparents to step into parental roles.”[7] Tripp and Tripp offer considerable advice pertaining to teaching and training, but an area devoted to redeeming the lost and helping the prodigals find his or her way home would have been useful for anyone who is serving in a parental or ministerial role.

Lastly, Tripp and Tripp do a great job explaining the importance and danger of missing the heart’s connection with behavior and how it relates to correction and discipline. However, one area that would have been nice to see during the child’s development was a purposeful identification of a child’s spiritual gifting(s) and a plan to help develop them. One’s life must always reflect the truths being taught because the child catches many of life’s truths and principles. The primary place to develop these giftings is in the home, so explaining the importance of serving in ministry together, as a family would have added greatly to the model.


Cancino, Alejandra. “More grandparents raising their grandchildren,” February 16, 2016. (accessed April 27, 2017).

Tripp, Tedd and Margy Tripp. Instructing a Child’s Heart. Wapwallopen, PA, Shepherd Press, 2008.

[1] Tedd Tripp and Margy Tripp. Instructing a Child’s Heart (Wapwallopen, PA, Shepherd Press, 2008), 57.

[2] Ibid., 93.

[3] Ibid., 63.

[4] Tripp and Tripp. Instructing a Child’s Heart, 77.

[5] Ibid., 155.

[6] Tripp and Tripp. Instructing a Child’s Heart, 15-16.

[7] Alejandra Cancino, “More grandparents raising their grandchildren,” February 16, 2016. (accessed April 27, 2017).

[8] Tripp and Tripp. Instructing a Child’s Heart, 81.