Parenting your kids and the danger of bahaviorism

Instructing a Child's Heart

The tendency of most parents, even Christian parents is to teach behaviorism, in hopes that the behavior will bring about a change in heart. The Bible tells us that not only is this the opposite of what parents are to be doing but its impossible for someone’s behavior to produce a change of heart. Hence, the title and emphasis of what Tedd and Margy Tripp write in their book Instructing a Child’s Heart

In my short time as a parent I have found that I naturally want to focus and emphasize behavior and I constantly need to remind myself that I must teach to the heart. I’m quite certain that this will be a life-long endeavor.

Here are some points they give in their book concerning behaviorism that I found very helpful:

  • Behaviorism does not address the real need of our children. “Addressing the behavior without speaking to the heart bypasses the profound needs of the heart” (149).
  • Behaviorism provides our children with a false basis for ethics. “The basis for ethical choices in behaviorism is pragmatic…In a biblical vision, the basis for ethical decisions is the being, existence and glory of God” (149).
  • Behaviorism trains the heart in wrong paths. “There is such a close connection between the heart and behavior that whatever is used to constrain the behavior trains the hearts of our children” (149).
  • Behaviorism obscures the message of the Gospel. “The parent who resorts to shame, guilt, threats or bribes is not placing their hope of change in the gospel” (150). This is by far the most serious by-product of a parent who teaches behaviorism rather than teaching to the heart.
  • Behaviorism shows the parent’s idols. When our personal well-being or the perception of other individuals is the catalyst for our correction and discipline of our children and not our concern for their spiritual well-being, we’re exemplifying what we really value, which is our reputation.

As I wrote earlier, their book is tremendously encouraging, but also quite challenging. The task of parenting is without a doubt a daunting one, which is why my bride and I need to daily “ask, seek and knock” (Matthew 7:7-11) for God’s grace.

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