** Reviewed,  Christian Living,  Family Ministry,  Parenting and Family Life

Book Review: Parenting is Heart Work

There are two things that nearly every parent has in common: 1.) we want to be good parents and 2.) we worry that we may not have what it takes. This is why there are countless books on the subject of parenting. There are book on discipline. There are books on how to encourage our children. There are books on how to be the spiritual leaders for your children. This book is, in some ways, just another in this long line of books by “parenting experts”. But, this book takes a different angle in how we approach raising our children.

Behavior modification.
Many parenting books and techniques are aimed at  behavior modification. This is the idea that if a child does something good they are rewarded, also known positive reinforcement. The authors of this book would argue that behavior modification does not lead to lasting change. They seem to say, in the book, that there is no value in positive reinforcement. In this I am not in complete agreement. Even the Bible speaks of how we will be rewarded for WHAT WE DO. Certainly this not the answer to every behavior issue. Nor is it the ONLY answer to long lasting change in our children. But, I think that there is still some merit in it.
It’s about the heart.
According to the author, the key to long term change in a child’s behavior. On the surface I agree with this. However, this agreement is not without some reservation. The idea is that with positive reinforcement a child may change their behavior in order to get the prize. This only works so long as they want the prize. This leads to ever increasing rewards. This can be a dead end street that does not lead to lasting change. Conversely, if the heart of the child can be changed, then their behavior will change as a natural result. This is the premise  of this entire book. Once this concept is introduced the authors go into how to make this happen.
Who has the power to change hearts?
While I don’t think we can argue that a changed heart will lead to a lasting change in behavior I have to ask, “Do we have the power to change hearts?” I think that even the authors would agree that the only one that can change a heart is the Holy Spirit. This starts with salvation. So, I would say that the first step towards lasting change would be to build an environment in your home in your lives where the children are exposed to the Gospel, and to be sharing the Gospel WITH your children. The methods in this book are of little use without the life changing presence of the Holy Spirit. With the presence of the Holy Spirit, what the methods in this book CAN do is change a child’s “want to”. In other words it can help a child WANT to act differently. This can lead, through the work of the Holy Spirit, to a change of heart.
The other side of behavior modification.
As with many things in life there are two sides to behavior modification. We talk about positive reinforcement. The other side is negative reinforcement. This aspect of behavior modification seems to be completely left out of the discussion in this book. The authors seems to imply that there is only their method or the method of positive reinforcement. However, I think that there is great value in negative reinforcement. Our kids need to learn that our actions consequences. Sometimes it is through these consequences that heart change comes about. Where does the Bible stand on the idea of negative reinforcement? Well, there are many stories in the Bible of where people were disobedient and were punished. Jonah was caught in a storm that threatened to sink the ship he was on. He was thrown into the sea and was swallowed by a giant fish. As the nation of Israel was taking over the promised land they were instructed not to take certain things. One of them went against this and the entire nation was punished as they were defeated in their next battle.
Immediate obedience.
Ultimately there is one thing that this book seems to miss. When I tell my child to do something I expect them to do it right away. Ultimately I want them to WANT to obey, but there are times when they need to do it whether they want to or not. They need to fear the consequences enough that they obey without thinking about it, in some instances. Consider the small child that is running towards the street. When I yell his name I need him to stop IMMEDIATELY. As I said, I prefer that he WANTS to obey, but in that moment his life depends on him obeying, regardless of his want to. I fear that this is something missing from the methods mentioned in this book.
You SHOULD read this book.
So, after all I’ve said you may be ready to completely forget about this book, but you need to read this book. As I have said, there is value in positive reinforcement. There is also value in negative reinforcement. However, what both of these miss is the ability to change a child’s behavior later in life. Whether it’s a desire for a reward or fear of punishment, neither of these has much power over a child when they are not with us. They have even less power when our children grow and move on to other things, no longer under our direct influence. What this book teaches is how to work towards a change in the heart of our children so that when they go to college, get married, or whatever road they take after high school there has  been a lasting change that will go with them. THIS IS WHY YOU SHOULD THIS BOOK.
As with anything, when you read this book you need to be looking not for specific things to do, but for principles that can be applied to your life. Find them, then apply them
Matt Norman

Thanks for reading this post. I hope you enjoyed it. To ensure that you never miss a post subscribe using the space on the right side of the screen.

I am a Christian, husband, father, pastor, church planter, nurse, and freelance writer.


  • Ed Miller

    Thanks for this honest review Matt. You are right that the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing about salvation and inner transformation is the most important focus for Christian parents. We can create a climate or an environment that’s conducive to this type of inner work in a child’s life. And we can never neglect the importance of prayer for our children. This is another high priority for Christian parents. Consequences are also important factor in bringing about change. God often allows us to experience pain and other consequences which lead to repentance and change. The desire of God’s heart is that we do repent and change and his discipline is designed to train us. We want to train our children in the same way. Punishment is the result of continued disobedience. The word discipline is helpful for me because it brings with it the idea of training and transformation. You’ll be very interested to read Scott and Joanne’s new book coming out in January. It’s called Motivate Your Child and deals with the conscience and the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a child. More on that coming. Thanks again for sharing.

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