Formative Instruction – Practical Examples

Here some practical ways to implement Tedd Tripp’s first important truth for parents–Formative Instruction. This term sounds formal and structured. But actually, for formative instruction to be truly effective, it must be taught in the informal classroom of life. As Instructing a Child’s Heart teaches, children need you to provide a constant interpretation of life events. Understanding this truth is essential to your ability to provide formative instruction that is positive and points toward the cross.

For example, as you are driving down the road you see a police car that has pulled over a speeding driver. Your response is crucial to your child’s understanding of authority. Suppose your son says,

“Look, daddy, a police car with a flashing blue light. The man the policeman is talking to doesn’t look very happy.”

You respond, “That’s okay son, as long as he is giving him a ticket, he can’t bother us.”

This is formative instruction! But what is being taught and learned? What character traits are being formed in this impromptu session in the classroom of life? This is especially relevant later on that same day when you tell your son that he must obey you because God has placed him under your authority. What interpretation of authority has been communicated to your son? In this scenario he has learned that authority is something to be used for personal ends. It is to be scoffed at when it is inconvenient and it is to obeyed when it serves Dad’s purposes. What kind of lesson will your son take away from the classroom on this day?

How about what happens when a favorite toy breaks? Your daughter is heartbroken. As a mother you don’t want her to feel sad. So you tell her that it is too bad about the toy being broken, but she should not be sad because you are going to take her to the store this very afternoon and buy her a brand new toy that is even nicer than the one that was broken. You then ask, doesn’t that make you feel better?

What is the life instruction being given to this young lady? What interpretation of life is communicated by this response to the broken toy? It is possible that this daughter is learning that if something unpleasant happens, it can be fixed right away by going to the store for a replacement. But is this accurate? Are there times in life when a difficult situation cannot be remedied by a trip to the store? Is the child’s first need a new, replacement toy? What is more important here is that this little girl must learn to draw comfort from God, even when life hurts. Since she is growing up in a fallen and sinful world she will face many situations in life that cannot be solved by a trip to the store. As a young child, a favorite toy is a big deal. It can mean as much to child as a car or computer may mean to an adult. Getting a physical replacement is not necessarily the most important lesson that this child needs to learn. Rather,  she needs to be taught to interpret life events in light of God’s unchanging love and concern. A broken toy does not mean that God has failed to be faithful to her. The important things in life have not changed. God’s covenant faithfulness is never broken. A broken or lost toy provides the opportunity in the classroom of life to interpret life events in light of the wonder and mercy of God.

Give these examples some thought. Leave a comment if you can think of some other examples. I trust these will help you to see the importance of formative instruction.

In the next post we will look at the second truth that Tedd wants parents to grasp–the role of authority in life.

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