Sympathy vs Strictness

I’ve been wanting to share some of my favorite encouraging/admonishing passages out of Educating the WholeHearted Child book – and I’ll start on page 60 of the 3rd revision – Direction: Leading with Sympathy (vs. Strictness).

I can tell you that this one parenting direction has caused the most conflict between my friends as we family together at parks and home. Trying to explain the softness of heart for those under 12, days spent following them through the woods and in the water, playing games, throwing the ball, hours of monopoly. I first started to really understand Sympathy from reading Sheparding a Child’s Heart. His experience had been – if you become passionate about their interests, they will return the favor and at least be interested in your passions. It is a shared event.  Starting with the strict discipline that they should be involved in your every whim, but their activities are to the side for when you have time, will only work on the outside while they are willing to obey. But if you start on their side, young, often, easily, interested in their craft, story, bug, worm, they are much more eager to see what you have to share as well.

I think of this chapter Leading with Sympathy – and would like to share a couple of quotes:

“It is unquestionably true that in no way can any parent gain such power over his child for the shaping of the child’s character and habits of life as by having and showing sympathy with that child. – H Clay Trumball, Hints on Child Training, 1890, Sidebar of Educating the WholeHearted Child, page 60”

“Love should be the silver thread that runs through all your conduct. Kindness, gentleness, longsuffering, forbearance, patience, sympathy, a willingness to enter into childish troubles, a readiness to take part in childish joys, – these are the cords by which a child may be lead most easily, – these are the clues you must follow if you would find the way to his heart.  J.C. Ryle, The Upper Room, 1888, Sidebar, Educating the WholeHearted Child, Page 60”

If you have a copy, I urge you to read through the Direction section – Clay goes on to explain that “sympathy was not about permissiveness, and it did not suggest weakness in parenting, Rather, it was the willingness to understand and validate a child’s thoughts and feelings. . .”. He goes on to lead you to think about the fact that children under the age of 12, when mentioned in Scripture, had no verses to defend the argument or justify “Strict Discipline”. 

I have seen for too often – been caught myself – parenting out of fear. Fear of physical or emotional pain. Fear that the child will get hurt. Fear based parenting puts you on guard, cuts off the child’s will, and promotes the because I said attitude and voice.  It is harmful to the child – it is the opposite of parenting out of love.

I have seen many a homeschool mom – set up a home of discipline, order, strictness, law. The home runs like an army boot camp. Orders are barked, immediate obedience is required, punishment is severe, and often physical. Even if the results are not what the parent wants, many times, the child is not compliant and the orders/punishments escalate until we are sitting at a park with a crying mom wondering what is going wrong in their home.

Or the battle of the wills. You WILL do what I want, I don’t care what you want. I’m older and I know more, and you WILL do this. A child has a request and you just keep saying No. Period.  How hard would it be to bend a knee, soften the voice, listen for a moment as to the child’s why, and then softly explain your why. Is it possible, that your 10 year old child has not yet attained your 40 yr old wisdom and knowledge just from osmosis at the dinner table? Before you get ruffled, I’m by no means saying, the child should have his way at all times because you bend to his will. No.  I’m saying the small step, quiet and understanding, to take the time to be sympathetic to his desires, will move the situation far ahead what you could imagine.

Think over the conflicts in your home this past week – with all ages of your children – and ponder when you took your offensive side, he the defensive side, both parent and child pouting and mumbling about being right. I’d throw up a caution flag if that is a normal part of your parenting style.

I am charged with setting the day, knowing what needs to be done, keeping track of alarm clocks, discipline, appointments, and character training, but if I’m to have a wonderful successful day – it will be as I’m joyfully leading my family along as a team, and not pushing them ahead of me like oxen.

Not sure if I’m speaking /typing all that is in my heart  – I do know I have a friend who does take the sympathetic way – and is often spoken with harsh words from her friends. If that is you – I will continue to pray for your family – for you to take the road less traveled. I can say – now with a teen boy – so far – it has SOOOOO been worth it!

Oh – I was looking for a few pictures – of activities I’d really rather not do – on this day – We really had a lot of reading to do – but who knows when we’d have a hot enough day to paddle again – so out went Jon and Max.


I can tell you that Jon came in and did his disciplined seat work in record time.  I could have made him do the seat work first, but it all worked out!


I really don’t like the boys drawing on themselves, and straying from the art lesson, but – they are still drawing. His hand was growling at me because I was photographing his art. His face and spirit were full of joy, but he found a way to say back off nicely. well. with a grrrr.


I can’t tell you how fun it is to have a crazy 13 year old boy.  I know we are only heading into the teen years, but so far it has been wonderful – challenging – hormonal – shifts in independence and responsibility for sure – but soooo much easier than toddler/diaper/colichood !


The teen attitude comes. No Pictures Please. No hugs today. You’re embarrassing me mom. – but he’s really sweet about it. This week has been all day work on his long board skate board. He’s been testing out designs, stains, trucks, wheels, bearings. He’s broken a few trials, he’s pumped up business on the internet to sell a few when his model gets perfected, his brother is working on advertising artwork for him. The dishes have not been done, the 19th century history has not been read, and I’m not sure about Latin this week – but it is easy to read two chapters tomorrow.

Have you found ways to Shepard their Hearts? Be Sympathetic instead of Strict? Not enabling and permissive to sin, but a life lived together?

About +Angie Wright

The Transparent Thoughts of an Unschooling Family of Boys - Answering the question - What DO you DO all day?
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2 Responses to Sympathy vs Strictness

  1. Julieanne says:

    I’m so with you about the sympathy parenting style vs. the strictness parenting style! I feel like we set a good tone with discipline and training in our home, and we also do listen closely, listen respectfully, and try to become a part of our children’s lives.

    A very good friend of mine was always very strict with her children. Now that they’re teens, there’s not a lot of love going back and forth between her and her children. This makes me sad, because she read the same parenting books we did, has spent a lot of time in prayer, but the relationship just isn’t there. I pray for her regularly, as I pray for myself…because I’m no perfect mom, and never will be.

    Thank you for such an excellently written article, Angie!


  2. Mrs. White says:

    Beautifully written!

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