As we saw in the last chapter, the key objective for childhood is to address and train character, which can be defined as "living consistently with who God is and who I am." In order to address character we must focus on the heart, since the child's behavior and words reflect what is in his heart (Luke 6:45). We must go beyond dealing with mere obedience and rebellion. It is not just about "good" versus "bad," but "good" versus "God's best."
How do we address the heart? Begin by looking at the "what" of the child's behavior from the "why" perspective. For example, when my children argue over a toy or game, the issue isn't the argument itself. The core issue is that they are each being selfish, preferring themselves over others. In gardening, we need to get to the root of the weeds, not just cut the weeds back. Likewise, we need to get to the root sin issues, not just deal with the outward behavior.
In order to get a lasting behavior change, we must have heart change. But in order to have heart change, we must have a conviction of sin. As a parent, I need to help my child see his sin nature and his need for God's grace. I need to lead my child to the grace and mercy that Jesus offered at the cross. One great way to do this is by using stories and questions which force him to judge himself (see some examples of Jesus appealing to the conscience in Matthew 18 and Luke 10).
Therefore, training character involves teaching children who they are (image of God, fallen sinner) and who God is (Holy, Creator, etc). We must shepherd them towards a life of trust and dependence on Christ in every area of their lives. (Tripp gives some examples of how this could be done with the character traits of dependability and moral purity.) We must help our children know that sinful actions and words are a result of idolatry, worshiping self or something instead of worshiping the one true God.
Remember, the goal is not merely to address character for the current stage of childhood, but to prepare for the next step -- the teenage years. We must continually parent for the future.