I stood over him, wooden spoon in hand, facing that all-too-familiar look of defiance in his eyes. I had exhausted my patience with him. It started with telling him to come to dinner, but what should have been a simple transition from playtime to mealtime was now an all-out war of wills.
I had issued my warnings, and with each successive “I’m serious!” my blood started to boil. When I entered the room and was met with that defiant you-can’t-make-me look, I had had enough.
He saw it in my eyes. He had seen it in my eyes many times before. My rage.
The spanking didn’t even correct his attitude in the short-term, because what followed was not a broken will, nor insolence, but a look of fright. I had scared him, and that rage that came through my demeanor and my words had hurt him far more than the single swat to his bum.
This was the last time I spanked my son.
To Spank or Not to Spank
I expect at least some angry responses for an article like this, but for two separate reasons. Some likely think I should be locked up for spanking my son in the first place. Some, on the other hand, believe spanking is the only divinely sanctioned punishment available to parents and that by sparing the rod I’m doing my son a great disservice.
One study suggests 50% of toddlers are spanked in America1 despite the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics opposes all forms of spanking.2
Parents have been banned from using corporal punishment in dozens of countries, including Spain, Sweden, Poland, Kenya, and Israel, and there is an outspoken anti-spanking sentiment in the worldwide psychological community.
For many parents—as it was for me—the habit of spanking is not based on diligent psychological research but rather time-honored common-sense parenting. “I was spanked as a child, and come to think of it, I probably deserved it,” we often say. “I was spanked as a child—so were all my friends—and we turned out alright.”
Some might label this attitude overly simplistic, but a few modern researchers have muddied the anti-spanking waters with their own findings—claiming that mild forms of spanking, when accompanied by loving correction and reasoning, have no negative impact on children at all.
So, is spanking right or wrong? Wise or unwise?
What Does the Research About Spanking Say?
I start talking about the research not because it is our final authority on this subject. The Bible is our authority. I start with the research because, quite frankly, it is what is driving a lot of the discussion today and it is important to be informed about what the research actually demonstrates.
Let me summarize before diving into the data: there has been a lot of research on this subject, but there are so many nuances, it is difficult to come to any firm conclusions. In the long run, does spanking benefit or harm a child? Perhaps it is best to answer: It depends.
- A landmark meta-analysis of 88 research studies concluded that corporal punishment is associated with increased child aggression, increased antisocial behavior, increased risk of spousal abuse later in life, decreased parent-child relationship quality, decreased mental health, and a decrease of children internalizing morals.3 (Incidentally, this analysis has been criticized for including too broad a range of physical punishments beyond spanking—such as striking with an object, pinching, and slapping.)
- Multiple studies have concluded that spanking children, especially after age 6 and especially with harsher forms of spanking, correlates to higher levels of antisocial behavior later in life and an elevated risk of various personality disorders, such as paranoia and passive-aggressiveness.4
- In another meta-analysis of 26 published corporal punishment studies, even mild physical punishment—if used as the primary mode of discipline—is associated with negative behaviors later on.5
- However, the same analysis also concluded that when spanking is administered without anger and immediately after the misbehavior, it is associated with favorable outcomes for 2-6-year-olds—more so than threats, scolding, and timeouts that are not accompanied with reasoning.
Further studies have softened the blow (pardon the pun) of the above research. One meta-analysis of longitudinal studies concluded that the impacts of spanking on later negative behaviors and low cognitive performance are minimal.6
Some studies have pointed to other contributing factors when it comes to the potential negative impacts of spanking, such as genetics7 and cultural context.8 In one study, harsher spankings were associated with later negative behaviors, but not milder spankings. The same study found that children who were spanked once a month or less were no more likely to develop negative behaviors later on than those who weren’t spanked at all.9
Much of the reason why my attitude about spanking was wrong can be summarized by these findings. We can safely conclude from these studies that spanking can have some negative impact on children, especially if spanking is the primary mode of discipline, if they are spanked harshly and frequently, if they are spanked in anger, or if they are spanked for infractions they don’t remember.
Guilty as charged.
Could Spanking Be Beneficial?
Still, other research points to positive correlations. One review of the literature found that when mild spanking was used in conjunction with other disciplinary tactics, there were beneficial outcomes (such as reduced disobedience and reduced fighting). The same review found that the detrimental outcomes of spanking were primarily due to the overuse of spanking.10
Dr. Marjorie Gunnoe of Calvin College has found that spanking of children from ages 2 to 6 is associated with better performance in school as teenagers, a greater likelihood of engaging in volunteer work, and a greater likelihood to want to go to a university.11 “The take-home message,” says Gunnoe, “is that many of the best parents spank their children, and these children report better adjustment than their peers.”12
Psychologist Robert E. Larzelere has done extensive research on corporal punishment and has found that much of previous research wasn’t also looking for negative impacts of other forms of discipline in the home. One of his own studies found that while spanking led to later antisocial behavior, so did other disciplinary measures—like grounding, psychotherapy, sending a child to his or her room, or removing privileges.13
For me, refusing to spank my button-pushing, obstinate child was only the beginning. I quickly learned that my temper is unfortunately visible through nearly any form of discipline. Having a no-spanking rule for him is a good stop-gap for me to check my attitude—but I quickly learned that it was my heart that needed to change, not just my behavior.
For 2-6-year-olds, Dr. Larzelere advocates what he calls “backup spanking.” Relying primarily on other discipline tactics and working through problems verbally, but then using “backup spanking” to correct persistent defiance—a couple swats with an open hand, always followed by affirmations of love for the child. The trouble, he says, are when parents are overly punitive without affection or overly permissive to the near-exclusion of any negative consequences.14
Bans on corporal punishment, Larzelere says, undermine loving parental authority.15 Recent research may confirm his thoughts. A study published in the Akron Law Review revealed that since Sweden has outlawed all forms of corporal punishment in the home, violence has only increased: including children hitting parents, minor-on-minor assaults, and parental abuse of children.16
The Critical Factor of Anger
I chose to stop spanking one of my children for one critical reason: I simply could not do without gratuitous anger. I hated the man I was becoming around my son.
I find it interesting that in one of the above-mentioned studies, researchers found that parents who spank mildly and infrequently are 50% more likely than other parents to spank harshly and frequently a year later.17 Spanking often begets more spanking—and this was certainly true with me.
For many parents—and for me as well—the decision to stop spanking has less to do with a philosophy on spanking generally and more to do with our thoughtfulness when it comes to correcting and training our children. For me, spanking had become the default, and combined with a quick temper, this was a recipe for disaster.
One research study said it best: “The expression of anger, coldness, or hatred that accompanies the physical act of parental aggression could well be more detrimental than the act of aggression itself.”18
What the Bible Says About Spanking
The Book of Proverbs contains several admonitions to parents about spanking:
- “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (13:24)
- “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” (22:15)
- “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.” (23:13-14)
- “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” (29:15)
It seems clear from the context that corporal discipline is in view here. The word translated “rod” is translated several ways in the Old Testament, but here and in other places it is a stick meant for striking (Exodus 21:20; Proverbs 10:13; 26:3; Micah 5:1). Similarly, when God providentially brings calamity into someone’s life, often the Bible says He is using His rod (Job 9:34; Psalm 89:32; Isaiah 10:5; Lamentations 3:1).
From these verses we learn that spankings should be done in a context of holistic discipline and love. When the book of Proverbs uses the word “discipline” it is speaking primarily of instruction and correction. The rod must always be coupled with “reproof” (29:15), that is, verbal correction and reasoning. The rod must be used in a spirit of love (13:24).
Is It Wrong for Christians to “Spare the Rod”?
It should be remembered that when reading the book of Proverbs, we are not reading universal truths or absolute commands but rather “rules of thumb.”
Take, for instance, two proverbs that are smashed right next to each other: “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself,” and then “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes” (Proverbs 26:4-5). The clear meaning of these proverbs (taken together) is that there is a time to answer a fool according to his folly, and there is a time not to do so: the wisdom is in knowing what response is needed at what time. They are not meant to be taken as isolated proverbs stating universal, ironclad truths. Proverbs are situational truths and general rules for how the world works.
While Proverbs clearly endorses judicious spanking as a form of discipline, it also speak about the dangers and counterproductive nature of human anger.
- “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.” (14:29)
- “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (15:1)
- “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.” (15:18)
- “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” (16:32)
- “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.” (17:1)
- “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” (17:27)
- “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” (19:11)
- “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” (25:28)
- “A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression.” (29:22)
Yes, spanking is an appropriate form of discipline when used wisely. But spanking in a spirit of anger and without self-control only stirs up my household to more strife.
I have heard some parents often say that they cannot correct their children unless they are angry; to whom I have usually answered, then you ought not to correct them at all.
– John Witherspoon, 1723-1794
It is sometimes easy for Christian parents to endorse abuse that masquerades as spanking.
Flipping out on my son was as hypocritical as it was ineffective. By putting up the no spanking boundary, it forces me to think hard about my attitude, my word choices, and my disciplinary tactics.
- It forces me to listen for underlying desires and feelings under my son’s tantrums rather than defaulting to fury.
- It reminds me to work more with my son, not against him, in solving conflicts.
- It reminds me to be the example for my son.
- It reminds me to teach my son biblical motivations for obedience that help him to internalize his morals.
Will I ever spank my son again? I don’t know. But what I do know is that God is teaching me to be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger with my children. The anger of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God—neither for myself nor for my kids.
- Who Spanks Infants and Toddlers? Evidence from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study
- Where We Stand: Spanking, HealthyChildren.org
- Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated Child Behaviors and Experiences: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review
- Spanking by Parents and Subsequent Antisocial Behavior of Children and Parenting Behaviors Associated With Risk for Offspring Personality Disorder During Adulthood
- Comparing child outcomes of physical punishment and alternative disciplinary tactics: a meta-analysis, Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review
- Spanking, corporal punishment and negative long-term outcomes: A meta-analytic review of longitudinal studies, Clinical Psychology Review
- Analyzing the origins of childhood externalizing behavioral problems, Developmental Psychology
- Parenting correlates of child behavior problems in a multiethnic community sample of preschool children in northern Norway, European Child & Adolescent Psychology, and Sociocultural differences in the developmental consequences of the use of physical discipline during childhood for African Americans, Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology
- Forms of Spanking and Children’s Externalizing Behaviors, Family Relations
- Child outcomes of nonabusive and customary physical punishment by parents: an updated literature review, Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review
- Is It Ever OK to Spank My Child?, PSMag.com
- Dr. Gunnoe: ‘Parents need the option to spank’, AmSci.com
- Do nonphysical punishments reduce antisocial behavior more than spanking? a comparison using the strongest previous causal evidence against spanking, BMC Pediatrics
- Pro / Con: Spanking, LATimes.com
- Should Parents Spank Their Kids?, ScientificAmerican.com
- Corporal Punishment and Child Development, Akron Law Review
- Forms of Spanking and Children’s Externalizing Behaviors
- Harsh Parenting in Relation to Child Emotion Regulation and Aggression, Journal of Family Psychology
Do you struggle with habitual anger with your kids? For me, this has been a defining struggle in my character as a parent. While the Bible clearly endorses spanking as a useful means of discipline, it also recognizes the folly of anger.
Losing It: A Christian Parent’s Guide to Overcoming Anger is a short guide to help parents who want to get to the root of their sinful anger. It is more than mere anger management techniques. Breaking the grip of anger is not primarily about behavior modification but about repenting of often hidden desires of the heart that rule us—and running to the living God who alone can satisfy us.
Why stop spanking? Why not just do it according to the word? If you’re spanking out of anger, that’s abuse not discipline. It’s much harder and absolutely effective to spank when you the parent are cool headed. It’s not an act of selfishness at that point, it’s pure correction done in love and kids can tell the difference. You also mentioned multiple warnings given before spanking and losing your patience. I’ve found that giving warnings teaches your kids that they do not have to be immediately obedient. “Dad gets mad at warning # 3, so I have some time to obey.” Of course as children grow older, we need to look at what is most effective to correct behavior. My 11 year old would happily take a spanking instead of losing computer time, so she’s a bit past spankings as an effective punishment.
You are correct. That is the whole point of the article: we should never spank in anger. So, because that is where I lack self-control, I choose not to spank. You saw right to the heart of the matter. It is precisely because I am so quick-tempered (especially with one of my kids) that I choose not to spank him now.
It is good advice to not issue warnings—at least not the way I’ve done it in the past. It only gave him more time to disobey and more time for me to get mad.
Very interesting article. I spank my daughter but very, very rarely. And when I do spank it’s 2 swats on the bottom, no slapping, pinching, pushing etc like I got when I was a kid.
what do you mean not issue warnings? should you just go up to the kid and spank him out of nowhere? are you kidding?
No. As I said, I’m talking about issuing warnings “the way I’ve done it in the past.” This basically looks somewhat like the scenario I painted at the beginning of the article.
I’m a firm believer that if you are going to spank your child, it should entail conversation before and after, not just surprise attacks.
Adam, the problem Luke refers to is repeated warnings that serve no purpose. With our daughter, we started with “don’t do that”, followed by “if you do that again, you’re going to get a spanking.” Once she learned what would happen if she continued to disobey, we simply dropped the second warning. She quickly learned that if she defied the first admonition, discipline followed. It worked quite nicely.
I agree with you. I am so tired of hearing this argument and the Christian parents’ lame excuse. “I just can’t do it without getting angry!” My advice for those parents is that they better be hitting their knees and then the Word. My husband and I are very clear with our children when we have to spank them. We do not like it, in fact, it makes us sad. But God tells children to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1) and to Honor their father and mother. If they cannot obey their parents whom they can see, how will they EVER obey God, whom they cannot see or hear directly from?
It scares me so much to be reading so many Christian parents dealing with anger issues of their own when disciplining their children.
WE are supposed to be guiding them, discipling them, and disciplining them according to the Word. I’m afraid though that instead of spending avid time in the Word and crucifying their anger issues (flesh), they will instead just spend their precious time writing articles about how they can’t be better Christians. Great example.
I agree with you, Dee. It is about getting to the root of anger and uprooting it so that we can be the parents we are meant to be—going to God, His Word, and His people to grow into the image of Christ.
If you are insinuating that I am saying I “can’t be a better Christian,” you’ve misunderstood me. I hope I’ve not miscommunicated something in my article. As I said in my last paragraph: “God is teaching me to be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger with my children.”
The fact that I am modeling repentance for my children is one of the key ways I instruct them.
My comment stems from the fact that the way you are describing how you get when you go to spank is *exactly* how I approached spanking when my eldest were younger. And I think that a lot of times Christians do buy into this “I can’t do this “right” so I’m not going to do it at all.” This is an extreme and it’s a slippery slope.
But this is what I realized: My anger came from pride. Pride is the root of this sort of anger. In my mind I thought “I am the parent and this child is disobeying me, his authority! He should be obedient and respectful!!” and I would begin the cycle of threaten -> repeat -> threaten -> repeat until my head would virtually explode and then I would wait until THEN to dole out the physical punishment out of being angry that *I* wasn’t being obeyed… BIG NO.
When a child chooses to disobey his/her parent, he/she is choosing to disobey God – This is what we must discipline. Not because they aren’t doing what we told them to do but be cause they aren’t doing what GOD told them to do – obey. When I threaten, repeat, threaten, repeat, then punish it becomes all about ME because then my emotions are heavily involved and my judgment is then clouded… “Why didn’t you listen to ME, why are you disobeying ME?”
We have to teach them from a very young age that there are consequences for disobedience and those consequences are never pleasant. We also have a kid who doesn’t care if he gets a spanking so we have to get more creative with our discipline. We have had to find the equivalent of what would be a spanking for him. There are also “levels” I feel. Just like you said. There are infractions that result in spankings and then there are lesser infractions that result instead in maybe missing out on dessert or a few days of no videos.
Parenting is hard, I’m sorry if I came across judgey. I’ve just read AND written so many of these blog posts lately and I just really think it’s time that as parents we stop making excuses for our behavior and turn ourselves completely over to Jesus and let Him fix us – He does!! But we have to be sincere about repentance and it sounds like you are, as I eventually was.
I also believe when we have wronged our children, we owe them an apology. I believe that with all my heart and soul. A lot of parents don’t think they owe that to their kids and they just move on and try to do better. I think when we don’t come to our children and ask forgiveness for how we have treated them in the past (even if they instigated the behavior), then we are giving up one of the greatest ways straight to their heart.
Anyway, I wasn’t insinuating anything about you personally – just us as a whole broken, limited, and searching group of Christian parents.
I will be the first to admit that I fail daily and am actually about to go read the other article on yelling! THAT is my weak spot and I don’t want to allow myself any excuses anymore. There is no excuse!
We have such a short time with our children, it’s really hitting me hard that I only have a few more years to really influence my kids for God and that right there brings me to my knees in search of being a better Christian parent.
Hello Luke. It sounds to me like the real problem was not spanking, nor your son, but your anger. And according to what you wrote, your repetitive warnings to your son without action seem to have provoked you to a point that anger was the motivation, a kind of retaliation, for your spanking your son. You are absolutely right that anger can never bring forth God’s righteousness, even in spanking. However, the solution is not the cease to spank your son when it’s needed, but to bring your anger into subjection to God’s rule. You so clearly pointed out that spanking a child is a scriptural method of child discipline. Yet, you have stopped following this principle which you acknowledge because of your anger problem when your child is defiant. If the wise Lord gave us parents guidance to apply corporal punishment when needed, surely He can give us the power to execute it in a way that honors Him and truly helps your son. Giving up on following God’s guidance (the title of your post) is not the answer.
Secondly, I would point out that studies that include all manifestations of corporal punishment, both angry parental tantrums and calm, reluctant discipline are bound to be skewed. So none of that negates the reality that proper spanking, when called for, achieves it’s desired end (Heb. 12:11). Yet it is complementary to the worldview of modern parenting to lump anger-based near-abuse with purposeful, non-angry corporal punishment. The conclusions are foregone. Notwithstanding all of that, no wisdom is wiser than God’s wisdom, which you plainly pointed out. Furthermore, where have the modern parenting philosophies gotten us today? The kids, the ones who’s futures ride on our effective parenting, are not better for it.
Lastly, I want to lament the way your describe the two viewpoints on spanking (albeit slightly tongue-in-cheek): lock ’em up or spanking is the only way. So many articles characterize parents in this categorical way, that you are totally against spanking or you think it’s the solution to everything. It is unfortunate and untrue. There is a happy medium, a scriptural medium, and I regret that you didn’t point it out. Spanking does not have to be a parental anger outlet or temper tantrum. What more, without effective parenting in the harder areas, when you actually have to lead, guide, and shepherd your child in love, spanking is totally ineffective.
Please know that I mean no personal attack.
From a father of 6.
Hey Adam. Congrats on 6 kids!
You are absolutely correct, and you’ve seen to the very heart of the the article: don’t spank in anger. And you are also absolutely correct that the issue is about bringing my anger into subjection to God’s rule. I couldn’t agree more.
You’ve also seen to the correct balance (and something I drive at in the article itself): get control of one’s anger and spank in a righteous and loving manner. I completely agree. Until that anger becomes controlled, however, I refuse to provoke my son strife through unrighteous spanking.
I also agree with you (which I also stated in the article) that the studies that lump together all forms of corporal punishment are skewed. I think I presented a fairly balanced look at the literature, concluding that spanking can be beneficial provided it is done properly.
As for the “two points of view” on spanking” I think you are referring to the paragraph where I say, “I expect at least some angry responses for an article like this, but for two separate reasons. Some likely think I should be locked up for spanking my son in the first place. Some, on the other hand, believe spanking is the only divinely sanctioned punishment available to parents and that by sparing the rod I’m doing my son a great disservice.” These two points of view on spanking are two points that might be opposed to my conclusions, not the only points of view on spanking that exist—clearly, my article presents many points of view.
The whole point of the contention is the anger—a sad habit I’ve built up for many years prior to becoming a parent. It is a sinful disposition I aim to conquer in the power of the Spirit. My point is that the Proverbs present holy tensions and situational wisdom: on one hand, it is wise to spank; on the other hand, it is unwise to demonstrate ungodly anger. When self-control is lacking, we need God’s wisdom to figure out how best to mediate the tension. This article presents one such way to do that.
As I state in the article, “Spanking should be done in a context of holistic discipline and love…Will I ever spank my son again? I don’t know. But what I do know is that God is teaching me to be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger with my children.” I pray that lesson comes much sooner than later.
Maybe if you will read, “To Train Up A Child” by Michael & Debi Pearl you would understand the calm way to spank your child(ren) and how to get immediate obedience from your children. It has helped me to be calm, and see the lesson that I am teaching more than my feelings of anger. There is no struggle anymore. My oldest daughter was 2-3 years old when I was given the book. She was pushing all my buttons and worrying me sick with her strong will. Within a month or so of reading the book, she was a happy child. She graduated last month from high school and she is a treasure! She is a godly example to her siblings and everyone around her. She has had arthritis since the 4th grade and all of her doctors say that she is the best. She is a joy, and that strong-willed little girl was conquered through correct spanking and training after I read that book. I understand where you are coming from, but you can get enlightened to how easy it is if you will just read this book. I have 5 children, and there are well-behaved, loving, godly children that are happy, full of joy, and I am so thankful someone told me about the book. I rarely have to spank any of them, and the youngest is 6. God bless!
Hi Stephanie, thanks for the tip on the book. I’ve read a bit of the Pearls’ work, and to be honest, I’m a bit leery of their material. Some of what I’ve read has, quite frankly, disturbed me. When I started reading Created to Be His Help Meet I couldn’t get through it because the Scriptures were so twisted, it was jarring. I know To Train Up a Child is one of their best-sellers, and I have not read it yet, but perhaps I’ll pick it up.
I’m happy the book helped you, and I’m glad to hear that your child training has helped your children as well. Thanks again.
Crystal @ Serving Joyfully
I don’t comment a lot, but wanted to encourage you in the midst of what will surely be a lot of negativity. You are very brave to speak out on this important topic, especially since it’s one in which the Christian community seems pretty emphatic on. In my experience, most believe you should spank children and I believe this is sad for a variety of reasons. We don’t spank our children either…for a variety of reasons that would be way too long to share here.
Thanks for the comment. While I don’t believe there is anything wrong with the act of spanking per se, for me it became a vehicle for my anger, and I knew it was best to stop (at least until I could learn to have a better attitude about it). I have no problem believing that “the rod of correction” can be a useful tool to discipline and teach children—because the Bible says as much—but I also believe the learning can only happen when spankings are done in the right context, at the right time, with the right attitude, and for the right reasons. The wisdom is in knowing the right approach and having the character of Christ while doing it.
In reality, I think spanking is only the tip of the iceberg. Ungodly rage and anger can come through in many other ways between a parent and child. For me, anyway, the no-spanking policy with one of my kids has been a huge help to make me mindful of my anger.
The Pearl’s advice has been tied to severe cases of child abuse and even death. Please stay away. Spanking is not the only God ordained way to discipline your children and I think the points Luke makes here are very wise. A better book to read would be “quivering daughters” to see what repeated beatings from “non angry” parents can turn into.
I would not follow that particular book, either. I have read it, not just the bad press on it. I’m not even speaking as one totally opposed to spanking, but still the methods espoused there are damaging to your child’s dignity at the least.
Oh goodness that book is child abuse handbook. A strong will is a positive thing.
Blind obedience is not a life skill to beat into a child. Using God and the Bible to sanction child abuse is not Christian but hide behind it.
Your daughter by the grace of God is good. It is not because of a book, nor you blindly following an awful book. Amazing how unable you are to see it but dole out advice. Prayers for your pure blind faith in a book that harms children. My children a strong will is encouraged, they will never be sheep, or blindly follow and never beaten. A spanking is what that book prescribes it purely at it core is abuse plain and simple. My empathy to you, my sympathy to your children. Outside it all looks perfect inside you broke them that is not success.
A strong will is fine, but there is a thin line between being strong willed and a disobedient child without discipline. Kids need to learn boundaries.
Hi, Luke. I don’t really have strong thoughts one way or the other about spanking. I believe that us for each family to determine as they see fit, except in cases of abuse and/or unruly children. However, you repeatedly say that it’s not spanking per se, but your anger and rage problems that are the issue (as you have solidified in your response to comments). this is a bit troubling. If you are this concerned by your admitted problems with rage/anger, have you considered seeking help for those issues?
Yes. I’ve not only considered it, I speak about it on a regular basis with the counselor I see (an elder at my church who has been my accountability partner for years now).
“Rage” is probably too strong a word for some, depending on the mental picture that it invokes. I’m comfortable calling it that because of the internal sensation I experience, but my wife is quick to challenge my use of the word because she doesn’t see rage in me. I wouldn’t describe it as a mania or rampage, but more like outbursts of total exasperation. It doesn’t necessarily come through physically (i.e. spanking hard), but in my facial expressions, cruel comments, etc. The effect is ugly all the same.
I would say that in your case you were wise to stop spanking. Why? Because of the rage and anger you describe. I was beaten as a child and the most damage came from the anger and out of control rage in my parents’ eyes.
I do/did spank my children. With one child, however, spanking only produced more defiance and immediate hitting back. I stopped spanking her except when I felt nothing else would get through. My other daughter would occasionally get out of control and a swat on the rear end would bring her back to reason-ability. Nothing else seemed to work.
Spanking or not spanking should be determined by the method, the control of the parent (parents shouldn’t spank from anger), and the response it brings about in the child.
Hi JennK. Sorry to hear about the abuse you encountered as a child. This is the very thing parents (especially Christian parents) should seek to avoid. It comes through not just in how we spank but in whole whole disciplinary demeanor.
Our four children have all had different reactions to spankings. I think that is very typical for a lot of families.
I have tried not to spank in anger. I have done so twice, which I ended up apologizing. We are not perfect and mistakes should be recognized. I have found after the age of 8, spankings did not have the same effect on our son. He’s been spanked once since then, not ad the primary form. It’s a contentious issue and I think can be properly administered and also a deterrent. My children know the steps of punishment, spanking being the last and the behavior is normally corrected before then. Good for you for making a hard but strong decision.
Thanks for the encouragement, April.
Linda Marie Finn
Having been raised in a ” christian ” home and spanked when I did something wrong and loosing privileges also, I turned out to be someone who respects authority. God, Parents and Others who rule over me. I don’t tolerate any kind of abuse. ie. 14 year physically/emotional abusive marriage by a man 14 years older then I. ( I removed myself from this relationship after realizing it wouldn’t ever change and took my kids with me when I left. Not sure what his upbringing was like ! Anyway, I have read Pearls books and no matter what anyone thinks they are good and godly. You cannot blame the abuse of parents who read books to get insight and then took it to the extreme of abuse. No I don’t agree with everything said in the books, but I do agree that done with love it will work with young children. I do not spank my kids now but did when younger. They are past the age to spank. A good parent knows when it isn’t working and uses other methods to punish. ie. taking away privileges. Computer time, bike, tv time, going someplace, ect ect list is a long one…Extra chores, no special treats, no over night trips….you name it. Behavior modification methods work rather well and are approved by most. Anger is not a good thing. Having a partner that is likeminded works great and if you don’t have one that is, forget it…cause you get undermined at every turn. Even accused of abuse if you raise your voice, accused of anger when really your just totally frustrated with the actions your children are doing. I know I lived it ! Stopped even talking much as my spouse then said I was being abusive. Telling children what they did wrong and what they need to do to rectify the matter isn’t abuse, no matter what time of day , evening it is. My children took on an attitude that I was the one who was wrong and started verbally abusing me and being lazy and expecting me to do everything in the house chore wise. Well stands to reason that DH was the same way toward me and verbally abused me on a daily basis, so kids followed suit. I know I am not the only one who lived this, many women live it ! Even in Christian Homes, especially in christian homes as men get on a power trip thinking they are the “Head” and skip the loving that is so needed for the wife and the children to grow in grace. I refused to continue on in that relationship as it was abusive to me and to my children. Teaching girls that abuse is ok, teaching sons that its ok to abuse others in this manner. After we were able to get on a schedule and live a life that is productive and peace was present in our home from then on with DH removed from the home. If someone cannot display the fruits of the spirit no matter who they are dealing with…something is wrong with their faith. My Bible says that if the love of God is not in someone they are not His. Everyone claiming the name of Christ needs to display the fruits of the Spirit daily. Many will say they are saved and yet don’t act like it, we need to behave as is appropriate to our calling… To our spouse, to our children, to others.
Being spanked didn’t do me any harm, I knew as a child it came when I confessed to the wrongs i did or was caught in and rightly so. The spirit of the air is hard at work to destroy families and steal our children from the faith. One needs to be ever diligent to make sure that there is no way for him to infiltrate into our homes. All Sin and ungodliness needs to be kept far from the home. Children need to be loved and protected from anything or anyone who lives contrary to what is right. They need to be lovingly educated about he evils of this life with discretion.
Linda Marie Finn
I would highly suggest reading some of Dr. Scott Turansky books , They are very good and he is a christian Husband, Father and his wisdom is awesome !
Linda Marie Finn
PS: At some point in life, life’s stressors will make us not the best parents. Thats when its time to say were sorry and get on with life in a more positive manner…
Thanks for all the thoughts. You’ve obviously wrestled through the questions how to discipline children, asking a lot of good questions. As you said, much of this is about the attitude of the heart.
Linda Marie Finn
Parenting Shifts Series
These books can be found on amazon.com along with other books by Dr Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN , BSN with Julia Raudenbush
I think it’s awesome that you recognized your issue. We Christians need to stop jumping on others with our own convictions, if God has convicted someone to stop doing something we should not convince them they should do it anyway (1Cor. 8, causing a brother to stumble).
As Jesus said the two greatest commandments deal with Loving God, and loving others. You’re showing great love to your son and your family by stopping a harmful behavior for both of you. It’s not that i rhino spanking is inherently harmful; our family uses spanking, with our toddlers bit after that age there are more options available that teach lessons about the behavior.
Thanks for sharing.
Thanks, Jo. I do spank my twins (age 3) on occasion, but this is largely because their personalities have not been particularly anger-provoking for me. Usually just the knowledge that they might get a spanking is enough to encourage obedience, so spankings are fairly rare with them. My oldest (age 10) is a bit too old for spankings now (in my estimation). It is primarily with our middle child that the problem lies—and yes, that problem is my own anger.
Thanks for the encouragement!
Finally, another Christian parent who is making sense on the subject! Thank you for being brave enough to go against the grain! There are other more humane and kind ways of disciplining children which are not anti-Christian. I will be adding this post to my “No Spanking Please” page! whatever you do, DON’T bother even reading the Pearl’s trash. They’re child training method has been responsible for the murders of several innocent children.
Thanks for the comment. While I’m not against spanking per se (because the Bible isn’t), this post reflects how I have tried to wrestle with how to apply Scripture to my life. You are correct that there are many ways to discipline and train a child.
As for the Pearls, I’ve not read much, but what I have read has quite frankly disturbed me. I won’t pretend to be an expert critic of their material, but have yet to read a decent defense of their teachings.
I must come to the Pearls’ defense on the “To Train Up A Child”, because I know it teaches to NOT be angry, to be IN control, to be KIND, to be LOVING, but to train, not with BEATINGS, but with controlled spankings, and a routine that you use each time that NEVER, EVER is familiar to a BEATING! Please, don’t listen to the rubish if you have not read the book. I WAS angry trying to correct my strong-willed child, but because the Pearls’ book condemns anger, I saw how childish I was, and I was totally changed into a very calm parent. This book changed me into a SWEET parent with control of my child and a VERY HAPPY 2 yr old that is a 17 yr old gift of goodness and joy today. Believe me when I say, if you “train” your child, you will not have to spank very often. There is peace in the home and joy. I cannot believe what people say about this book. It amazes me! We know that anyone can blame anything for whatever they choose, but “To Train Up A Child” teaches to train, NOT BEAT, and it starts with a gently whispered,, “No, no”, and a little, tiny flip on the hand when they are young. It is God-honoring and never condones anger; it teaches more to the parent to control yourself so that you can lovingly train your children. Please stop the bashing… especially if you have NOT read the book yourself. I have, and it is amazingly simple and full of love… and the devil hates that we might actually raise respectful children if we do it God’s way, so be assured the devil hates this book. I do not want to argue with anyone, but I have to let you know what this book REALLY teaches. God bless you:)
I’m not sure what rumors you’ve heard about the Pearls that have invoked your strong defense, but since I’ve not read the book nor many of the rumors (beyond a few comments here), I won’t reply to the specifics about the book. I’m curious, however, if you feel this review of the book by Tim Challies at least accurately describes what the book is about. He, of course, has his own criticisms of the book, but does he at least summarize the book well? Let me know.
I was raised in a very similar manner as described in ‘To train up a child’. We were never spanked in anger, and it was always with conversation before and after with hug and “I love you” afterward. Do not, I repeat DO NOT kid yourself that this is anything but harmful! That kind of control is sick.
You will certainly get great results. Your kids will become obedient robots with no capacity to think or feel or protect themselves. You will probably turn them into perfect targets for sex offenders, and perps or victims of domestic violence. Oh they may grow up seemingly happy and adjusted but it will hit the fan sooner or later. You will certainly mess up their concept of loving relationships and a loving God. I am 37 and I still have nightmares and a non-existent relationship with my still emotionally abuse parents who rewrite the past to suit themselves. I have struggled to go to church because of triggers. My 3 siblings have fared no better.
I teach my kids how to behave and communicate, and how to tackle challenges all without hitting them and making them afraid of me. It’s not that hard to love them.
Sometimes when you step outside the norm of Christiandom, it is not popular. But, at the end of the day you have to do what’s best for you and your family based on what God has impressed on your heart because at the end of the dayHe is who you will answer to. Good for you for making the right decision for YOUR family. We also do not spank.our children for a number of reasons and have found our children to be more obedient because of that decision.
I am a father of eight and do believe spanking is an appropriate primary responses for some offenses, though certainly not all. I thought your lit review was evenhanded and recognizes the faults inherent in such studies, and you recognized the key issue is your anger, so I’d like to suggest something that helped me a couple years ago. I had just returned from a deployment, and thus gone several months without being angry with my kids at all, of course. My wife on the other hand was worn out dealing with the misbehavior and desparate to delegate the spanking back to me. So the arrangement began that she would witness a wrong and send the child to me for X number of spankings. She would tell me what they did and I would admonish and administer the spankings, but not being a party to the offense, I had no anger to dissipate. This was therapeutic for me as I developed the habit of spanking without anger, and instructing in love before sending the child back to their activities. Passing the child to the other parent for the administration of discipline a way to change your role, attitudes and ultimately habit of discipline. Even though you may actually spank more if you choose to give spankings on your wife’s behalf but it doesn’t go the other way, the practice of dispassionate spanking will do you good.
On the topic of defiance, my current practice is to explain why I’m giving the child a spanking and how many, and then start at that number and count down to 1 as I give them. If they struggle of scream, I calmly count up for that spanking rather than down. It puts the child completely and obviously in control of how many extra spankings they earn based on whether they accept the strokes they get or choose to reject them. A child of 4 or more can easily comprehend the difference between numbers increasing and decreasing, so your assignment of extra punishment for a defiant attitude no longer appears arbitrary to the child. (Obviously what you say on the occasion of a spanking is key, but that’s heavily influenced by your frame of mind, which is the reason you wrote the blog.)
Kudos for recognizing a problem exists and taking a step back to evaluate, and even seeking input from your accountability parner and readers’ comments.
Thanks the the suggestions, Paul. Spanking or no spanking, I think when a couple can work as a team to see to it a child receives the most even-tempered discipline, the better the result will be. My wife and I do this for a number of disciplinary measures or tough conversations with our children.
Like you, I also believe spanking can be a fitting disciplinary tactic as long as it is always combined with the right attitude and the right explanations.
Thank you for speaking out on this. I have always interpreted the Bible verses as using the rod to guide children. Not to strike them. I spanked before I knew better. I have three children- 12, 9 and 19 mo. Our 19 month old will be the only one who won’t endure spanking and that saddens me. I wish I would have known better sooner. The more reading and research I do makes me understand that children are the only ones who we do this to. How bad is that! Is it because they’re too small to fight back? Could we get away with spanking our coworkers, or any other adult for that matter? Nope, we’d be thrown in jail. What I have cine to learn is that spanking confuses children and can only make them aggressive. It puts fear into children. It takes away their true empathy to a situation and instead makes them fearful that if they don’t obey, they will be hit. My job as a parent is to teach them WHY what they did was wrong. Not that if they hit their siblings, they’ll be hit too. And if you’re spanking when you aren’t angry then that seems to be premeditated abuse. It doesn’t teach them anything.
As far as those crazy parenting books go, they’re linked to abuse cases and even deaths. An above commenter said this about her daughter. “That strong- willed little girl was conquered”. That is possibly the saddest thing I’ve ever read. How sad that her daughter was stripped of her true self and personality in order to conform for the convenience of her parents. Raising children isn’t easy and I have been awakened to the reality that it has brought to many including myself. There are many other ways to discipline children other than spanking.
While some commentaries say “the rod” is not a corporal punishment but rather a “rod of authority” or a “rod of guidance,” I tend to think the context of the Proverbs leads against that interpretation. For instance, Proverbs 26:3 uses the same Hebrew term and states, “A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the back of fools.” Compare this to Proverbs 23:13-14: ““Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.” The imagery in both sets of proverbs is one of physical force, not just guidance.
As I state in my article, I think spanking is an appropriate method of discipline for a child (because the Bible says as much), but I also think both the Scriptures and modern research reveals that spanking done with the right attitude, for the right infractions, with the right explanations, and for the right reasons is not harmful to a child. However, for me and for many parents, a quick temper and a poor attitude can turn spankings into something that borders on (or is) abusive.
I disagree with the argument that “We don’t spank other people, so we shouldn’t spank our children.” We also don’t correct other people the way we correct our children. This is because our children are under our charge, given to us by God for the formation of their character. We cannot say the same thing about our co-workers or our neighbors.
The reasons I wrote this post are: (1) to speak to Christian parents who struggle with anger, reminding them they are not bound by God, in their state of anger, to spank their children, and (2) to speak to those who are opposed to spanking about what the Bible and the research says about spanking, opening their minds to the idea that not all spanking is abusive.
Thankyou! It is encouraging to see a Christian dad who is willing to go deeper and deal with his heart instead of just sweeping it under the rug, because our little guys know wether we are sincere or not. Yours will thank you for it, and God will bless you with some clarity while you are seeking Him on this.
Thanks for the encouragement, Jessie.
Where I understand the heart behind stopping spanking all together (because of anger) it’s a dangerous line to walk when we pick and choose what we follow from God’s word. The bible is truth and is wisdom and God breathed. If we pick and choose what we feel is absolute law verse a guideline then we get into seriously flawed theology and biblical worldview. The Bible should carry much more weight and authority in our lives than studies and research. Though they might be helpful. Our God is a God of redemption and grace. He is a God of wisdom and truth. He can change and transform our families through correct discipline. The Bible is clear that if you spare the rod or withhold discipline from your children you hate them. As a parent we can work out our sin and struggles asking God for wisdom and peace in the midst of our anger when disciplining our kids. Walking away, taking a time out (for both of you) before biblical discipline is carried out can be helpful. Pray with your child before you discipline them in love and grace. How beautiful is it that God can transform your anger and your child’s disobedience on the midst of correct biblical discipline?! We will always be working out our sin. You will never be without anger completely. Your child will only be in your home for a short while. I say all this to say we have dealt with the same struggle and wrestled with the same thoughts but could not get past the truth of God’s word. It’s clear. If we do not hold the bible for truth and wisdom in that area then we start to lessen the authority of all scripture and it’s biblical application to our lives today. There are certainly other things you can do to train your child in addition to spanking however eliminating it all together is saying to our kids biblical authority is something we don’t have to completely adhere to if sin is present, etc. How we obey God is setting the example to our kids on how to obey and how we view obedience.
A question I have is how can you explain to your children why you spank the three year olds but not your son that you mention here? How do you flesh that out with consistency in your family? That’s an honest question 😉 not challenging your choice there, just a question I had when reading through the comments.
Hi Lauren. Interesting thoughts. I’ll try to reply as best I can.
Let me very clear on my method of Bible interpretation. I am not “picking and choosing” what is “literal” and what isn’t. The Bible does that for us.
When we interpret the Bible (or any piece of literature, for that matter), we do so examining its genre. When I read a story that starts with “Once upon a time,” and ends with “And they all lived happily ever after,” I know I’m reading a fairy tale. These are literary clues left by the author that tells me the kind of literature I’m reading.
The same is true with the Bible. When the Psalms call God a “strong tower,” I know it isn’t saying God is made of mortar and stone because I know I’m reading poetry. That’s how poetry reads. When I read in these poetic sections that when God created the universe he slew the mythical Rahab, the monster of chaos (Job 26:12; Psalm 89:10; Isaiah 51:9), I take that to mean that He is a God who created order, not that he actually had to kill a sea dragon before He could make the world.
When we get to the Proverbs we are dealing with a specific genre of ancient Near Eastern literature. It is a wisdom anthology filled with short sayings. These are meant to be read in a way that are distinct from, say, the Torah. The example I gave in the article shows this even from the internal structure of the book itself.
This is critical for any Bible interpretation. If we read biblical poetry like prose, we do injustice to the Bible as the penmen wrote it. If we read wisdom literature like law, we do it a disservice. Failing to see this we fail to treat God’s inspired Word the way it was meant to be read.
Christians can get very worried when we say that there are parts of the Bible that aren’t literal, and that’s largely because of what liberal theologians have done to the Bible in the last 200 years. It’s sad, really, because Christians need to understand the importance of genre if they are going to apply the Bible to their lives. This is especially true with how people misapply the proverbs.
As far as your question goes, I can say a couple things. (1) We typically discipline and correct our children in private settings, so the other children don’t see it. (2) My son who is currently not being spanked is under no illusion that he isn’t disciplined. Ask him any day of the week whether he is punished for his misbehavior, and he will tell you yes. The Biblical picture of child discipline is far more robust that simply spankings. It involves a whole host of tactics.
Excellent article! I couldn’t agee more. I have read a lot of these comments and see exactly what you are saying. I am going to have my husband read this also. I agree, spanking is biblical, but until we can do it right-out of love instead of anger, it’s best to discipline other ways. You and your wife (I’ve read some of her articles too) continue sharing your biblical advice! God bless!
Thanks, Meghan. Obviously, the best thing for everyone is to get a grip on our own anger and frustrations—approach all of discipline and training with the right mentality and the love of Christ. I think as we see remarkable improvements there, our disciplinary measures will flow from that.
Thanks for that article. I think it is really helpful to be reflective on the type of parents we are. I agree with what you have written, and we can’t underestimate just how much God will teach us, as we try to teach our children!
I believe spanking can be helpful, and as a mother home-schooling three sons, there were days when they were younger, where I needed to have the final say with a spank. Like you say, though, it must be delivered with loving explanation and be just one part of disciplining our children. I once read that for every one negative interaction, it is a really good idea to find nine opportunities to praise/love our children with positive interactions! Hard to do, but so important…I guess the naughtier the child, the more opportunities we need to take to find the great things they do, and sometimes even hone in on the neutral things, in order to praise!
It never failed to amaze me how our sons would come to us just minutes after we spanked them to tell us that they love us. It was such a joy then to fold them up in a big hug, and the infraction was left behind and forgotten on both sides. I say this not to try to pretend we are wonderful parents, our children have been relatively easy to raise compared to some, but that children really value boundaries which are consistent, unchanging, and will have the same correction every time.
Which brings me to the part that makes me sad. I wonder if children have become more openly defiant (I really felt for you Luke, when you said that your child looked at you with defiance in his eyes, and you somehow have to deal with it – I don’t have any answers, except don’t give up!) because our societies don’t support each other in raising children in community any more. We are all so concerned about not offending each other, that it is hard to be supportive of families as they encounter difficulties in disciplining their children. Many a time, I have wanted to pray with mothers for their children who have become very resistant to discipline and correction, but I can hardly go up and suggest we pray over her ‘naughty child’. My heart is that I want to see God-given, wonderful, positive change for the parents and the child, so that they can enjoy a great, functioning family, but I wonder if it would only serve to make them feel condemned that others are noticing their ‘failure’. It is not failure at all, just people needing others to stand with them in agreement, support and prayer.
Anyway, good on you for having a heart to hear from God as He speaks to you, and for being big enough to admit to and address issues that have risen up in you. Too frequently we ignore God’s voice telling US to change, in favour of wanting Him to tell someone else to change! The fact that you care about listening to God, and choose to be corrected by Him, will be one of the lasting legacies you leave for your children, and will be valued for generations to come.
Thanks again, it was a really helpful, honest article.
I’ve experienced that blessing as well, especially with my firstborn—when spanking is done in the right manner, it totally changes the dynamic.
I think it is so important for us a parents to support and teach one another. I know some of the best parenting advice I’ve received came through just watching certain parents interact with their children. This is why we need to be involved in one another’s lives as parents, letting others see the messy side of our family lives: we end up teaching one another what it means to be a godly parent who disciplines in godly wisdom.
Discipline is one of the most challenging parts of being a parent. There are no easy answers.
I loved this article. My husband and I arrived at a similar conclusion… and spanking is probably fine as a backup/rare option if used in a very thoughtful, careful way, but right now we are not spanking.
I’m not sure that I will never spank my child, but I think many parents use it as “lazy discipline” because it gets quick “results.” If you avoid spanking, you have to put more effort in to discipline your child in other ways and have more conversations in which you actively teach your child, but I think the results are often worth it.
Spanking regularly often results in children who obey or comply out of fear, but not out of understanding and ownership of their morality. Like the writer says in the article, they are more likely to internalize right and wrong with some of the other methods.
I think the problem lies with parents who use it regularly as their only tool in their arsenal, and do it in anger.
But I do think with very young kids who don’t talk or understand language very well yet and who are testing their environment and very curious, there may be scenarios where they want to stick their finger in an outlet or turn on the stove burner… and if they still do it after a warning — a smack on the hand may be the only way to get the point across and save them from major hurt or possibly death later on.
I hope God will guide me if a need ever arises where I may need to spank my child, and show me if & how it will be appropriate to do.
Yes, I’m very familiar with lazy discipline because I’ve done it myself. My wife tends to be the opposite: she knows if she’s going to discipline, she’s going to need to take the time to do it right. I admire that about her.
I slapped my daughter’s hand one time, and immediately felt bad about it. Thats exactly what I felt. I like I was being lazy and taking the easy way out.
I wasn’t specifically labeling you “lazy” — I hope it didn’t come off that way. 🙂
I think you have absolutely made the right choice. I had a very close bond with my first son, which was almost destroyed when I started spanking. I started seeing our entire relationship in terms of a struggle of wills — and he developed a lot of resentment and rebellion. Hitting is an aggressive behavior, it’s no wonder it gives us aggressive feelings!
When I quit spanking, I started to look more and more to the causes of his misbehavior, asking myself what was going on in his head and how things looked from his point of view. So many things that used to be battles, became learning opportunities for both of us! I would realize in some cases that he really didn’t understand why I was asking what I was asking; in others that he never heard me in the first place; in still others that he thought he was doing what I asked. In very few cases did he ever misbehave “on purpose” — and the less angry and pushy I was, the less often that happened. And almost always, a clear “do this and then we can do this other thing,” or “you will have to wait in your room till you are ready to do what I asked,” got the results I was looking for without having to yell.
A few good parenting books might help give you some other options about what to do besides spanking, and some ideas about how to work on your own temper. I like Parenting With Love and Logic, and How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, but there are lots more. It’s not “the Pearls or just let your kids run wild.”
Thanks for the book ideas!
I applaud anyone who is working on removing their anger issues from disciplining children. In my own life anger has also been a very real hurdle that the Holy Spirit has been helping me with. After reading through these comments I wanted to share what I have learned in my own parenting: Using anger to control a child’s behavior is not teaching them it is controlling them. Control is not discipline. Discipline comes from the word disciple– to teach. The Bible is clear that parents are to discipline their children, not control and manipulate to produce behavioral results. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” Ephesians 6:4. It is brave to stop old practices that aren’t working and work on ones that do work (and then write about it)! Thank you for being a great example and sharing with us your journey in parenting.
I have found that disciplining children requires parental self-control which is part of the Fruit of the Spirit.. “Against such there is no law” Galatians 5:23. I strongly believe that when we remove anger from parenting, work on self-control, and focus on teaching we will find we won’t be spanking our children.
I also wanted to add that I think that the 5 verses written by Solomon in Proverbs with the word rod in them is not a mandate to spank. It is advice on avoiding spoiling children and advice on discipline– that does not equal a spanking requirement. I do not want my children to end up the way Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, ended up! The dad who wrote the words about “the rod” ended up with a son who’s ways were inwardly evil, power hungry, and abandoned God. Instead I want my children to look to Jesus who could have chosen physical punishment for sinners (like the woman caught in adultery), but instead encouraged peace and forgiveness. The Man who said, “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones” (Luke 17:2) is Jesus, and He is the one that I will base my discipline choices on. Thanks for the thought provoking post. Parenting and discipline is something I have poured my heart into and have given much thought, time, and attention to so I enjoy reading how others are doing on their quest to raise children of integrity.
Thank you for such a balanced literature review and for being willing to share your struggles. We are in sore need of transparency in the Christian community.
I agree with Amy. My interpretation of Proverbs is similar. I believe that it points to the importance of disciplining but not necessarily spanking. I thinking if spanking were a mandate, it would be in other books as well.
Further, there are a multitude of scriptures that address how we as Christians should treat others. Why would we treat our children with less respect? As another commenter stated, hitting anyone else is illegal. Why is it permissible to hit the smallest, most defenseless members of our society.
I don’t believe spanking is a sin but I also don’t see it as necessary to raise a loving, disciplined child. As a young adult, I thought spanking was necessary, especially for some kids. But I learned about gentle and grace based parenting and it made so much more sense to me. My experience has been that God parents us with plenty of grace. I would like to do the same with my child.
If anyone is interested, some great resources for grace based parenting are Families Where Grace Is In Place by Jeff VanVonderen and Biblical Parenting by Crystal Lutton.
Finally, I’d like to note that God does not demand first time obedience from us, even to the point of accepting verbal defiance or reluctance. In Matthew – 21:28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 21:29 The boy answered, ‘I will not.’ But later he had a change of heart and went. 21:30 The father went to the other son and said the same thing. This boy answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but did not go. 21:31 Which of the two did his father’s will?” They said, “The first.”
Second, God requires obedience from His children. Infants, toddlers and small children have not received the gospel and are not yet accountable to God’s commands. To treat them as if they were is fallacious.
I am completely for discipline and obedience but I do not see scriptural support for the way it is defined in mainstream Christianity. Too many Christians are adhering to moral traditions rather than God’s leading.
Again, I appreciate your willingness to examine your own heart in this.
Thanks for the comment, Shay.
Luke, thank you for your honesty and vulnerability.
Thanks for reading!
I am surprised that you would consider giving space to an article that in the introductory paragraph violates so many principles of child rearing. What ever happened to “…train up a child…?” It starts when the child is born. Without training there is not discipline; only punishment. Punishment does not develop character. Training and discipline do!
That’s kind of the point of the introduction: it shows how not to do it.
Mom of 4
To me, the introduction was a powerful one. Thank you for boldly putting it out there. We are sinners — sharing the recognition and Biblical examination of your sin was helpful to me…I am struggling in the same way. It is also with one child, as she responds so differently than the others. I too decided that disciplining her with spanking needed to stop because I was angered easily by her response to discipline. We are working on her anger and mine through Biblical discussion and reading. Thank you for this encouragement to look at why and how we are disciplining…being sinners means we must always continue to examine ourselves.
You’re welcome. Glad you found this encouraging. Since writing this, I am glad to see how both my attitude and my son’s have changed for the better. As James says, the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. My anger wasn’t producing righteousness in myself or in my son.
Instead of researching only the word “rod”, please look up the translations for “child”. You will quickly find that those sections are actually referring to young men in the 18-24 (approximate) age range. They are speaking judiciously. I’m sorry, but no. God has never told us to spank our children.
In fact, Jesus himself said it would be better that we jump into the ocean with a millstone about our necks than to harm a hair on a child. It saddens me that the pervasive view in our country is that the jails are filled with people who weren’t spanked as a child, despite the reality being the exact opposite.
The extreme “spankings” I received as a child are the reason I’ve chosen not to spank my son. I too am incredibly quick to anger. I was never taught how to control that anger, because my child tantrums were always responded to with a paddling. My parents were atheists, so it certainly was never driven by love.
I do know there are many, many Christian, and non Christian good parents out there who give a few appropriate swats, and I do NOT consider them abusive in any way. However, I do have to question why, if only a swat or two is applied, these people are so insistent that it’s necessary? I really am curious, no judgement here. My son is now 11, and he has never been spanked, not even once. His teachers will tell you to this day that he is the epitome of kindness, and that they have never known a child with such a gentle, good-hearted nature. Perhaps I’m too quick to speak, as he causes no issues as yet. He doesn’t back talk (he can’t, he’s severely apraxic), he doesn’t rebel. When we feel the need to decree an edict, he obeys. He believes as we do, that human beings have a right to their bodies, without fear of being struck. It’s very difficult to address with anyone, though, because we live in the south, and I’m afraid anyone I know would verbally attack me simply for not spanking. There seems to be so much distaste and judgement against it, and I truly believe it is unfounded. Have a great day. Sorry for typing so much. 🙂
It is true that the Hebrew word used in three of the above passages (נַעַר) is also a term for a young man. But it is used in the Scriptures for the very young as well. Samuel is called a “child” (same Hebrew word) both before and directly after he was weaned (1 Samuel 1:22-27). As a baby, Moses is called a “child” (same Hebrew term) in Exodus 2:6. David’s child that died in infancy is also called by the same term (2 Samuel 12:16). Even Samson is called a “child” (same word) while still in the womb of his mother in Judges 13:7.
It is also clear in other contexts that the word simply means “all youth” as opposed to the elderly, thus an expression of extremes—”the youngest to the oldest” (Exodus 10:9; Joshua 6:21).
I certainly know a lot of parents who received extremes spankings as kids, and this has both turned them off to spanking and given them no good example to follow even if they wanted to spank. I would say the same about anger: I know many people who learned patterns of anger from their parents (spanking or not) and have had to fight hard not to become like their parents in this regard.
Certainly there are probably many kids (perhaps yours included) that have never been spanked and are not classically rebellious kids. Some of them might be due to the temperament of the child, but I also think it has to do with the overall parenting approach of the parent as well. Parents who set clear boundaries but approach their children with warmth clearly set their children up for greater success in life (as opposed to cold, authoritarian parents or permissive parents).
To answer your question: I think for many parents, appropriate spanking is one way in which they can take quick and decisive action in discipline, rather than dragging out a punishment, or worse yet, screaming and getting angry. The spankers I’ve met who do it well not only refrain from anger, but their spanking is actually a vehicle for calm discipline. It quickly communicates to the child that the behavior was wrong without a dramatic or drawn out punishment, and it gives the parent a method for communicating a message without dragging needless emotion into it. This is something I would love to learn—and am learning.
I’m very proud of you!!!!
1.For having the logic to see what you were doing to your son, your family, yourself and society.
2.For having the courage to admit this fault publicly for the betterment of humanity.
3.For having the desire, motivation, and self control to break the habit.
4.For speaking out against the violence that parents are spreading to our society through our children.
5.For guiding parents by instruction, but especially by example of true love shown through understanding and kindness for your child.
6.For denying pride and reflecting humility and selflessness.
It amazes me at all the beneficial results that one simple decision can manifest.
You are one of the few people that I can call a hero!
Don’t ever doubt your decision. Your child is a human and deserves to be treated like one. He deserves to be treated as you wanted to be treated as a child. Life can be confusing, and complicated for us as adults, imagine how confusing and complicated it is for a child that doesn’t have the emotional and mental development that adults have. I read a medical article that said a person can’t make logical decisions until the frontal lobs of the brain are developed. The frontal lobs of a child aren’t even developed until approximately 12 years old. So why are parents taught by society to spank their 2 and 3 year old toddlers and elementary school children?
It says in Collosians 3:21 Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.
I’m what they call a “listener” on a website for people who are in crisis. We lend a caring, listening ear to those who don’t have an understanding person to turn to in their personal lives. I have listened over and over to discouraged teenagers cry about how their parents beat them down emotionally, physical abuse is one of the ways in which the parents have done so. We have a generation of very discouraged kids that feel unloved, and abused.
I talked to one teenager who was very open about her feelings on the topic of spanking. This was a teenager that I knew personally. She only got spanked on an average of once a year up until she started middle school. She said that spanking felt like the worst form of rejection. She said it took the focus off of the disobedience and made her focus on the physical and emotional pain that it produced. It also caused her to focus on the ignorance that her parents had towards her disobedience. They never took the time to ask her “why” she was disobeying. Parents don’t take the time to ask questions and “really” listen. If they would, they would be surprised. She also said that the spankings caused her a lot of intense anger towards her parents. The teenager in mention is a grown woman now, and to this day she does not see the justification of the spankings she endured. It was over things that she would never spank her children for. I think, for the most part, spankings show a parents ignorance. We would rather control the child’s actions than mold their minds.
Many of the teenagers I’ve listened to suffer from depression over their parents having no understanding about why they do what they do. Spanking only puts fear in a child, it does not make them see the reason as to why they shouldn’t do what they’re doing. We need to take the time to explain the reason why they should or shouldn’t do the rules we give them. If we don’t have a logical reason as to why our children should or shouldn’t do something, maybe we need to reconsider the rule?! Because “it’s embarrassing”, “our parents made us do it”, “other parents make their kids do it”, or “society doesn’t like it”, is not a good reason. A child dancing around in the park doesn’t deserve a smack in the head, or even on their rear end, all because a parent is embarrassed that people are looking. I see too many kids getting smacked, spanked, criticized and yelled at for unjustified reasons. Let kids be kids, not just for the sake of bettering our society, but for the sake of the child’s emotional and mental well being. For the sake of savoring their love for us. Let them be human!
It says in the (KJV) Proverbs 23:13 Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.
If we’re going to obey the Old Testament then we might as well obey all of it, right?
And in the Old Testament, the book of Deuteronomy it says to stone your children when they refuse to obey.
Deuteronomy 21:18-21 Deuteronomy 21:18-21 (KJV)
18.If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:
19.Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;
20.And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.
21.And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
Are we willing to obey the command to stone our children when they won’t listen to us? That’s what God’s word says to do. If not, then why are we so willing to spank them? No where in the New Testament does it say to spank your child.
Also, if you’ll notice, it mentions being drunk. This would have to be talking about kids that are older, at least mid to late teens, not toddlers and elementary school children. So what makes us so sure that when proverbs says to use the rod that it’s talking about small children? Has anyone considered that maybe it’s talking about older teens as well? One that are deliberately destructive and causing all kinds of havoc, and not small kids that don’t have the intelligence to make logical decisions?
God dealt with his people a lot different in the Old Testament than he does in the New Testament. And Jesus teaches “us” to deal with people a lot different in the New Testament as well. Did Jesus not say in Matthew 5:38-39 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. Jesus was showing them that under the old covenant it was an eye for an eye, but under the new covenant, we are to turn the other cheek and let them do it again if they so desire. We are not to treat people the way we treated them under the old covenant. God himself said that the old covenant was weak and unprofitable and that there was need for change. It says in (NKJV) Hebrews 7:18-19 For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law made nothing perfect. The Old Testament was the law. We are no longer under the law. We no longer stone people to death for not obeying.
I just want to leave the readers with this. Can you imagine the change of heart parents would have if it became the norm for one spouse to spank the other spouse every time they did something out of line? How about a smack in the head? Or a pop in the mouth? We can dish it out but we would refuse to take it. I doubt that any spouse feels that they deserve corporal punishment for “anything” they do. It’s humiliating, disrespectful, unmerciful, and emotionally damaging. And accidental injuries and even deaths have occurred from corporal punishment.
Hi Dawn. Thanks for your thorough comment. You bring up some interesting thoughts here.
First, thanks for the encouragement! I think I made the right choice for myself and my son, and it is good to hear what others think about it (for good or for ill).
Second, your comments here brings up a hot-button theological issue: that of interpreting and applying the Old Testament law to our modern lives. I can’t get into all the complexities in a comment, but someone might object to your reasoning saying that it is one thing to say we aren’t under the Law of Moses (such as the laws you cited in Deuteronomy), but it is another thing to say this means none of the Old Testament (such as the Wisdom literature in the Proverbs) is applicable. Was Jesus actually canceling the validity of the eye-for-an-eye law in Matthew 5, or was he merely correcting the abuse of that law (i.e. not abolishing but correctly interpreting the law, as he says in 5:17)? Was the author of Hebrews saying the entirety of the Old Testament was null, or was he merely talking of the “law” (i.e. Mosaic legislation)? I ask these questions because you should know that larger issues lie behind your interpretations, more than just the application of moral codes.
As for your thoughts on spanking itself, much of your thoughts here extend not to spanking alone but to any style of parenting that would be authoritarian.
From the research I cite in this article, it seems that there are many parents who can spank their children in a manner that brings immediate correction to problems, but they do so in a manner that is encased in loving conversation, explanations, and very controlled emotions—I was not that man. For those who’ve never seen that kind of spanking before (and for those who experienced something abusive), it may seem like this kind of spanking doesn’t really exist, but it does. On the other end of the spectrum, some parents might avoid spanking but still be just as harmful with their words, emotions, and lack of explanations. (It sounds like you agree with me here, but I wanted to call it to the forefront of the discussion.)
Writing this article has helped me to realize that spanking, for me, is only the beginning of the correction I need in my attitudes towards my children. If I stop spanking my son but continue to verbally harm him, I’m still doing him no favors.
Thanks again, Dawn. Thanks for being a great listener.
Jesus was sent to Earth to set an example and I don’t remember him ever striking a child so why should we? I don’t ever recall him bringing pain to one either. The rod doesn’t necessarily mean a stick, it means guidance. The Bible also says if you over indulge with food to slit your throat so if people took that literally as they are with the “rod” there would be a lot of throat slitting on Thanksgiving day. There is never a right or wrong way to abuse your child. Hitting is hitting. People just like to use the Bible as a crutch for not being able to face up to the fact that they have their own issues. Why is it ok for you to hit your child because they did something you didn’t like and not an adult? Because your bigger than them? God is bigger than you but does he strike you with lightening every time you sin? No he doesn’t he forgives and provides the word as guidance. Stop using the Bible to justify hitting your child and being a lazy parent.
I have been wrestling with this same issue for quite a while myself. How do I, as a fallen sinful parent, train and discipline my children in a God honoring way, when the very act of discipline stirs up so much anger in me?
I’ve let myself be influenced far too much by the world (anti spanking) and the “church world” (if you don’t spank you’re sinning as a parent) and I’ve let me son get lost in the midst of it all.
I’d LOVE to have a cut and dry answer, like never spank or always spank. However, God’s calling me to abide in Him and be led by the Spirit, not relying on my own wisdom or the settings on my auto pilot. That, and a major heart change that only the radical cross of grace can bring about in me.
I gotta go pray. I’ll pray for you too. 🙂
I know what you mean.
For me the first thing I have to do is pray each day about God helping me get to the root of my frustration and anger. I plan on writing a whole article about this, but in the end, James 4:1 says it best: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” In short, we get mad because we do not get what we want. We have a desire for something—maybe even a really normal or good thing—that has become a ruling desire. We want that thing so much, we make it the source of our stability, happiness, and joy.
For instance, it is easy for me to make respect a ruling desire: when I see disobedience I take it really personally. Suddenly my child becomes not my disciple but my enemy. The quicker I can recognize that this is what my heart is doing, the quicker I can turn that desire over to God, and the quicker I can gain some composure and start seeing my child through new eyes.
Wow! My mind is blown. My middle son has always been defiant and I spanked him frequently when he was little. He has always had an incredible resilience to pain and all spanking did was irritate us both. I finally had to resort to grounding him off electronics as a way to control his behavior. He’s now 13 and begs me to be “more Biblical” and spank him again rather than losing privileges. I’m relieved that the rod is not always in the context of a literal wood, but of chastening.
I think when the rod is mentioned in Proverbs, it is certainly physical, but it is more than physical. That said, just because we are told in Proverbs that the use of the rod is a good thing for children, this does not mean that the use of anger is.
I’m glad the article encouraged you!
My husband had a glorious cup of Starbuck ck’s sitting on the counter for me this morning. I walked into the kitchen just in time to see my two year old spill the entire cup. I chose to put him in his room rather than spank because I knew that I would be spanking out of anger and frustration. Thanks for the article and research references.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS!!!
You put into words what I have been trying to tell others for a long time. What you describe is the way I was raised, my mothers rules for punishment:
-Never punish your child while angry, time out’s benefit the parent mainly, if you find yourself angry when disciplining your child, send them away for YOU to have a time out. When you can think clearly again, then go and speak with your child
-Never strike anywhere but the behind, striking face and hands is to quick and done out of anger; taking the time to have the child bend over your lap.
-My mother always spoke to us as to why we were being spanked, making us verify exactly WHY we were being disciplined; and had us apologize.
-After the spank(ings) my mother told us that she did this out of love, that sin hurts and this small, quick pain was so we wouldn’t disobey and face harsher painful consequences in the future. We’d hug and that was it.
I have never held ill will for it, and truely feel it made me a better person. Everyone is different, every child is different what works for one now may not work in the future for that same child; let alone a different child. To say one form of punishment is superior to another is over extending to say the least. As long as you discipline out of love, not anger, with God in mind, and tailored to that childs current needs; you are doing the best thing for that child.
My mom tried time out’s and counting, all she knew was she was getting angry to the point of striking out of anger. She said from then on she learned to use time out’s for HER to cool down (as opposed to the child), and then with a clear mind came and talked to us before the spanking; if one was needed.
I spank my children as a last resort now, as like you I found my self striking out of anger. I use “time out’s”, but I call them “cool downs”. I don’t use them to make my son think about what he’s done, I use them for him to calm down from a tantrum (he’s 2, he’s still learning to control himself) and for me to calm down from the stress of his screaming. After that he’s much easier to handle, and I’m in a much better frame of mind to handle his attitudes.
Thanks again for the article, you have found yourself a new subscriber!
Hi Ciera! Thanks for the encouragement! Nice tips.
hi,appreciate your blog post. not an easy task to write about this topic. i think the title might get people all worked up. i truly get you on the anger part. i commend you for the choice you’ve made and also praying for those of us dealing with anger! what inspired me the most though were your answers to all the comments, you remained calm, honest and caring! even though a lot of them would have driven me to anger (just being honest) so keep on fighting the good fight!
Thanks for your comment. I agree the title might get people worked up—it’s part of the reason I chose it. 🙂
I’m certainly not saying I don’t get mad at commenters, but it’s good to see my anger doesn’t come through in the comments.
Thank you for this article. My only comment would be that as Christians, the research that the secular world has to offer either in favour of or against spanking really need not be taken into consideration. The Scriptures and the Holy Spirit are sufficient for the believer who is seeking truth in administering discipline. You were wise to take a break from spanking your child, considering Ephesians and Colossians warn parents not to exasperate their children (or embitter them). It may be that this child will benefit more from having a one-to-one conversation (in the calm) about their sin and disobedience. Over the years I’ve come to see that the world’s wisdom is almost always contrary to what God teaches and therefore bears little on my decision making.
I trust that as you humble yourself and confess your sin of anger that God will be faithful to control that area. Blessings.
I don’t disagree with you at all. I approached this article from a more apologetic standpoint because the reason why so many people stop spanking their kids are because they believe “modern research” has told them not to. People need to know the research on these subjects is a lot more nuanced than they think.
I also agree that as far as a Christian’s source of authority goes, the Word of God needs to reign supreme. Where “secular” research can shed light on things, I lump this under what theologians call “natural revelation” (at least if it is done correctly). This is why I end the last half of the article devoted to the application of the Word and why I promote my book, Losing It, at the very end of the article—a book entirely focused on applying the Word of God to the problem of parental anger.
As for my own anger, God has been so faithful to lead me away from it and sanctify my heart in this area. It’s amazing to see how God has changed my life in the last year and a half since writing this article.
“He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the Day of Jesus Christ.” What a comfort to know that His work is to sanctify us for Christ’s coming. And what a testimony your journey has been to His sanctifying power in your life.
Yes! I agree! How the spanking is done and why is so important! For little people, a slap on the hand helps them keep their hands off something that could hurt them (worse than the slap on the hand.). It’s how they learn before they can reason. And we do what we can to keep the dangerous things out of reach.
I used to have a swat chart. My children knew exactly how many swats each offense was worth. I’m quite calm and matter-of-fact about their swats. I don’t like it, but if that is the most effective way to teach them certain things, then that’s how it needs to be done.
Rebellion and willfulness are the worse offenses. I do respect my children and their individual personalities. It’s not about beating them into submission! They are allowed to explain themselves, but not argue and yell. Their conversation needs to be respectful. Same for mine. They still need to obey, unless they have a valid reason. That’s rare.
I use timeouts for antisocial behaviors. They can earn credits for TV or computer time for immediate obedience. We need to remember that discipline can be and should be positive. It works both ways, encourage good behavior and discourage bad behavior.
I know one dad who takes the fee fi fo fum approach. He stomps down the hall ready to swat, without hearing the story. His children never felt that was fair. Sometimes he would swat the wrong child. Or sometimes there was no offense.
We need to listen to their story and get all the facts if possible. I never felt it fair to punish someone if they didn’t understand. Although the swats on the hand were for training their hands not to touch.
What did I grow up with? Mommy would warn me and warn me and finally, she had enough and she would spank me. What did I learn? I would wait until I knew the next warning came with a swat then I would quit. Daddy explained, he spanked, then let me sit in his lap and cry as he encourage better behavior next time. I remember crying in his pocket. That’s the way I remember it. I look back at those times as sweet.
My first three children are 34, 34 and 29 and training their own children. I don’t always agree with how they discipline my grandchildren, but it’s their turn now and I respect that.
The problem is with your rage, not the act of spanking. Eph 4:31, Col 3:8
God’s prescription for foolishness and rebellion is spanking. Pr 13:24, Pr 22:15, Pr 23:13.
It won’t forgive their sin, but, done properly, it can give them a realization of consequences and lead you to reminding them of the Gospel and need for Christ.
Parents are the first ones who need to repent and trust in the Lord. We need to ask forgiveness when we sin against our kids. But don’t throw out the commands of Scripture because you are being disobedient.
Also, stand on the solid rock of God’s word rather than the latest psychological study.
I agree the problem is the anger, not the spanking. In fact, I said as much in the article when I wrote, “I chose to stop spanking one of my children for one critical reason: I simply could not do without gratuitous anger.”
I also cited all those Scriptures in the article, along with my explanation of them. I completely agree with you about what they mean.
I also am standing on the Scriptures, not psychology. If you disagree with my take on the Bible, please let me know what it is. I’m not clear from your comment exactly what your disagreement is.
As a Christian pediatrician, I have seen it all over the past 30 years. I have seen children who were never disciplined, children who were disciplined poorly, children who were grossly abused, and children who have been faithfully and biblically disciplined. I have raised my children, who are now raising their children, and we have all grown in Christ over these generations. I heard a sermon recently on “Spare the Rod” which really rubbed me the wrong way. The emphasis was a gross imbalance of the use of a spanking implement (rod) over and against loving positive training. Certainly, if the application of an implement to the seat of correction of our young children is, indeed, biblical, we have to accept the consequences and obey God rather than man. But, my wife and I have sat under biblical teaching over the years which demonstrates that the intended recipients of the rod, according to Solomon, are not our youngest and most tender children, but rather fiercely rebellious and foolish adolescents. We have pursued more regarding this teaching with personal Bible study finding support for what we were taught. The Hebrew word used generally throughout Proverbs [na-ar] most commonly describes “young man, lad, adolescent, servant,” according to most Hebrew lexicons. Consider also the sorts of admonitions Solomon gives juxtaposed close by such references to “na-ar”. One of the classics is Proverbs 22:14-16 “The mouth of an immoral woman is a deep pit; he who is abhorred by the Lord will fall there. Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him. He who oppresses the poor to increase his riches, and he who gives to the rich, will surely come to poverty.” Neither the previous clause nor the following pertain to your young children, but rather to adolescents, young adults, servants. While not all Proverbs pertain to multiple verses, the pattern is striking regarding “na-ar.” I discussed this with a Hebrew scholar/pastor recently who concurs with this, and circuitously pointed me to your site. I certainly believe that Christian children need to be lovingly, consistently, firmly, biblically, disciplined/discipled, 95% of which needs to be positive and 5% corrective/negative, and I believe in spanking — indeed, I teach the parents of my patients how to spank — but I do not believe that it is either biblical or wise to use wooden spoons, sticks, belts, etc. I have seen families utterly destroyed by the legal system in our country by the abuse of these implements. Out of love for the families and out of faithfulness to God’s Word, I believe that this needs to revisited thoroughly. I am open to feedback. Blessings.
I’m very open to discussing this, yes. Thanks for the comment.
First, I hope my article shows we have a lot of agreement and overlap. There’s much we see eye-to-eye on, and I hope that is obvious to you in the article itself.
Your contention is that the word for the one receiving the disciplining rod is a rebellious, foolish young man. I would first like to point out that the same word is used in the Bible for the very young as well. Samuel is called a “child” (same Hebrew word) both before and directly after he was weaned (1 Samuel 1:22-27). As a baby, Moses is called a “child” (same Hebrew term) in Exodus 2:6. David’s child that died in infancy is also called by the same term (2 Samuel 12:16). Even Samson is called a “child” (same word) while still in the womb of his mother in Judges 13:7. In other contexts that the word simply means “all youth” as opposed to the elderly, thus an expression of extremes—”the youngest to the oldest” (Exodus 10:9; Joshua 6:21). So we have to admit it is not out of the realm of possibility that Solomon would use the term the same way here.
But I also agree that context is important in these proverbial sayings. And, as you also point out, context is a bit tricky when it comes to a string of seemingly unrelated proverbial sayings. So let’s look…
Proverbs 13:24 – This one is pretty clear. Loving fathers are diligent to discipline, meaning they discipline their children early—they don’t wait until behavior is out of control. This seems to at least imply that younger children are also in view. (I’m not, of course, suggesting that older children aren’t in view, but that Solomon didn’t necessarily segregate between the very young and the old when thinking of fatherly correction.) Two verses before this, the righteous one is one who keeps two generations of his progeny in mind when accumulating wealth (children and grandchildren), showing the very young are not completely out of Solomon’s purview.
Proverbs 22:15 – I’m having trouble seeing the connection you’re making here. Why don’t the verses around this one pertain to the father/adult? It would seem this proverb is not addressing the foolish child because someone didn’t use the rod on him, but rather is addressing those who didn’t use the rod. If context means anything here, the surround proverbs address the same person: the adult who is in a position to use the rod, not the foolish youth with no offspring yet.
Proverbs 23:13-14 – Here context is really helpful because we have lengthier statements. If we take 23:1-18 as an address of Solomon to his son, then the admonition about the rod is Solomon telling his son to not withhold discipline from the grandchild. While this doesn’t rule out older grandchildren, it also doesn’t rule out younger—it may even imply it.
Proverbs 29:15 – Again, with these isolated saying, not much can be gained here, but there’s a lot here for royalty learning how to act and treat those around them. In verse 21, a word related to na-ar is used (no-or) speaking of what happens if you pamper servant “from youth” (early life, childhood). It would seem, then, early life is not out of Solomon’s consideration in this section: there’s a contrast between disciplining and pampering, and this includes childhood.
Let me finish by saying that I’m very open to more comments and considerations. I’m happy to retract anything in this article I’ve written to get to the truth. If I’m overlooking something, I want to know.
Very informative. thank you
Thank you for writing this article. I was sent here via a link from Kim Sorgius at NotConsumed.com. It was very convicting to read this, especially tonight. The Lord’s timing is perfect. His providence never ceases to amaze me. Thank you again for your honesty and for pointing me to Christ. I am buying your book on anger right now.
–Mom of 3
Hi L.S. Thanks for stopping by. We know Kim very well and consider her a good friend.
Glad the article was helpful to you! Enjoy the book!
I want to say thank you for sharing your heart in this post (you speak of the exact issues my husband and I are having), and also thank you and recognize your responses to all the comments. I didn’t read all of them, but I read most of them, and you are incredibly gracious and kind in your responses.
Since you’ve stopped spanking, have you found another effective consequence?
Thanks for the encouraging words!
For me, the big lesson (and one I have to learn over and over) is the importance of setting clear expectations in calm, non-conflict moments, and then stick ruthlessly to those expectations. If you get this down, you’re 50% there.
The most effective things we’ve done as far as discipline goes are as follows…
1. Have privileges set aside for good behavior. Certain privileges can only be had if my son does what it expected of him.
2. Time-outs can be effective if they are brief. We usually use this to diffuse a quarrelsome situation and combat a rebellious spirit. It also allows me and my son time to cool down.
3. Loss of privileges has been very effective if not done with a “vindictive” spirit (something I struggle to do well).
4. Of course, things like natural consequences (a child being hungry if they refuse to eat) or reparations (paying for something they break) can be effective as well and they provide a good learning opportunity.
God bless you for writing this article. What a blessing it has been to read this and refer back to it.