To Spank or Not to Spank?

Please, please, please, remember that discipline is never about venting your anger or irritation.

Neither is it merely punishment for wrongdoing.

It is about winning the heart of your child.

Consequences are the means to this end, not the end themselves.

“We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.  Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.” –Henry Cloud

 This is the reason we give consequences. As a motivation for change.

Whatever consequence you use – restraint, removal of privileges, work, spanking – your aim should be the willing surrender of your child’s heart.

Spanking should not be your first option for discipline, but if milder measures prove insufficient then you may need to use more severe consequences, even spanking.

This post focused on ways to discipline your child without spanking.

These are great to use once your child reaches the age of reason – anytime from age seven on. (For some children the age of reason arrives earlier).

Let’s talk about spanking.

“Children are not born morally and ethically neutral.  The Bible teaches that the heart is “deceitful and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9).  The child’s problem is not an information deficit.  His problem is that he is a sinner. There are things within the heart of the sweetest little baby that, allowed to blossom and grow to fruition, will bring about eventual destruction.

The rod functions in this context.  It is addressed to needs within the child.  These needs cannot be met by mere talk.  Proverbs 22:15 says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.”… This folly must be removed, for it places the child at risk.”[i]

Folly makes children live according to their feelings, fears, wants, cravings.  If they live under their own authority they will live by these.  Will your child live under the authority of God – therefore your authority, – or under his own authority?

“This is the natural state of your children.  It may be subtly hidden beneath a tuft of rumpled hair.  It may be imperceptible in the smile of a baby.  In their natural state, however, your children have hearts of folly.  Therefore, they resist correction.  They protest against your attempts to rule them.  Watch a baby struggle against wearing a hat in the winter.  Even this baby who cannot articulate or even conceptualize what he is doing shows a determination not to be ruled from without.  This foolishness is bound up within his heart.  Allowed to take root and grow for 14 or 15 years, it will produce a rebellious teenager who will not allow anyone to rule him.” [ii]

The young child who is refusing to be under your authority is in a place of grave danger.  Spanking is given to save him from this.

“Punish him (a child) with the rod and save his soul from death.”      Proverbs 23:14

Spanking is a rescue mission.

Your child is distanced from you through disobedience. And through disobedience to you, your child is disobeying God.  This is the issue.  This is why you must bring him back to obedience.

Common Objections to Spanking:

I love my children too much to spank them.  Who benefits if you do not spank your child?  Your child may escape a brief moment of pain but what are you leaving him to in the long run?  By not spanking you are delivered from the unpleasant task of spanking.  The Bible says, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.”  Proverbs 13:24

I’m afraid I will hurt him.  Spanking is often discarded because parents have endured abusive corporal punishment themselves.  You have images of uncontrolled parents flailing their children.  This is abuse and not the biblical way of spanking.  “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.  Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.” Proverbs 23:13,14

Spanking will make my child rebellious or angry.  You desire your children to think you are great and to feel that you are loving and kind.  You may fear that spanking will make them think the opposite, but the Bible says:  “Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul.”  Proverbs 29:17

It doesn’t work.  It doesn’t work for a number of reasons:

  1. You have not used it consistently. Your child doesn’t have a clear idea what he will get spanked for, so keeps testing his boundaries.
  2. Failure to persist. You tried it once or twice but didn’t persevere.
  3. Failure to be effective. You spanked on the nappy (diaper) and he didn’t stop moving long enough to realise he’d been spanked, neither did he feel it.
  4. Doing it in anger. Embracing spanking does not give you the right to unbridled temper, to hit your child whenever you wish. It is not a venting of frustration or to be associated with anger.  A child will resist submitting their heart to a parent who disciplines in anger.

It is not legal.  This is a valid argument.  Spanking should be done in the privacy of your home and should never be a public matter.  Ultimately it is about an act of obedience on the part of the parent.  Will I obey God even when there are risks attached to disobeying?  The Bible is clear on spanking, but be wise.

If I follow this advice I’ll do nothing but spank.  If you are consistent with discipline your child will respond and the need for discipline will decrease.  It may be that you are dealing with disobedience all day because you tolerate it.  If disobedience is okay sometimes, then why not all times? Be consistent.

When should you spank your child?

When you have given a directive that you know he has heard and understood, and he has not obeyed.  He needs to obey without challenging you, making excuses, or delaying.

Don’t ask five times. Don’t warn (count to three, fetch the wooden spoon). Don’t ask your child if he wants a spanking – this will train him to wait for the warning before obeying.

Your child must learn that when you speak for the first time you have spoken for the last time.

When is my child old enough to spank?

When your child is old enough to resist your commands he is old enough to be disciplined.

When he is resisting you he is disobeying. 

Don’t wait for your children to be old enough to articulate their rebellion before dealing with it.  Resisting the car seat, arching, pushing you away, stiffening his body when you expect him to sit on your lap, are all a sign of rebellion – resistance to authority.

How to Spank.

(This process is for older children. Read here on how to discipline your baby or toddler.)

  1. Take your child to a private place.  Don’t discipline in front of the other children in your family.  Show respect for your child.  The object of the discipline is not to humiliate.
  2. Tell your child specifically what he has done to deserve the spanking. The spanking should be for a specific attitude or incident, never because you’ve “had it”.
  3. Get your child to acknowledge what he has done.
  4. Remind your child that you are not spanking because you are venting frustration or anger but to restore him to obedience. (Be sure you do have your anger under control).
  5. Tell your child how many swats he will receive. This signals that you are in control of yourself.
  6. Spank your child on the bottom (without a nappy or layers of clothing.) Your child must feel the spanking if it is going to be beneficial. I have heard spankings that sounded like love pats. The child didn’t cry, only whined for the inconvenience.  Do not use your hand to spank.
  7. After you have spanked, take your child onto your lap and hug him. Tell him that you love him.  At this point, there should be complete restoration between you and your child.  If there is any anger or resistance to your affection then something is wrong. Check yourself.   Be sure that you have not disciplined in the wrong spirit.  Check your child’s spirit.  Is he mad at you? Does he show a rebellious spirit? If so, the discipline session is not over.  If you are not seeing a submissive, sweet spirit then another spanking may be necessary.  Remember you are aiming for the heart of your child not just a punishment for wrongdoing.  Once your child’s spirit is right the discipline is over.  No grudges on either side.  No silent treatment from either side.
  8. Pray with your child. Bring your child to Christ for forgiveness of sin and restoration to God’s favour.

Did you notice that this process takes time and that it’s not just a wild backhand you are giving your child? There is time for prayer, for an irritated temper to be subdued, and self-control to take its place.

If spanking is necessary, be sure to balance, even outweigh, the spanking with lots of affection, play, and positive eye contact with your child.

Make sure that the overall emotional climate of your relationship is positive.

The Only Valid Reason for Spanking

The heart is the battleground.  This is the only valid reason for spanking – bringing your child’s heart back to the place of blessing – obedience.

True love will bring your child back from the place of danger.

Ultimately, we must be sure that we are under God’s control so that we discipline in a way that represents Him. Aim for this as you discipline your kids. 

** Much of the information for this post was sourced from the book Shepherding A Child’s Heart, by Tedd Tripp

[i] Shepherding A Child’s Heart, 105, Tedd Tripp

[ii] Ibid 106

About The Author

Jennifer Lovemore

Jennifer has diplomas in relationship counselling and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), is a certified SYMBIS facilitator, and is certified in TPM (Transformation Prayer Minsitry). She lives in South Africa, has three grown children, and is married to her best friend – Richard.

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