During my time in undergrad, I had a bit of a revolution with regard to the way in which I had planned on disciplining my children. For a while, I entertained the idea of never spanking—just taking toys away, time-outs, and grounding. After all, is this not what we’re taught to do by child “professionals”?
In the Holy Scriptures, however, we read, “a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense” (Prov. 10:13), that “whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Prov. 13:24), that “folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Prov. 22:15), that “If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol” (Prov. 23:14), that “the rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (Prov. 29:15), that “for the moment all discipline [both earthly and heavenly] seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Heb. 12:11), that we are to “bring [children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4), that the “heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil” (Eccl. 8:11), that God said to “discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart (Prov. 29:17), to “discipline your son, for there is hope” (Prov. 19:18), and that God has commanded: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die” (Prov. 23:13). Spanking is God’s ordained means to teach your child that the “way of the sinner is hard” (Prov. 13:15), and the way of the sinner is death (Rom. 6:23). This command to use the “rod” did not “die out” with the Old Testament, for Jesus is undoubtedly on the same page with the Father.
After studying the Scriptures and reading several books I have had a change in my approach. The conventional wisdom of the day is often skewed, to say the least. From aborting babies to restructuring marriage to arresting parents who spank their children, conventional wisdom is often opposed to God. Christians, however, align themselves with Scripture rather than the wisdom of the age; Christians submit wholeheartedly to the Bible. “Do not be conformed to this world,” wrote the Apostle Paul, “but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). No matter how many anti-spanking articles, books, and TV shows the secular culture puts out, the Christian will follow God, even when it’s hard. Nevertheless, our context is cause for discernment. Perhaps the parent should consider calling “spanking” by another name (i.e., correction, discipline, etc.). The last thing you need is to drag a kid out of the grocery store as he cries, “I don’t want to get spanked!” “I don’t want correction,” on the other hand, is more vague.
Below are pieces of wisdom from Heath Lambert (executive director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, and professor of Biblical Counseling at Boyce College), Tedd Tripp (author of Shepherding a Child’s Heart), Martha Peace and Stuart Scott (authors of The Faithful Parent: A Biblical Guide to Raising a Family), and Joel Beeke (president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and author of Parenting By God’s Promise: How To Raise Children in the Covenant of Grace).
I read and took notes from the aforementioned books. Below are 9 highlights (from each of the above people) from my notes on the issue of discipline and instruction, with a specific focus on spanking:
[These are taken from a class I took with Dr. Lambert on “Marriage and Family” in 2013. I post them here with his permission].
1) Only spank for disobedience – You don’t spank for personal preferences (e.g., “I prefer you wear yellow and not green), nor do you spank for accidents (e.g., spilling milk, being a kid), nor do you spank because you’re frustrated (you never spank in rage: “I’ve had it!”) These ways teach nothing about God, nothing about sin, and teach children to obey for the wrong reasons. Obedience is 5 things: (1) First-time obedience in a speedy way. Kids don’t do what you tell them to do, kids do what you enforce. You don’t just talk about first-time obedience, you enforce it. If they don’t obey the first time, a spanking should result. (2) Silent obedience. There is no back talk (e.g., “But why?” “But I don’t want to!”). There is a time and place, however, for appeal. For example, if mom says you can go outside, but as you are walking out dad says you cannot, you ask, “Dad, can I tell you something?” “Yes son,” dad replies. “Mom told me I could go outside,” states the son. “Oh, okay, no worries,” dad might reply. Also, sometimes it can be helpful to answer the “Why?” questions for instruction purposes, but discernment is needed. (3) Obey in a submissive way. Obedience is not whining, walking in a pouting way, etc. (4) Obey in a happy way. The fullness of obedience that God wants for us is to embrace authority and not say, “This stinks, but whatever I’ll do it.” (5) Obey in the right way, according to Scripture. Unlike the first 3, the bottom 2 are inward. Parents would create Pharisees if they only focus on 1-3. God wants a heart change. God wants Jesus to rule our hearts, so lead your children to pray for the grace of Christ to enjoy to obey in all things, and to have a biblical attitude toward obedience. In sum, we enforce the top three, and appeal to the bottom two.
2) Spanking needs to be in the context of a loving and nurturing home – The parents that love, provide, teach, and play with their kids should be the ones to spank (not teachers, grandparents, or babysitters). It should also be noted that spanking, depending on the child, should die out before the age of 12.
3) Spanking for disobedience should be the first remedy in disciplining. Time-outs and taking toys away are often burdensome for the parents (especially when there’s multiple children), and are not as effective for the child. Further, these are not means prescribed in the Bible. Spanking, on the other hand, is quick (it’s over in a few seconds), and the parent doesn’t have to hear a child beg to get out of his room, or beg all night to play with said toy. Following the Bible’s instruction is more beneficial for both parent and child.
4) Spanking ought to be consistent. You set the rules as parents and spank when they’re broken. This, undoubtedly, is hard work. You get tired and want to just tell your kid to do something two or three times. You want to just say, “Oh, fine, just once more.” Your kids will learn that there are times when it is okay to disobey and times when it is not okay. Then your kids might ask each other, “Do you think we can get away with it this time?” You must stick to your rules and spank when broken, even when you’re physically tired and tired of seeing bear bottoms all day. Inconsistent spanking teaches your child that there is a mystery standard based solely on the whims of his or her parents, and not objectively on God’s standard—it takes your child’s eyes off of God and on your subjective mood.
5) Spanking must be immediate. Do not wait to spank because you don’t want the disobedience-punishment time frame to be spread out, as it will cause confusion as to why spanking is happening. “Immediacy” also depends on the age of the child. Sometimes you can wait 20 min until you get home if driving in a car, but sometimes you have to pull the car over and spank.
6) Spanking must hurt. The logic of spanking is that sin burns. There must be tears. In fact, it is better not to spank at all than to spank and it not hurt. This is the most common problems with spanking. It will make your child more rebellious (“That’s all you’ve got?!”).
7) Spanking ought to be instructive and point to God’s authority – The child needs to know what they did, why it was wrong, and what the spanking was intended to accomplish. You talk with your kids. Kids aren’t in trouble because they disobey their parents, but because they disobey God by disobeying their parents, which is the authority God placed them under. Kid’s have a hard time obeying parents because they have a hard time obeying God. Learn to say something before and after each spanking. Repetition will help the child to learn why he is being spanked. Say something like, “God has made mommy and daddy your parents. When you disobey us, you are disobeying God (Eph. 6:1). When we disobey God that is called sin, and the way of the sinner is hard (Prov. 13:15) and leads to death (Rom. 6:23). Mommy and daddy want to rescue you from this path. So, because you disobeyed mommy and daddy by doing ______ , daddy will have to give you three spankings.” (Obviously you might need to condense this depending on the child’s age). Also, the father should take the lead in spanking. Obviously, the mother should spank when the father is not home, but when the father is home, he should be the one to spank.
8) Spanking must deal with the heart – Your kids disobey because out of their heart sin comes, and it is the heart that you are after. Start talking to your kids about this, and by time they’re five they will know that you and God are after their heart. Some parents sing a hymn about inward redemption (e.g,. the third verse of “It is well with my soul”) after the spanking when their children are young. This teaches them that spanking isn’t just about outward obedience but inward transformation. The key is repetition. Say it and keep saying it. “You disobeyed because you have a boo-boo in your heart that band-aids can’t fix, only Jesus can fix it.” Teach your children to pray to Jesus when they find it hard to obey you.
9) Spanking must end with reconciliation and prayer – Spanking must end really sweetly. You must pray, laugh, joke, tickle, etc., after spankings. If your child says, “I’m sorry,” you don’t keep on being angry. You ask the children to pray that God will forgive them and change their heart. It teaches that their sin is against God and not you or your fickle mood.
1) You are not disciplining a morally neutral person who merely lacks information; rather, you are disciplining a sinner (p.101).
2) Spanking is about authority – Will they obey God’s authority and therefore the parents, or will they obey their own “autonomous” (Eve-like) authority? (p.102).
3) Parents use the Rod when they perceive the dangerous state their children are in as they disobey God, and the parent uses God’s prescribed remedy (p.103).
4) “The rod is a parent, in faith toward God and faithfulness toward his or her children, undertaking the responsibility of careful, timely, measured, and controlled use of physical punishment to underscore the importance of obeying God, thus rescuing the child from continuing in his foolishness until death” (p.104).
5) Parents obey God by using the rod not because they understand how it works, but because they trust in what God has commanded (p.105).
6) The issue isn’t merely “You failed to obey ME.” Rather, the issue is that “you failed to obey GOD by failing to obey me” (p.106).
7) Spanking isn’t “paying for your sins,” rather spanking is restoring the child (p.108).
8) The rod will not be effective if: (1) The parent is out-of-control and angry in spanking, (2) Spanking is inconsistent, which creates a mystery standard the child cannot begin to know, (3) The parent doesn’t persist long enough for it to work, but gets tired and stops or becomes lackadaisical, (4) The parent spanks ineffectively (e.g., not taking the diaper off to spank) and the rod is not felt (pp.110-111).
9) “Consistent use of the rod teaches your child to develop a harvest mentality; they learn that they will reap what they sow” (p.111).
1) Disciplining is instructional and should teach our kids to fear and love God (Prov. 1:7; Matt. 22:37-40). They should understand that their lives are, first of all, about their relationship with God. Parents should teach the child to ask for forgiveness after each spanking. Children need to see your joy in the Lord and your joy in them (pp.10, 59, 66).
2) God gives children two biblical responsibilities: To (1) Obey their parents (Eph. 6:1) and (2) Honor their parents (Eph. 6:2-3) (p.11).
3) The use of the rod can begin during the infant stage – Just because the child cannot speak, doesn’t mean the child cannot learn the word “no” and what it means to act in rebellion. Err on the side of mercy and give the benefit of the doubt, but when your child, for instance, reaches for something he cannot have, say “no.” If he persists, give him a little “pop” (or two) on the back of the hand or thigh. Be sure to first test your pop on yourself to make sure you’re not “popping” too hard. When your infant throws a temper tantrum (angry crying, arching his back, etc) give him a pop or two after you calmly tell him, “No, I will not allow you to talk to me this way” (pp. 44-45).
4) Do not be too wordy in your commands with your toddler, and don’t ask, “OK?” After you’ve given him a command to obey, or he will think there’s an option to disobey. The biblical response for a disobedient toddler is not to give up, to keep pleading and asking, nor is it to count to 10. Rather, the biblical response is just a spanking (pp.56-57).
5) When you spank a child you want to spank 3 to 4 times on his bare bottom. It should be hard enough that it causes a sting and they feel pain, but not enough to cause bruising. The rod should produce crying, but not screaming in rage. If the child squirms, do not begin until you have control, so as not to spank in the wrong place (pp.57-59).
6) The Hebrew word for “rod” is “shebet,” which means, “Stick or rod used for correction or punishment.” During the toddler years onward, spanking should be done with some sort of instrument (rod) (p.59).
7) “Terrible-two’s” is not a right of passage by which the child is allowed to disobey. To respond to temper tantrums, the parents calmly says, “no,” or “stop.” If the child does not obey the first time, the parent follows it up with a few spankings. Do not attempt to manipulate or distract the child so as to avoid confrontation. His heart issue must be dealt with (pp. 60-61).
8) During preschool years your child should have more responsibilities. Maybe give him five (one for each finger on his hand): Ex. (1) make bed, (2) brush teeth, (3) get dressed, (4) tidy up room, (5) wash up. If you say, for instance, “Son, it’s time to pick up your room,” and he replies with whinny, sighing rebellion (“But mom, I don’t want to!”) Calmly say, “I’m not going to have you talk to me in that whinny tone.” If he doesn’t obey, render him several spankings (pp. 76-77).
9) For school-age children who believe themselves to be saved (and they might be), it will be helpful from time to time to say, “If the Lord has truly saved you, it greatly honors the Lord and it will be your joy when you do what pleases Him. Time will tell, but in the meantime here are some areas the Lord wants you to work on…” (pp.88-89).
1) Preventative discipline, as Susannah Wesley taught, is the conquering of your child’s will. This helps not only in preventing stubbornness and obstinacy, bad habits, and sinful actions, but also in their education. The sinful autonomous will must be broken because folly resides in the hearts of the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. The objective is not to reduce the child to a “puddle,” but to have your child know who the authorities are in the home (pp.144-145, 150).
2) There must be clear, non-vague rules for the child to follow. Children need three things: Consistency, consistency, and more consistency. “If we punish our children severely one day and ignore disobedience the next, we may pay the price for many years. We do our children no favors in failing to discipline them consistently” (p147, 163).
3) Using the rod is not, in reality, a negative thing, because it has a positive outcome (c.f. Ps. 94:12; Heb. 12:10, Rev. 3:19) (p.153).
4) Parents must remember that their children are not theirs, but rather they belong to God and God has tasked the parents with the stewardship of raising and disciplining in accordance with His Word (e.g., using the rod). Children should know that they are being disciplined for disobeying God’s commands and that it is not based on your subjective emotions. Children will disobey 15 minutes after a spanking sometimes, and as parents we cannot look the other way, but must be diligent in our consistency by spanking again. “We will not be careless if we properly see that our responsibility to enforce discipline flows from the mind of God to the Scriptures and then into hearts of devotion to Him” (p.154).
5) Parents should pray before and after they spank their children – Pray before: “Lord, quench all my anger, fill me with love for this child, and let me punish him with compassion and the desire to do him good. Keep me from being an Eli who fails to discipline, but also keep me from the error of Saul, who lashed out at his own son in murderous rage.” (C.f. 1 Sam. 3:13; 14:43-44). “We ought never to administer corporal discipline to a child without following it up with prayer in that child’s presence” (p.156).
6) The rod is to bring the child to repentance—it is educational and reformative. When the child repents, embrace the child and pray, “Lord, what my child did was sin. Help her avoid this sin in the future, so that she does not displease Thee. Guide her by Thy Word. Lead her in path’s of righteousness, for Thy name’s sake” (p.160).
6) If day in and day out you find yourself spanking your child ever few minutes, you need to assess why this is so. Have you been lacking on nurturing or training? It might just be a rebellious phase that must be endured, but make sure nurturing and instruction are going well in order that you don’t harden the young sinner (p.163).
7) Spanking should be done in private and on the rear-end. Take the child into another room away from family and friends, and render the spanking (p.164).
8) Parents must not be rebellious under God’s discipline and expect the child to act differently. We must model how to receive God’s discipline well when we sin (p.165).
9) Family worship is the most effective means of nurture and preventative discipline – Families should daily gather for reading of Scripture, catechizing, discussion, prayer, and hymn singing. “The Puritans said that the father should be pure in doctrine, relevant in application, and affectionate in manner during family worship. Teaching was to be motivated by love for one’s children. Likewise, our children today should not feel uncomfortable during family worship. If they don’t know an answer to a question, they shouldn’t be shamed or ridiculed, but drawn into discussion. This is family time, not an academic exercise or official inquisition.” Along with this, children should be taught to observe the Sabbath Day, taught and trained to listen to the sermon every Sunday (for it is the very Word of God for their souls), taught to bridle their tongue, and taught piety. “Piety is a way of believing, thinking, feeling, and living that seeks to please God and to glorify Him in the eyes of the world” (pp.175, 187-189).