This is an incredibly touchy subject. I know that as I sit down to write this post that there will be many who disagree with me on whether or not spanking is even appropriate at all. Although there is much to say about that, this post in particular isn’t intended to raise a debate, rather, this post is simply to give some direction and guidelines for those who do see it as a responsibility in parenting.
Let me begin with this…regardless of the exact method or process, parents are to be responsible, loving, and self-controlled in ALL situations regarding spanking at ALL times. There is no room whatsoever, under any circumstances for physical abuse of any kind. The approach I am describing is balanced, reasonable, intentional, controlled and is never to be done in anger. Grabbing a child and swatting at them is not at all what I am referring to…so please read this as it is intended…as a less than 2% part of parenting.
I’d like to stress over and over again that spanking is not the primary focus on getting our children to obey; training is. I’ve written articles in the past to show how repetitive, intentional teaching and training will often prevent the need to discipline…however, this method is for when a child clearly understands an expectation or command and fails to respond appropriately.
I believe with all of my heart that spanking in a way that is respectful and honors your child, and is done in a loving, controlled, precise manner will not only modify attitudes, improve behavior and strengthen the relationship between parent and child, but it will also point our children to the grace they receive from Jesus who has paid the ultimate penalty for all sin.
Seem impossible??? I truly do want to help…
My first word of advice is to not freak out, be surprised, or get overly emotional when you realize your sweet little one has a will of her own. Don’t panic about having to use action to enforce your commands or expectations. I know from experience how much second-guessing a parent can do. The key here is to have a plan that both parents can generally agree on and to see the end from the beginning. Our aim as parents is to raise responsible, God-glorifying children that can handle authority (being in it and under it) in a way that is honorable and joy-filled.
1. a clear warning
Training should never be separated from discipline. If adequate training has occurred then the child should first be given a clear warning to remember what has already been taught. A child should never be caught off guard by discipline. It should always be preceded by a clear warning. This gives you, as the parent, an opportunity to speak clearly to make sure you are giving him the option to deliberately disobey or wisdom to see if your child is simply making a mistake. If you are training correctly, this initial warning will allow you to stay calm and only correct intentional disobedience.
Ex 1: Son, I have asked you to find your shoes, put them on, and stand by the door. You are playing with your trucks. Do you remember when I taught you how to get ready to leave the house? Is what you’re doing obedient or disobedient?
Ex 2: Sweetheart, you are not speaking with a kind tone. Do you remember how I have taught you to speak to others?
Ex 3: Son, when we walk through a store is it appropriate for you run ahead? Do you remember how I’ve taught you to walk beside me?
Take notice that the reminder is for things that the child has clearly already been taught. Once again, training here is absolutely and entirely crucial. If a child does not know what to do and the expectations are not clear then discipline should not ever occur. (I feel exceptionally strongly about this, so if this part is confusing please don’t hesitate to ask more…)
The enforcement of discipline comes only after a reminder has not been heeded. I feel the consequence of spanking, or using physical correction of any kind is only appropriate in cases of clear disobedience, and even still, should not ever be something that is done in anger.
Know this, my beloved brother: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Jame 1:19
2. responsibility taken
It is important for your child to take responsibility for his behavior. Asking, “Why did you do that?” is not a good question. Theologically speaking it’s a no-brainer kind of question — your child is a sinner with a predisposition to disobedience, which he inherited from you and every other generation all the way back to our first parents in the Garden. The Bible is clear as to why we respond with fits and rage, it’s when we want what we want and we do not get it. Helping a child see that what they want is not always what is best is the better route to go.
Here’s a better way to go about it:
“Son, what did Mom ask you to do?” Go get my shoes and put them on and wait by the door.
“Did you choose to obey or disobey?” Disobey.
“What did you choose to do instead?” Play with my trucks.
“Do you understand why mom would ask you to get your shoes and wait by the door?” Yes, we are leaving.
“Does your disobedience affect just you or does it affect everyone in the house?” Everyone.
“Son, sometimes choosing what you want is not what’s best. Mom gave you a clear command and instead of obeying you chose to think of yourself.”
With this kind of conversation, you are calm, controlled, and not trying to punish. Rather you are trying to help your child see beyond himself. You are trying to teach and to instruct, in a loving way. You are teaching responsibility and how to take ownership of his actions. This prepares him to begin to look beyond himself and helps him toward the end goal of becoming a responsible adult.
Remember to always keep your focus on the child’s behavior, not his identity. Affirmation of how much he is loved and how much you care for him is absolutely necessary. As the parent you can grieve with him over his poor choice in behavior. But at the same time you cannot allow his actions to go unnoticed. It would not be loving to allow your child to think that even though he is greatly loved he is allowed to act according to his own will. You want him to understand that the act was wrong and he needs to take responsibility for it, but that you have already forgiven him, as has Jesus.
What causes quarrels and fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? James 4:1
3. avoid embarrassment
Always try to find a private place to discipline your child. Correction with only words can be whispered in their ear. But never ever embarrass your children in front of their family, friends, or strangers. Don’t pull them harshly out of the Target shopping cart, or make a scene getting him out of the booth at a restaurant. Don’t speak in a tone where everyone around can hear you, and don’t do anything else that will make your children feel as though others are watching them. All that accomplishes is shame and embarassment and it will be one of the fastest ways to break connection with your child.
Instead, make every effort to go to a private place. At home, that can be the bedroom or bathroom. In public, it can be the restroom, behind a building, or in the car. Unnecessary embarrassment can do a lot of damage that you’ll have a hard time undoing later on. Please note: if there is no place for you to discipline publicly then it is better to avoid discipline altogether. Simply make a note to either address it privately at home or remember to reenact the same scene in a training session (not discipline) at home in order to still teach the concept/action again.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4
4. communicate grief
I want my children to know that more than being angry, I’m disappointed and heartbroken when they disobey. To see our children harden their hearts against the ones who love them most is a sad thing. To express and communicate our sadness in however simple ways we are able that our children can understand is necessary to let them know we are fighting WITH them not against them. When trust has been violated, our kids need to know that the relationship is wounded. There have been times that tears have rolled down my face when their actions have revealed the sin in their hearts. When kids see the grief of their parents, they’ll understand a slight glimpse of how their sin affects God. They’ll understand that God isn’t waiting with a bat to come at them every time we make a mistake, rather he sees us with eyes of compassion. He grieves over our sin and the consequences it brings. Our role as a loving parent is to be a tangible refection of how Jesus himself would respond when witnessing the destructive nature of disobedience.
Ex 1: “Son, I love you dearly, but I love you too much to let you disobey. You have been given one command in the bible and it comes with a promise. You are to obey your parents that life would go well for you.”
Ex 2: “Son, I know that this isn’t fun, but I hurt for you and with you. This isn’t what God intended for you and this isn’t what I want for you either. I want you to learn and to grow and I want you to trust that what I ask of you if for your good…not to harm you. It’s my job to teach and train you and when you refuse to learn I have to follow through. I love you too much to let you take a path of destruction.”
And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. Mark 3:5
5. it’s in the wrist
This is super practical, but also (hopefully) super helpful to relieve some of the doubting and second guessing in what to do with the actual spanking part. The point of spanking is to reenforce the truth you are teaching with a small sting to provide a painful deterrent to not repeat the action again. Spanking is never to injure, scare or cause harm.
The “rod of discipline” as the Bible refers, should never ever be violent. Although there are no specifics on how spankings should be administered there’s certainly no reason whatsoever to assume that it’s talking about any brutal form of punishment. A parent who is clearly angry, lacks self control, and swings hard or in any way without restriction is in sin. That type of spanking is not out of a heart that is obedient to the Lord, rather it lacks love and has no concern for the good of the child. That form of discipline is unbiblical, sinful and wrong, and that is not at ALL what I am attempting to communicate.
When we spank, we use a wooden spoon, a ping pong paddle, a hand, or a tiny strip of leather and flick the wrist. A few flicks of the wrist on the fatty part of the thigh or directly on the buttocks will not cause damage to their bodies. The desire is for a firm sting to occur.
It ought to hurt, which is suuuuuper difficult for us mothers to accept, and it’s okay if it results in a few tears. The aim here is to “mark” the memory of the child. And ultimately it isn’t very loving because it will not be effective.
For young kids I have typically given the number of flicks for the number of years old. My two year old gets 2 small flicks, my 8 year old gets 8 small flicks.
As children get older into the preteen years, spanking becomes less effective and less necessary. We are moving now into the lost-privilege approach, however we do hold spanking as a last option. Making sure to be diligent and consistent with proper discipline earlier in their lives makes spankings become less and less necessary as they get older….but please remember here that this is NOT the priority in our childrearing. Training is and I cannot stress that enough. Spanking and discipline is a very small percentage of our training. Very small.
A man without self–control is like a city broken into and left without walls. Proverbs 25:28
6. sincere repentance
When kids are small, let them sit on your lap after a spanking and cry if need be. Hold them close, let them know you’re near and repeat to them again how much you love them. Then after a few minutes, ask, “Are you ready to make things right now? Are you ready to talk about this with me (or whoever the wrong was against) and with God?”
At this point you will either see a soft, tender heart that is broken in repentance…or you will see anger and a growing disdain. If you see softness then keep going with the next steps. If you see increased hardening, a child attempting to hit at you, or any remaining anger then ask your child, “Are you going to continue to harden your heart to me and God? I am going to have to repeat that process again if you remain angry. Please know I love you and want good for you, but you must soften.” You don’t delay on this and you don’t give warning after warning. If the child remains hardened go right back into the flick process and give another set of spankings (meaning however many flicks per year of age). Then repeat the steps above and ask they child if they are ready to soften. If still angry you’ll repeat in a controlled and loving manner as many times as is necessary for you child to soften. Again, this is not at all an excuse to harden. As a mom who has done this many, many times I can honestly say that the longer my child remains hardened the more broken I become. After a third or fourth round I can feel the lump in my throat growing and before long the tears are streaming down my face. I become so soft (yet still remaining firm in my actions to complete this job) that my words are often only a whisper. “Please son, do not remain hardened. Please soften. This isn’t what’s best for you. Are you ready now?”
When I receive a nod, or a sinking into my body, a softened face or when there is any sign of the will being broken, at any point I can tell repentance and genuine sorrow has occurred…I hold them close and let them know again how much I love them.
Once a calmness is restored I will again revisit the issue and ask them, “How did we get here, what went wrong out there? What was it mommy asked you to do and what could you have done differently?” I want to help them clearly relate the discipline to the behavior.
Then I would ask, “With whom do you need to make things right?” Often they would realize they needed to make things right not just with me and with God, but also to apologize to a brother or sister. Then I’d take the opportunity to coach them in how to approach God, what to say, how to confess their sin, and how to receive forgiveness. I then ask if I can pray for them and over them that they would be quick to learn and that they would remember this time of discipline in the future.
Together we speak with God humbly and honestly as no other experience fosters so beautifully. I am able to confess to God the times in my life I have responded to Him the same way my child has. I can share a story with my child of a time when I too disobeyed like they did. Becoming a parent doesn’t mean I am perfect. Sharing my own brokenness with my children and pointing us both to Jesus allows them to see that I need grace just as much as they do.
Discipline done rightly with forgiveness and reconciliation is without a doubt one of the sweetest, most tender, most beautiful and most intimate parts of motherhood.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:17
Knowing that Jesus has already paid the ultimate penalty allows me to freely forgive, just as Jesus has. Jesus has made him absolutely clean, and I need to see him that way as we move forward. There is no room for any resentment and I make no allowances for there to be any barrier between the two of us.
Choosing to discipline in this way brings a unity and a bond between parent and child that goes beyond the actions that will keep a child from destruction. Loving them enough to take the time to be compassionate as a parent through discipline has a much deeper purpose than just getting a child to do as we wish.
To be restored to one another means to walk in unity once more. There is a warmness and smiles and tenderness once again. The goal before leaving our “private place” is to have smiles and hugs and joy with both of us knowing reconciliation has taken place.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:18
8. act out correct behavior
I cannot say enough about this part and most parents I know skip it completely, but this is key to improving the obedience of your child. This step is absolutely critical, carries so much weight and I cannot stress the importance of it enough. If we are to truly train up our children in they way they should go then it is not just discipline that will get us there. Training, training, training and more training is required. Training is never to be separated from discipline.
After the discipline session is over and you and your child are restored, but the work is not yet complete. Have your child go back to the exact spot they were when the first disobedience occurred. Repeat the same command and the same instruction and give your child the opportunity to do what was right the first time. When your child follows through with the correct behavior celebrate with them emphatically and speak for just a moment about well they did, and how their obedience honors you and honors God.
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11
Parents don’t grow weary in doing good. Make sure that you are spending the majority of your parenting in training, teaching and instructing. By disciplining in a way that honors God you may see immediate improvements in your home. Your family may have less chaos, more peace and more joy. Your children will respond immediately to you because they feel loved and cared for. More than likely there will be far less stress and the environment overall will be much more manageable and life giving….and that will be encouraging and most likely spur you on to keep going strong.
But some of you may not see improvement right away and I would encourage you to keep pressing on with the goal to honor the Lord in your role as a parent. Make sure to take the time to teach. Make sure to set aside the space in your day to instruct. Stay diligent in training and be sure to continue communicating clear expectations. Work hard to establish clear boundaries, and remain consistent with clear consequences. I promise the fruit of your labor will not be in vain so don’t ever give up. The seed you plant now will have a harvest, so keep planting good seed into the fertile hearts of your children.
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9