Spanking

Carla: So yesterday, one of my Facebook friends had the following status update: “taught the preschool Sunday school today. During prayers, one kid said ‘thank you God for today and please no more spankies with the wooden spoon.'”

That status broke my heart. Poor little bug! But what really started to get me stirred up were the responses to this status. Things like “at least he’s going to the right source. Only God can help us not be bad” and “if she’d said ‘sploon’ it was probably one of mine, LOL!” Other people gave a little virtual chuckle, others noted how cute that was.

Cute? A 4-year-old asking Jesus to make something painful stop is cute?!? I posted my own comment on how sad that prayer made me and that I hope Mom and Dad give the spoon a rest, but I seemed to be the only one who saw a problem rather than a charming anecdote.

Of course, I should know better. I know how a lot of Christian parents are about spanking. I know they truly believe it’s the godly way to discipline and that it’s actually a good thing that this little peanut wants it to stop because that’s how she will learn to be obedient to the authority of her parents and therefore God.

And let me also qualify the rant that is about to come thusly: I have several dear, lovely, beloved friends who are wonderful parents and who spank their kids. I don’t think parents who spank are evil or abusive or horrid. And while my husband and I don’t believe spanking is an effective form of discipline, we have each spanked exactly once. I gave my oldest daughter a single swat on the tush when she was about 6 because I was angry and fed up and lashed out at her in an instant of frustration. My husband spanked our son on an occasion when it seemed that nothing else was working; they both cried for a good 20 minutes when it was over.

That said, here’s why I think spanking ought to be the exception rather than the rule:

1) As a form of true discipline, it’s not very effective. It doesn’t teach a child anything except that her parents are in charge and she isn’t. I’m not sure that’s the most important lesson a child needs to learn–and most kids figure that out without someone hitting them. It might change behavior, but it doesn’t reinforce positive character formation, which is the point of discipline.

2) It ignores the reality of a child’s cognitive development. The little sweet pea praying for the spankings to stop? She’s not asking God to help her behave. She’s asking God to make her parents stop hurting her. She isn’t developmentally able to make the abstract connection that if she changes her behavior the spanking will stop. That’s because her parents most likely don’t spank her for a specific type of behavior but rather for a general set of behaviors that they believe to be disobedience. If a child is only spanked when she pinches the baby, then spanking might lead to her no longer pinching the baby. But if she’s spanked when she pinches the baby, when she paints the walls, when she refuses to put her shoes on, when she dumps all of mommy’s jewelry in the toilet, then in her mind there is no rhyme or reason to the spanking because each of those behaviors is the result of a specific set of emotions or thought processes in a child. She can’t connect one incident to the other because they don’t share any common motivation. She doesn’t know what motivates her to do what she does any more than most adults. I mean, when you yell at your child, how long does it take you to consider why you have done so? More than a few minutes I would guess.

3) It ignores the reality of a child’s behavioral development. Toddlers and preschoolers are certainly capable of being naughty. But most of the time they aren’t trying to misbehave. They are trying to learn, to figure out the world around them, to test out the rules and the expectations. The tantrums of a 2-year-old aren’t intended to drive you nuts. They are the result of the most explosive brain development a human being ever experiences. Toddlers and preschoolers live in a near-constant state of frustration. They want to do things their bodies can’t do very well–like run or walk or go up and down stairs or climb or ask for something by name or pronounce words in a way that you can understand. They want to taste and touch everything around them and they have no idea that when they pull on that pretty planter it will fall over. They aren’t all that sure that if they pull on it again it will fall over again. So they try, they test, the explore. Too often, I hear about parents spanking their children for being children, for going where they shouldn’t go or touching what they shouldn’t touch. It’s the equivalent of your boss smacking you on the head every time you asked a question. They are learning. Give them a break.

4) It works, but not for the reasons we think it does. Spanking doesn’t teach a child much of anything except how to avoid pain. Personally, I don’t want my kids to be motivated by fear of pain. I want them to be motivated by the desire to treat others with respect and care, to listen to their parents because we are part of a family and that’s how families work. I want to shape their hearts not just change their behavior. I’d rather raise kids who make mistakes for the right reasons than kids who do everything right for the wrong ones. I mean, if good behavior is the goal, there are far more effective ways to scare kids into it.

5) It is far more about the parents’ response than the child’s behavior. Spanking seems to be the punishment of choice when parents are tired, irritated, or out of ideas for how to deal with a child’s behavior. Believe me, there are days when I could smack my kids just for standing in the wrong place. But spanking them because I can’t come up with a better option seems, well, wrong. And…

6) There are better options, such as:

Helping children develop language skills–whether it’s early signing, simple words, other signals–makes a tremendous difference in their frustration level. Children have wants and needs and nothing is more frustrating for them than not being able to express those wants and needs to the people whose help they need to meet them. Give them the tools to express themselves and they will truly be happier.

Giving them emotional language. When you help a child identify what he’s feeling, you give him the ability to deal with those feelings in ways that don’t involve misbehavior. When a child seems frustrated, tell him you see his frustration, then help him figure out how to solve whatever the problem is. Of course this takes work, patience, and more effort than most of us have in us some days. But it’s what our kids need.

Giving them time and space to calm themselves. Being frustrated or irritable isn’t a punishable offense. It’s an emotional response to something. So when we give kids a comfy chair, a quiet corner, a calm setting where they can settle themselves, we help them learn how to work through their feelings in healthy, non-injurious ways. I know this sound super-flaky, but I swear it works. I have three strong-willed children and all three of them have used the “calm-down” chair since they were two. Sometimes I put them there, sometimes they put themselves there, sometimes I have to go there. But it seriously works wonders.

Okay. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. I mean, seriously, this thing kept me up last night, thinking about this precious baby asking Jesus for help, knowing that her parents would keep doing it and she would wonder why Jesus never heard her prayer. Dramatic? Yeah, but that’s what happens to me at 2 a.m.

Caryn: So, people, can you just join me in saying that the above is the reason Carla needs to write the definitive Christian Parenting book for our generation? Does she not need to be the new Dr. Spock?

Well said, Carla. And I’m impressed that you did this while you were supposed to be meeting that Dietrich Bonhoeffer deadline. Glad you have your priorities.

But back to the matter at hand…. It’s funny that you write this now because as I type I’m sitting on my front porch watching my mud-covered, only-in-a-diaper 2-year-old frolic in the front yard. I’m slightly panicked because he’s a street darter. Scares the heck out of me. And, as it so happens, just yesterday, I gave my second-ever spanking—in my seven years of motherhood.

We, too, are non-spankers (mostly, because my husband is really anti-spanking and I submitted…. PLUS the fact that I’d never hit a pet or horse or anything kind of carries over into how I feel about spanking kids). But yesterday after my son did his 4th in a row dash into the street, after I tried yelling “NO!” into his face and kind of giving him a firm grip thing three times. After “explaining” how a car could come along and make him “SPLAT” with a big loud hand-clap, he still gleefully ran into the street.

So I picked up my by and smacked his butt. Of course, he turned to me and smiled. And tried to run back into the street as soon as I put him down.

I always thought running into the street was the sort of “justified” spanking. When nothing else will do. But even here it does nothing. At least with my kids. I realized all kids are different–and that I’ve got three of the strongest-willed children on earth. Seriously, if we were spankers, we’d have to do it morning, noon, and night.

I do understand that perhaps with a different “‘type” of kid, the occasional swat might do wonders. It did “cure” my other son of jumping up and down in the bathtub back when he was 2, but I just don’t think it’s a good go-to discipline. Before it was just because of my instinct. Now, thanks to you, wise Carla, I’ve got some good reasons to back me up.

Of course, I still need a good way to keep my boy from running into the street (he did it again just two minutes ago—I caught him). I may need to look into shock collars. (KIDDING. Don’t use them for your dogs, either!!!!)

Carla: I am the new Dr. Spock! Does that mean someone younger than me will play me in the next movie? Oh, you mean the other Dr. Spock. Sorry.

I have another friend–the one I’m worried will read this and think I think ill of her when I totally don’t–who spanked her oldest son even though she swore she never would. He would have these huge, destructive tantrums and she just didn’t know what else to do. And I don’t blame her. I might very well have done the same thing.

As for your disobedient son who clearly has no respect for you or the Lord, I say you haul him in the house every time he makes a break for it. He doesn’t get to be outside unless he can stay out of the street. The other option is to walk over to the other side with him, satisfy his curiosity and see if he still feels the need to give it a go after that. I am full of advice, as you know, so message me if you really want a play-by-play on this.

Of course, we didn’t even bring up the whole misreading of “spare the rod” that makes this a theological issue for so many people. That’s because that justification for spanking is so ridiculously out of line with what that passage actually means that we’re not even giving it blog space. If someone has convinced you that this passage means you need to spank your kids to be a good Christian parent, they have seriously mislead you.

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40 responses to this post.

  1. Well said, both of you!
    I too have cringed through Christian lectures on the value of spanking as a biblical mandate, grew up being spanked upon occasion (and yes, turned out okay), done it a couple times myself (with regrets), and don’t believe it’s a good idea. I just can’t be convinced that spanking can be done without anger, and there are so many effective alternatives that teach a better message to our kids than “might makes right.” And no, I’m not an overly permissive parent and my kids aren’t (typically) running wild. But they did dart into the street once in awhile as todders and magically stopped one day, Caryn!

    Here’s a great article by Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller on spanking that explains some of the problems with it.

    Thanks for raising the topic. You two are brave, smart women.

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  2. Posted by Molly on June 8, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    No other comments yet?! I hope that’s because a lot of people are now thinking about something that they had just assumed was what you’re supposed to do as parents.

    That said, thank you for this!!! Carla, I totally agree with you! Just one more reason to look up to you, and I have been since about 1st grade. What you’re talking about is what my online parenting board calls, “get off your butt parenting.” It’s not the easiest route, it takes extra time, way more effort, but it’s the healthy way to deal with a child – by giving them what they NEED during those difficult times.

    *muah*

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  3. Always nice to see Christian sisters speaking out against spanking. I hate any type of violence against children including verbal lashings and most especially berating and hitting. There are too many alternative options available that are more loving, more consistent with God’s love and grace and more effective. And when it does “work”, it’s usually because the child is very sensitive and you’ve essentially broken their spirit – – which is incredibly sad to me

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  4. Posted by Steve B. on June 8, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    Hmmm…I’m not sure what to say about this one, except that I basically agree with what Pam said above. I always get really uncomfortable when people say that we are being disobedient (or unGodly) parents if we don’t spank our children. It’s right up there with people who say we are being disobedient parents if we don’t spawn as many kids as we physically can. My parents (both of them) used a very thin paddle on my sister and me when we repeatedly crossed a line and it seemed to be very effective. We figured out early on that we did not want to get paddled, so we usually obeyed. We did not fear our parents or view them as bullies, and we are still very close to them to this day. We learn quite a bit about parenting from our own parents. I learned that I would never use any object to inflict pain on my child, but was not against the concept of spanking, if warranted.

    With that said, I can honestly count on one hand the number of times that I have spanked our daughter. I have used my hand and never done it hard enough to cause physical pain (so, what’s the point, you ask?) I think kids understand the significance of The Spanking (Caryn’s son being the exception) and it truly gets their attention when words do not. I have never done it in anger and if I’m being honest here, the times that I have raised my voice in anger have been far more hurtful. Maybe that’s the next discussion. The very few times I have spanked our daughter, I have always talked to her about the importance of obedience and made sure that she knew it was a consequence that she chose rather than something I did out of anger. I’m not sure if this made much sense other than to say that a balanced approach seems to be better than choosing one camp or the other when it comes to spanking. We are very blessed to have a very well-behaved kid who is a born rule-follower, so it has kind of been a moot issue for us.

    I really hope there aren’t any DCFS workers who read this blog.

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  5. Posted by Robyn on June 8, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    Carla, I agree with every. single. word.

    Caryn, please don’t be offended, but he’s two. He doesn’t have the level of understanding to know that cars can, you know, KILL HIM, right? (At least, my 2-year-old doesn’t.) You know he likes to run… but you put him in a situation where he is able to do something that you know is highly dangerous. It would make more sense to simply not allow him to play in the front yard until he is able to understand, no? I mean, you wouldn’t let him play near the fireplace with a roaring blaze. You put a barrier up to keep him away from the danger because he doesn’t understand that fire, well, burns. This seems to be more of a case for boundaries than punishment. Does that make sense? Am I being obnoxious? (That was rhetorical.)

    On another note, I’ve always thought it was ironic that parents teach their children not to hit by… hitting them.

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  6. Posted by April G. on June 8, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    I have a lot of thoughts on this issue, and, in my experience, this topic tends to get heated rather quickly. I am hoping here, of all places, we can remember to treat eachother with respect and understanding. I think we get into problems when we say, “All Christians should or should not discipline this way or that way.” I think discipline needs to be a decision parents make based on what they believe is the best for their children.

    I would love it if I never had to discipline my kids. Discipline is hard! I have two children with very different personalities. My daughter will break into tears if I raise my voice at her, my son won’t even hear me. If I only had my daughter, it would be easy for me to believe spanking was not necessary. She is very compliant. But it has been a wonderful tool with my son. I believe spanking can be a very useful when used appropriately, and it has actually brought a lot of peace and calm to our house. Anyone who knows my son would never say he has a “broken spirit.” He is one of the most loving, full-of-energy kids I have ever met. And now his behavior is more in control. The boundaries spanking helped us create for him have made him feel safer and more in control. This is why I believe spanking has worked for him.

    1. Development – I am going to agree with you completely, Carla, that there is a LOT going on in the brain of a toddler. This is why spanking is effective for this age. My son was often so worked up and unable to listen, that spanking seemed to break through to him when nothing else worked. Spanking actually calms him down in some circumstances. Now that he is getting older, his behavior is more in control, and he can reason better, other forms of discipline are working much better as well.

    2. Consistency – Spanking is not effective or safe as a last resort. It shouldn’t be used out of frustration or anger. It should be used much earlier than that. Before I felt confident in my use of discipline in this fashion, I would wait until we were both so frustrated that spanking seemed the only option. Once I realized I was waiting too long, everything changed. When my son misbehaves or will not obey, he gets a choice. You can do xyz, or you can have a spanking. It only took a few times of being consistent with this that he started to chose to obey. This is all done way before either of us are upset. The choice is now much easier for him – and he is much happier. He doesn’t fight me nearly as much as he used to. Caryn, this is why spanking wasn’t effective for you. Your son didn’t know it was coming, and it wasn’t used consistently. My son almost always gets a warning and a choice. He knows I am serious, so he listens better in situations like that. We use spanking as a deterent more than as discipline. It is about changing the behavior before it happens.

    3. Personality – Spanking is not the best choice for all personalities. I was a lot like my daughter when I was young. My mother only had to look at me with disapproval and that was enough. My sister was a completely different story. My mother learned early with me that spanking was too much for me. It really wasn’t needed – I just didn’t question authority as much. Some kids will keep pushing until the parent pushes back with something strong enough to stop them. I believe it is our role as parents to find out what that “strong enough” discipline is. It will be different for every child and change as he ages. Spanking is effective for some personalities for a specific period of time.

    4. Love – My son always gets a hug and a loving discussion after a spanking. We talk about behavior and what is appropriate. Spankings are becoming less and less frequent because he is chosing better behavior. He is bright, loving, sweet, energetic, spirited, funny, and, thanks to spanking, more obedient. We are all happier.

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  7. Posted by Amy on June 8, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    I am one who is a Christian parent that believes spanking is o.k. But I also feel it is not for every parent or every child. And I do not think a child should ever be spanked with anything but a parents hand. And one spank on the tush is enough. It should be last resort, not done in anger, and at a proper age for the child. Have I failed at this? In some areas yes.
    I have a 17 year old who was spanked as a child. I could count on one hand the number of times he was spanked and he has not been spanked since he was 4 or 5. He is a wonderful kid and I do not regret the spankings he has received.
    I think it is important that no one parent judges another. We do not know the child on the same level as the parent, nor do we understand the parents methods. We will all make many mistakes as parents and will feel horribly about it. But isn’t that our business and no one else’s?

    I wonder what people think Proverbs 13:24 means then-“spare the rod, spoil the child”? Do we suddenly disagree with scripture because it doesn’t fit what we think?

    You can write about all the things you have learned in child psych classes and child edu. but the fact of the matter is God created every child to be unique, and therefore the way you raise your child will be different from another. And if there are so many problems with spanking, why did so many of us turn out just fine?

    I tend to babble on and on but I just don’t see how there is a right or wrong in this. It is right or wrong depending on every specific situation and the people involved.

    ok, that was my 2 cents. ( or maybe more!)

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    • Posted by Robyn on June 9, 2009 at 8:58 am

      What does Proverbs 13:24 mean? It simply means that children need loving guidance, a la the shepherd. Shepherds do not hit, beat, nor spank their sheep. They use their “rod” to steer the sheep in the right direction. Because, frankly, sheep are some of the stupidest animals on the planet, which may be where the metaphor breaks down to be honest. However, other verses, such as “Thy ROD and thy staff, they COMFORT ME,” indicate to me that the “rod” is not necessarily an instrument of physical punishment. Or do we suddenly disagree with that scripture because it doesn’t fit what we think? This isn’t a case of people disagreeing with scripture because they don’t like what it says. If anything, it’s a misunderstanding of what the verse actually means. Which happens quite often throughout the Bible in my opinion when a verse is isolated and taken out of context.

      I don’t suppose Proverbs 13:24 precludes spanking. But it also doesn’t COMMAND it. There has to be some consideration of the type of literature this is. It’s not black/white, cut and dry instruction such as the 10 commandments. It’s wisdom literature. It’s a PROVERB, a saying, meant to be meditated upon, not necessarily taken as absolute. There are places in the Bible where God gives us absolute commands. This simply isn’t one of them.

      One more thing: If parents did take this verse the way that some seem to, then the ONLY appropriate way to “spank” would be using a stick or ROD, not a hand. Which I don’t really see anyone advocating here since the prevailing psychology of today is that a hand is the best way to go. (Though in the late 70’s when I was born, the “proper” way to spank was with a paddle or spoon and never with a hand, since it was thought that your child should only associate your hands with love and not pain.)

      Perhaps our theologians (Carla and Caryn) can give a more complete answer to your specific question regarding that verse and “disagreeing” with it.

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  8. Posted by Amy on June 8, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    O.K. April-You said everything so much better and more! Kudos to you!

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  9. Posted by Chiara on June 8, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    WOW. I’m writing my response before reading the others, just in case it pulls me off course (but I’ll go back to them). I fear you are gonna get it for this! 🙂

    I come from a family of righteous spankers. Like, the whole ritual setup, not in anger (ideally), etc. Out of 5 siblings with children, I am the only non-spanker. I came to my position because I just always thought it would be inevitable that I would have to, because we all know that it’s what God wants us to do, right?? Then when my baby was born I was in agony anticipating the time when it would start and feeling terrible over what I thought were too-early smacks by family members. (“Loving correction” by the hand-flicking and switch style). So I started googling and found several places including Arms of Love Family Fellowship and Gentle Christian Mothers with extremely good CHRISTIAN arguments against spanking, better views of the Bible verses, etc. and that was IT. SOLD! Then came the hard part of explaining it to my family in a way that they wouldn’t think I was some crazy hippie resolving to make my child a Godless heathen. I think I got some good arguments across, especially when I explained things in terms of our own family, like the one brother who got spanked All The Time and it never phased him, and not coincidentally (I don’t think) developed a potentially serious anger issue for many years before he got ahold of himself. If you need a trump card with a family member and have guts, I can recommend telling them to google the word “spanking” and then see how they feel about it. (evil grin). I haven’t become a crusader or anything – officially I don’t comment or interfere in how other people discipline their kids, but I am increasingly convinced that it causes more problems than it solves.

    Sure, I could definitely call myself one of the “I got spanked as a kid and I’m just fine” crowd, but when I really analyze it, I see so many areas where my relationship with my parents was affected by spanking – for the worse. My bottom line is I just don’t want that involved in my relationship with my daughter. Every one of your points above is so, so true. Now that she’s 2 1/2 she’s really, really testing my resolve. 🙂 There have been moments I was sorely tempted to revert to childhood and give her the righteous whipping she seems to be asking for, but when take a step back and think about it, EVERY time there is a “child management” issue going on that *I* should have gotten in front of and she is in fact reacting very predictably to the situation.

    Thank you for starting this discussion!!

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  10. Posted by April G. on June 9, 2009 at 8:17 am

    After reading through your post again, Carla, I wanted to add a few things.

    I completely agree with you on almost everything.

    I have the same goals for my kids as you do for yours. I want to develop good character, an intrinsic desire to do what is right. For us, spanking is helping us reach those goals. The idea is not to punish kids, give them what they deserve, or discipline them for developmental appropriate curiosity. Before we used spanking consistently, my son just WOULD NOT LISTEN. He would continue on with whatever it was he wanted to do. Now, I hold up the spoon and say, “Do you see this spoon?” And all of a sudden he is ready to hear me. Now we can work on discussing behavior without even having to use “the spoon” most of the time. I don’t plan on using spanking very long. It just won’t be necessary anymore because all of the character development skills we are working on will continue to improve.

    And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had my students pray (in a Christian school) for no homework. But, I wouldn’t be a very good teacher if I didn’t give my students assignments just because they didn’t like them or they were hard. I would love it if my students would just do the work without me ever having to give assignments – they would just do it because they loved learning. But not all kids are wired that way. Some are, but some would rather never do a single math problem or write a sentence. It is the same with discipline. Some kids hate the idea of disobeying their parents – they are pleasers. Some need a little (or big) nudge. I believe I wouldn’t be a very good parent if I didn’t discipline just because my son doesn’t like it or it was hard.

    One more thing. I didn’t just assume spanking was the Christian way to parent. I did the research. I read the books. I tried (and continue to use) other methods. I did a lot of soul searching and second-guessing and agonizing over how to discipline this spirited boy. My going back and forth about what was right only made things worse. Once I confidently decided on a plan and stuck with it, we saw amazing results.

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  11. I feel the need to clarify–since apparently some of you imagine that my son running into the street was because I allow him to roam free or that I purposely allow him to encounter danger. Not so. While the first time he darted into the street was because he was too far ahead of me to catch (we have a big yard and a long driveway and he’s fast!), the subsequent times he never actually made it into the street because I was RIGHT THERE. However, he was on the move–which is what I was trying to correct.

    Even yesterday as I sat on the front porch and he played in the front yard (again, it’s big so he can be in the front yard and far from the street all at the same time), he was playing with his two older siblings and three neighbor kids. And I was three strides away.

    And when he did his jolt toward the street (and after I caught him) I did confine him to the porch with me. Such a punishment…… : )

    I guess I feel like teaching him to play appropriately in the front yard is to allow him to play in the front yard. If I only let him play in the back, how would he learn proper boundaries? Just some thoughts.

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    • Posted by Robyn on June 9, 2009 at 12:49 pm

      I’m sure you know what he can handle learning at what point. Didn’t mean to question your parenting skills 😉 Sorry!

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  12. Posted by April G. on June 9, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    Ok, here I am again. I had one more train of thought rumbling around in my head that I felt I needed to get out.

    It is this: I think a lot of the prevailing philosophies that view spanking as bad also view pain as a negative thing. I see pain as a useful, God-given gift that protects and teaches us. Think about what we learn from heat. A little pain from touching something hot protects us from a severe burn. It is a simple, natural consequence. Children learn young to respect something hot. If that little girl had prayed, “Lord, please don’t let the stove hurt me every time I touch it,” your response may have been different, Carla. The stove isn’t mean, but pain is a natural consequence to touching something hot. Most of us don’t grow up fearing and hating stoves because they burn us. We learn to respect them and use them properly. There are a multitude of examples in life where pain protects and teaches us. It is only natural for parents to use this tool for young children. It is something they understand long before their brain development allows them understand more complex consequences for behavior. A two-year old understands the inevitable swat on the rear for running into the street (after mom says, NO!) long before he can understand the possiblity of an invisible car coming out of nowhere to hit him. The temporary pain from a spanking protects him from a much worse possibility, just like the pain from touching the stove protects us from losing limbs from severe burns. Of course, the goal is to teach children about cars and safety around them. Soon the threat of a spanking won’t be necessary because he’ll understand and respect cars. Until then, the consequence for running needs to be more convincing than the desire to explore and “play the game.”

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  13. Posted by Carla on June 9, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    April, I agree with you in theory, but I would also say that just because pain motivates doesn’t mean it’s the best motivator. I mean, if my husband hit me when I was bugging him, I would stop bugging him, but we would all agree that there are far better ways for him to make his point. And yes, the pain of the stove quickly teaches a child not to touch it, but I don’t know any parents who intentionally put their child’s hand on the hot burner in order to teach them about the dangers of the stove. In fact, we go to great lengths to help our children avoid pain.

    I also understand what you’re saying about kids praying for an end to homework, etc. and again, I agree with you in theory. I’m not suggesting that just because kids don’t like a certain form of discipline we ought to avoid it. My kids would be quick to tell you that the more they protest a consequence, the worse it gets. However, I think that when there are options for discipline–and I know that in some cases there might not be–our job as parents is to find them and use them instead of spanking.

    And this is all I’m going to say about the rod. It’s one passage in the Bible and it is not understood as spanking. The rod is a metaphor for guidance, like the kind of guidance a shepherd gives his sheep. If someone wants to suggest it is supposed to mean spanking, then I would like to know what kind of rod one is to use–how long, what’s it supposed to be made of? Is a wooden spoon a rod? A hairbrush? A hand? The absurdity of using that passage to defend spanking becomes clear as soon as we unpack it even a little. To see that absurdity is not to dismiss God’s Word, it’s to give it the meaning it was meant to have instead of grabbing a verse to make a point about something that has nothing to do with the passage.

    Reply

  14. Posted by April G. on June 9, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Carla, I think we agree with eachother on most points. We both love our children intensly and want to do what we believe is best for them; we just land on different sides of the fence on this one.

    I want to quickly address a couple of things in your response. Your analogy about your husband doesn’t work for two reasons. 1) Your husband should be your equal. It is not his job to discipline you. (Though some may disagree with me, that could be a topic for another blog post.) 2) Spanking isn’t necessary or effective after a child is old enough to reason through consequences at a more advanced level. I don’t want to say it should NEVER be used with older children, but I honestly think it really shouldn’t be. I am thinking ages 2-5 would probably be best.

    Secondly, we actually have placed the hand of our very curious son close to heat (not enough for pain, but enough for him to understand heat can cause pain). This was because my husband works with fire (as a welder) and plays with fire (as a glass blower). Gabriel is around potentially dangerous heat sources. Though we always have one hand on him in the glass shop, we thought it would be wise to teach him early what “hot” meant. We are very natural consequences parents. I would rather allow Gabriel to fall from something not too high than continually tell him not to climb it. I’d rather allow him to touch something not too hot than continually tell him not to touch it. He gets to do a lot and learns a lot more from play and activity this way.

    Thanks again for the opportunity to discuss this in a thoughtful, respectful way.

    Reply

  15. Posted by Carla on June 9, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    And this is why I heart April.

    You are right that we agree far more than we disagree. You have made a very clear case for why spanking has worked for you. You’ve also made it very clear that you have put tremendous thought into your decision. I don’t need to change your mind and I know you don’t need to change mine. I LOVE that we can talk about something so delicate and not have it turn into a personal confrontation in which one of us is right and the other is wrong. That’s the whole point of the Revolution, that we can make different choices and have different opinions and be willing to listen to each other. Thank you my friend!

    Reply

    • Posted by jordan on June 19, 2013 at 7:50 pm

      I am not that civilized with pro-spankers. I throw fits. I admire you for having the strength to deal civilly with them, and I give you the knuckles. But My spankings as a child hurt me so much that I can’t stand them. I can’t pretend that shit is cotton candy any more. I can’t.

      Reply

  16. Posted by LS on June 9, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    April G wrote: “I think we get into problems when we say, ‘All Christians should or should not discipline this way or that way.'” Well said.

    I find it interesting that some of the arguments posted about not spanking are in reaction to the polar opposite actions of parents who are spanking randomly and reactively or even abusively. I don’t think that’s completely fair. These are two separate things: abusive and destructive hitting and purposeful/constructive spanking (which takes just as much thought for the parent as would an ‘alternative); to say that it’s all “violence against children” is a bit weird. Then again, maybe I don’t get the level of furor against these Christians you speak of who use the Bible to blindly whack their kids since I’m not around a lot of Christian families. Still…it bothers me that some parents who are anti-spanking seem a bit self-righteous in their denouncement of parents who do spank…as if it’s lazy to spank or cruel to spank…I’m youngish, too (30s), but to be totally honest, it seems to me that younger parents can actually be a bit more self-righteous, as if our parenting methods are the most enlightened. But I appreciate everyone’s input here. It’s good to talk about and make us all think more about why we think what we think.

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  17. Posted by April's Sister on June 9, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    Well, many of you have very good points as to why you do not believe that spanking is an effective measure of discipline. I do have some of my own opinions however on why spanking, if done correctly, can absolutely be effective.

    I was spanked a lot growing up. A lot…a LOT. I was an extremely strong willed child. I was very stubborn, always pushing the envelope. I always pushed boundaries and I am sure my mother would have loved to hit me upside the head with a tire iron at times. But she didn’t. No, she spanked me. Of course I hated it; what child doesn’t? But there were no other effective methods for her. I remember being almost amused when she would try an alternative disciplinary technique because it didn’t phase me. The only thing I ever responded to was being spanked. It never caused me to be afraid of my mother as I knew she would never hit me and I did not associate hitting with spanking. I don’t think we give children enough credit to be able to make that distinction.

    My mother made many mistakes as a parent. Okay, she actually didn’t do much right at all. But of all the things she did wrong, spanking was one thing she really did right. She never ever spanked us when she was angry. Never! She would wait until both of us had calmed down first. Then she would sit me down and ask me if I knew why I was getting spanked. If I said no, she would tell me and have me repeat it. If I said yes, she made me tell her and if I was wrong, she would correct me and tell me exactly what I did that was wrong. She always used a wooden spoon, never her hand, and it was always three swats and then it was done. Afterwards, she would offer a hug, but I was usually too angry to accept it. The offer was always still good though after I had calmed down.

    Not every parent spanks out of anger. Not every child’s spirit is broken. No, spanking is not a blanket punishment that works for every child, but there are certainly other children like I was, and for them spanking can be a very effective tool.

    Reply

  18. Okay, I didn’t read all the comments, but April’s sister–I think your assumption that there were no other effective methods for your mom is incorrect. When you tell a 2 year old “if you touch that lamp, you’ll get a spanking,” all they hear is “touch that lamp!”
    I have two teenagers–they were never spanked. I chose to use positive discipline, to redirect, to teach them to use words to expresss their feelings. They learned that every choice had a consequence. They’re terrific kids–I get compliments all the time. they are respectful, well-behaved kids.
    spanking is unnecessary. Go to a good preschool and see how teachers keep order without ever using physical force. I echo Carla’s reasons for this.
    great post!

    Reply

  19. Posted by Emily on June 9, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    Love this post, I agree completely. I think you brought up some awesome points about how developmentally it just doesn’t make sense to young kids. Enough talk about effectiveness…. I could probably do a lot of horrible, abusive things to my kids that get good results, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. To me, the end doesn’t justify the means.
    One thing I haven’t seen reflected in this conversation is whether or not God WANTS us to spank our kids. There are a lot of reasons I don’t spank my 2 year-old, many of them have already been stated… but the biggest one is because it’s incredibly inconsistent with how I understand the Gospel as presented in the Bible. The idea of meting out physical judgement against my small child just doesn’t seem consistent with the Jesus I know. In plain terms, I just can’t see Him doing it if He were me. I know, I know, God did a lot of physical punishment, especially in the OT, but Jesus changes all of that. He was our punishment on the cross, and for me it would be wrong to spank my daughter for something that was already paid for. As though she needed to pay for it again. The whole POINT of the Gospel is that we didn’t get that cosmic spanking we deserved and we never will. We may receive some natural consequences, but never will God discipline us punitively. We get that in adult terms, but I don’t think that aspect of the Gospel translates very well when we’re talking about disciplining kids. But then, I’m kind of touching on a bigger issue of punishment in general, not just spanking.
    Logical consequences make more sense, a consequence that’s directly tied to the action not just randomly assigned. Like the earlier example, if your kid keeps running in the street, he loses his privileged to play outside. I know spanking for safety reasons tends to be the hardest thing for most parents, but the way I see it is that I shouldn’t trust my 2 year-old to be responsible for her own safety and then when she isn’t safe, punish her for it. Her safety is my responsibility until she’s old enough to make wise choices. Some kids can do that at earlier ages than others.
    All that to say, I don’t spank my daughter because I don’t think Jesus advocated violence in any way, especially against small children. It IS possible to create firm boundaries and not be a permissive parent without using spanking or any other punitive form of discipline, unfortunately most of us have never been given a good example of what that looks like. Just like one of the first commenters, I’ve also found http://www.goybparenting.com and http://www.aolff.com to be HUGE resources in learning about gentle discipline.
    Oh, and for what it’s worth, my husband and I were both spanked as kids, are super-close to our parents and aren’t scarred by it at all. I just can’t in good conscience do it to my kids.

    Reply

  20. Much thanks to everyone for discussing this. I don’t have anything to add that hasn’t been said. I just want to let you all know that I appreciate your posts.

    Reply

  21. Posted by Susan on June 10, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    I really appreciate this discussion and particularly the exchange between Carla and April. It has been very respectful and uplifting, and this is just how it should be among Christian sisters! You go girls. The areas in which you two overlap are the same areas that I would have arrived at if I had been involved in the exchange.

    The divisiveness that can occur between Christian parents along spanking vs. non-spanking lines really bothers me. The issue is an important one to be sure, but I do think there are a number of ways that children can be disciplined that are thoughtful, godly, and intentional. In my view it truly does depend on the child (and his/her age), the parent, and God’s leading.

    Like April, my husband and I have poured enormous amounts of time, prayer, research, and experimentation in disciplining our children. We have undertaken the task as diligently and prayerfully as we know how. We do spank, and we have found it to be very effective as a training tool in instructing our 3 1/2 year old son (our oldest). All Aprils’ caveats about our demeanor, clarity, related discussion before and after, total lack of anger, followup reconciliation dialogue (as well as his age and understanding level) apply to us as well. We have never engaged in spanking as a knee-jerk or ‘last resort’ action or “because we feel we’re supposed to” as Christian parents. And I am not sure that we will spank subsequent children either – it will depend on their temperments and God’s leading as to how best to reach them at heart level.

    To me, the questions behind correction and discipline are the most important. Are we reaching the child effectively and training them in what we’re seeking to train in? Are our methods bearing fruit in their demeanor and understanding and character (not just behavior)? How are our methods relating to their ability to accept our love and care for them, their ability to accept our authority as their parents, their ability to control their behavior in age-appropriate ways?

    These are questions that all parents, those who spank and those who don’t, can and should be addresssing and assessing on an ongoing basis. Those who don’t spank may be find it surprising (or may simply disbelieve) that spanking a child can actually be more effective at reaching a child at heart level, actively conveying parental love, and producing a joyful heart in a child than other methods… However, our experience with spanking our son (on occasion, in certain scenarios) bears this out.
    I feel that it is ONE tool among many that God has put at the disposal of godly parents as a resource to be used wisely in certain scenarios and with certain children. Always with great wisdom and prayer.

    Thank you again for raising this issue and conducting the discussion in a godly manner.

    Reply

  22. Posted by April's Sister on June 11, 2009 at 5:41 am

    Keri, I am not saying that spanking is the only effective measure of discipline for all parents and all children. But in MY life, in MY experiences growing up, It absolutely was necessary and effective. You children have flourished using the techniques that you have used. My sister and I both have equally flourished in life although I was spanked often and she was very rarely ever spanked.

    What I think is important is for people to be accepting of the different styles of discipline that are being used. Whether a parent chooses to spank or not they should not cast judgement upon another parent who chooses the method that is best suited to their child.

    There are certainly parents who give spanking a bad name. When it is done in anger or frustration for instance. Especially when it resembles more of a beating than a spanking. Done correctly though, I stand by my opinion that spanking can be useful, necessary, and quite effective.

    Reply

  23. I was spanked and therefore, I spank my children. My husband and I have gone through periods where we have used alternative forms of discipline, such as writing scripture that pertains to the offense, time outs accompanied with a heart to heart about what brought on the behavior. All of these things were INFINITELY more effective than spanking. You hit the nail on the head when you said most parents spank out of irritation, frustration, anger, loss of patience…the list goes on, but it’s mostly because of OUR lack of control. This post couldn’t have been written at a better time. I really needed some encouragement this week. I have three boys. My first born is the typical compliant first born. Never much trouble, sweet, willing to do whatever asked. My second son should have been a red head. 🙂 Text book middle child. Heart as big as the world, but when provoked, LOOK OUT!! He pushes my buttons the most! My third is my sweet little baby. He’ll be two next Monday. I’ve never really experienced the “terrible twos”, but he’s showing some warning signs already. Starting today, I am no longer going to spank. I guarantee, within a week, my children’s behavior will have changed dramatically for the better. I plan to report back to you with the great news. Thank you for your loving inspiration!
    Blessings!
    Audrey

    Reply

  24. Posted by Abby on June 12, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    I responded best to stern looks and the occasional spanking.
    My brother responded best to time outs.
    We both turned out okay.

    I would think that whenever a parent disciplines out of anger, there will be damage done. Spanking may seem like the more obvious culprit, but just as much damage can be done by using privileges/time outs improperly. In fact, I believe the damage done can be much greater as the parent “never actually spanked” them just like the manipulative spouse “never actually hit” them. Any ground gained with a child by not spanking is quickly lost to unkind treatment or improper discipline.

    Reply

  25. Posted by vanier on June 13, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    I’m usually late to the commenting party, but I wanted to throw in my two cents since I don’t see my experience represented here. I got some spanking as I was growing up (including a humiliating bare-bottom spank from my dad when I was thirteen), but what I got more often was physical abuse in the forms of slapping, shaking, etc.

    Like other parents, I also did a great deal of reading and talking to parents I respected as my husband and I made deliberate choices about our parenting. I am philosophically opposed to spanking for many of the reasons Carla outlined, while my husband would consider it a valid option, although not preferred.

    What it came down to in our family is that it would be far too easy with my history to slip into spanking in a way that WOULD be harmful to my kids, and once the use of physical force was open, it would be difficult for me–in a moment of anger and frustration–not to overstep the limits. I am grateful that my husband has been willing to partner together to find other ways of dealing with misbehaviour.

    Reply

  26. Posted by SLJ on June 14, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    this entry has made me consider never reading this blog again. how completely discouraging and painful to read..sometimes our biggest enemies as moms is each other…this entry is case and point. whether or not you spank or don’t spank, don’t you think we should be prostrate before the throne BEGGING God to give us wisdom on how to raise each and everyone of our children? and not BOLDLY proclaiming that we have all the right answers and right interpretations of scripture. we are all wildly arrogant and deeply incorrect. if we only spent the energy and effort praying as we do being critical of one another and tooting our own horns of accomplishments.

    Reply

  27. Posted by Carla on June 14, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    SLJ,

    I understand how you feel. This post was born out of years of frustration and anger over Christian parenting experts telling Christian parents that there was only one way to truly discipline my children and that was spanking.

    I felt like all of those experts gave no credence to my maternal instinct that spanking was not the right form of discipline for my kids. And I resented them for telling me–and so many other parents–that we were not only bad parents if we didn’t spank but ungodly parents as well. They didn’t leave much room for God to lead me down a different path than the one they encouraged. They didn’t leave room for the possibility that my prayers, my understanding of the Bible, my research on child development, my conversations with my husband, and my efforts to seek God’s guidance as a parent might lead me to a different conclusion than the one they reached. I felt, like you seem to feel, that they were discounting the role of God’s leading in my parenting, that I was to follow their advice, not the convictions that God placed in my heart.

    So this post has been my attempt to offer Christian parents a different perspective on a form of discipline that has been touted as God’s way. I don’t believe there is one way to be a godly parent. As I said, my argument was that spanking should be the exception, not the rule. We have lots of wonderful women giving their opinions here as well and I think that together, we make a solid case for doing exactly what you suggest–continually seeking God’s guidance in making the choices that are best for each of our children.

    Reply

  28. Posted by kit and luke on June 17, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    April G. said things really well. I just want to add that while I can see the non-spanking point of view, and while I hope to not have to spank my kids very much, I bristle at the thought that spanking is “lazy parenting” or something like that. Yes, doing it WRONG is an “easy way out,” but doing it right and effectively is actually a LOT of work (that’s why I don’t want to do it, ha ha!). It’s all about the discussion and love and teaching that surrounds the discipline, this is the opposite of lazy to me. Any discipline that takes a short cut to end the behavior and neglects to talk about the “why” of how we need to treat others is lazy parenting if you ask me!

    Also, I have heard the argument that spanking motivates kids with fear of pain, but what about the converse argument that discipline such as “time outs” teaches kids to be motivated by fear of emotional consequenses like isolation or rejection, etc. It’s an interesting thought. I don’t think my kids are hurt much by a spanking anyway, I barely tap them and they’re bawling because they know they’re guilty, not because it hurts. But then it’s over much quicker than a time out or something else, and we can be onto the hugging and forgiving and go back to playing 🙂

    Reply

  29. Posted by kit and luke on June 17, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    oh and also, I agree that spanking shouldn’t be pushed on Christians as “the Bible says you must and cannot do anything else.” I’m not sure what to think of that. But I disagree with the idea that spanking (when done well– as in calmly with love and instruction and consistancy) is not at all effective. It is, but doing it well is a LOT of work!

    Reply

  30. Posted by kit and luke on June 17, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    ooh, Abbey makes a good point. That is what I was trying to say about the emotional effects of non-spanking punishments. They’re not all they’re cracked up to be either.

    Reply

  31. Posted by Stephanie on June 17, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    Violence teaches and perpetuates violence. If one aspires to raise loving, compassionate, peaceful children, then one must model loving, compassionate, peaceful behavior.

    Reply

  32. Posted by April G. on June 18, 2009 at 7:58 am

    Stephanie, I agree with you. I think there is a big difference between violence and effective discipline.

    Reply

  33. Until Carla & Caryn write their parenting book, I recommend an older book “Positive Discipline.”
    Also, letting kids know that they made a “bad choice” but they are not a “bad person” is huge. Put the responsibility on them–they make choices, and those choices have consequences.
    I was spanked, my husband was hit with a belt. We chose not to spank. We used time-outs or natural consequences, but not in anger. I would say to my kids, “it looks like you are having trouble controlling yourself. You need to go to your room until you’re ready to play nicely.” If they said “NO!” I would say, “do you want to go yourself, or do you want me to help you?” If they said “NO!” I’d say, “I see that you are choosing to have me help you.” and then I would take them to their room (Picking them up if needed). Eventually, my daughter, when overwhelmed, would cry “I need a time out!” and I would say, that’s fine, go on up to your room, and come out when you feel ready. It was empowering for her without indulging.
    I realize it’s easy for me to make these comments now that she is 15. At the time, I was hanging on by my fingernails.

    Reply

  34. Posted by Stephanie on June 18, 2009 at 9:02 pm

    Excellent ideas, Keri. “Love & Logic” books and website also are excellent resources. They have *magic* techniques very similar to what you’re describing. It is all about choices, choices, choices. Like, if your (elementary aged) child is getting up late to get dressed for school or resists getting dressed, then take them in their jammies. You won’t be facing struggles in the morning after one day like that.

    Reply

  35. Posted by Claire Prayag on August 19, 2009 at 8:48 am

    Hi,
    I had a bad day with my 3 1/2 year old son yesterday and yes he got spanked. It failed utterly. He simply was not listening and continued being disobedient despite using the naughty step, putting him in his bedroom for time out and then a smack. I believe that spanking is ineffective but do admit to using it. I agree with Carla’s comments and really appreciate the idea of the calm down chair which I shall use. I am praying earnestly how to discipline my children more effectively and to help them to listen and respond to requests. It is not about who is in charge but doing what they are asked to do when they are asked to do it. My son told me he loved me. My response in addition to a hug and an “I love you to” was as Jesus tells us “if you love me you will listen and do as I say”.

    Reply

  36. Posted by kiera on October 29, 2009 at 7:09 am

    I believe if spanking is done correctly ie not in anger )it can be sucessful however there are so many more important aspects to parenting like love,respect,trust etc .

    Reply

  37. Posted by Judy on January 29, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    So I know this is late. but I just wanted to put my 2 cents, please.

    I spank.

    First of all, Karla said it right. Spanking out of anger & frustrations (how you said you did it, for example) is WRONG.

    Secondly, that’s NEVER my first reaction.

    This is how I do it:

    First consequence:
    Verbal Warning – kids are KIDS. They probably don’t know they’re doing something wrong & we, as parents, are their to teach them. So I explain why it’s wrong, tell them not to do/say it again & explain what the next consequnce is if they DO say/do it again.

    Seconde Consequence:
    Time Out – My children HATE time out. WIth my youngest, this is usually enough. After time out, they tell me why they were sent to time out &/or I explain. We talk further about why it’s wrong, tell her not to do/say it again & explain the next consequence.

    Third Consequnce:
    Something gets taken away- This is mostly for my eldest as my youngest really isn’t into electronics or anything yet. If time-out hasn’t worked, this REALLY will usually do the trick because we do NOT mess around. If we say nothing electronic for a week, we MEAN a week & that’s that.

    Final & always works:
    Spanking AND something gets taken away- We sit down with said child, very brief explanation as to why she’s in trouble. Spanking. After she’s ready to talk to us about her behavior, we have a LONG conversation concerning why we spanked her, what we expect & how she can avoid this consequence in the future.

    To be perfectly honest, because we follow through & they KNOW it, we rarely have to spank. All it usually takes now is “the look”. My parents spanked me & it’s wrong to say that children just learn to FEAR parents because I didn’t FEAR mine in that sense. I have nothing but respect for my parents & have such a wonderful relationship with them both. It’s a shame that people who don’t know HOW to spank give spankers a bad name.

    Reply

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