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Teaching ObedienceThe "S" Word     << Ch. 8 >>

Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you beat him with the rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from Sheol.
- Proverbs 23:13-14

Is Spanking "Hitting"?
Secular sources today typically condemn all spanking as barbaric. Occasionally, a solitary voice will allow it as a last resort. Most of the Christian parenting authorities either gloss over the subject, or else teach the disagreeable style I call "Ritual Spanking." Between scarce information and conflicting opinions, young Christian parents are understandably confused. Hence, although I would like to skip this chapter, I can�t.

Beware of the popular definition of spanking as "hitting", deceptively implying child abuse when proper spanking is nothing of the sort. For thousands of years, wisely applied spanking has been considered an almost mandatory part of good parenting. But suddenly, in the last generation, permissive parenting gurus in our society, have sprung up everywhere, denouncing the practice as destined to teach violence to our children. Millions of parents have fallen blindly under the spell of these alleged experts, accepting their assertions as fact, and ceasing to use this valuable tool. Meanwhile, as fewer parents dare to be politically incorrect and spank, the rate of violent crime in our country has exploded -- especially the rate of juvenile violence against parents. Could there be a connection? If anyone is in doubt about the effects of the modern �gentle� parenting style on the juvenile crime rate, I would strongly urge them to read the book �No Fear�, by Robert R. Surgenor. It is filled with statistics and solid evidence derived from the author�s nearly 20 years as a detective in charge of juvenile crime for an Ohio police department. Perhaps it is the lack of spanking that teaches violence, not the opposite. 

Any child can tell the difference between a just spanking and hitting. The simple, all-essential difference between hitting and spanking is this: Hitting is done in anger and it�s goal is injury and retribution. Spanking should never be done in anger, should never injure, and has the goal of training for the good of the child. 

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent.
- Revelation 3:19

When All Else Fails
With their hearts telling them to discipline, but society constantly making parents feel guilty about spanking, many have chosen the middle ground by purposing to use spanking �only as a last resort.� This is serious error. When this practice is adhered to, what we wind up with are parents who hold off spanking until they are overcome by anger and frustration. Then they lash out in rage and vengeance. That�s never the proper way to spank. Not only is it cruel, and damaging, it is also ineffectual, as it shifts the issue from the child's misbehavior to the parent's lack of self-control.

Those spanking in anger must examine their parenting to see if they have allowed misbehavior in their children to go too long uncorrected. Never defer spanking until you've lost your temper. Watch your children and correct minor disobediences and bad attitudes early, with a spanking if necessary, and you won't have to deal with the frustration caused by a child who provokes you to lose your patience and temper. Do not spank only as a last resort. 

He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly.
- Proverbs 14:29

Avoid the "Ritual Spanking"
The "Ritual Spanking" taught in some Christian parenting circles entails taking the offending child and a Bible to a separate room every time a spanking is needed. The child is given a talk, spanked a specific number of times or until he cries, then required to voice a formal apology. The ritual ends with a religious speech and a prayer.

Reject both the principle and method of this type of spanking. There is no need to exit to a separate room. Spanking young children in front of siblings causes little, if any, embarrassment. Small children are not easily embarrassed. If they are slightly embarrassed, it may deter the misbehavior that led to the spanking. Spanking in front of siblings will also encourage said siblings not to commit the same offense.

Spank without explanatory or apologetic lectures. Do not say, "Mommy loves you, and she really hates to spank you, but you made Mommy sad by doing that, and I know you didn't mean to do that, but, blah, blah, blah." Children know intuitively that if they can elicit the justifying lecture, they've won your sympathy and with it, power over you. They know that you are not really convinced that they should be punished at all and so the punishment won�t be as severe as it ought to be, and they will have little motivation to change their behavior.

Afterwards, don't shower the spanked child with hugs and kisses and more apologies: "Now honey, Mommy loves you anyway, even when you disappoint Mommy, and Mommy doesn't want to spank, but God says she must, but Mommy forgives you�" This vacillating approach shouts of the insecurity you feel in disciplining. Don�t make it sound as if you personally hate to do it, but God is forcing you to be a mean mommy and spank. If you don�t believe you should spank, then don�t spank. If you believe that appropriate spanking is good and right, then do it without apology, and without blaming God or anyone else. It is far wiser to emphasize that neither you nor God is pleased, and you meant business with that spanking, and that the antecedent misbehavior will not happen again. You may tell your child that you don't like to spank him, but be sure he knows that you most certainly will, if a his behavior warrants it.

To give small children a spiritual lecture or pray with them after spanking is a dubious practice. Lecturing and teaching are necessary and important, but be sure that you are not doing it inappropriately. When a simple swat on the rear is being used to training a young child, usually no long spiritual speech is needed. It will be incomprehensible overkill. In an older child, lecture in order to instill wisdom, not to humiliate or badger. 

This is not to say that you should never quote scripture to your children or discuss spiritual things in accordance with their age. Quite the opposite. Do so, but don�t save it up for discipline time. Instead, fill all of your daily life with God's words, ways, and teachings. If the teaching of godly wisdom is done pleasantly and properly throughout the day, when your children are behaving well, a special lecture usually won't be needed when they occasionally disobey. A few words of rebuke should suffice. Serious lectures should be reserved for serious offenses or for children who are slow to repent.

The commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light; and reproofs for discipline are the way of life.
- Proverbs 6:23

Three Types of Spanking
Now that I've criticized several modern approaches to spanking, I will detail three types of appropriate spanking, which I consider "wise reproof."

The Training Swat. This is a painless pat with the open hand to the diapered bottom of a child, helping to make the connection between "no" and what he is doing. It may also be used to ambush an otherwise trained child who is on the verge of giving in to a temptation. It generally means: "Pay attention, I'm talking to you," or "Stop! Now chose to do what is right." If the child does not respond, it can be applied more firmly. One swat at a time, with a pause between each, should do. Take your time, and combine with "outlasting" and repeated instructions. 

The Reminder Swat. One firm swat to the clothed bottom of a deliberately disobeying toddler. Repeat after a pause, if the child continues to disobey. This swat can also be used to �ambush� a child who thinks you are not looking. A paddle may be used if the parent prefers, or if needed to make a bigger impression. You need not spank hard with a paddle. In fact, much less effort will achieve the same results.

The "I Mean Business" Spanking. This is typified by one to perhaps three stinging swats to the clothed bottom, delivered with a firm hand or a paddle. This spanking is reserved for repeated or serious misbehavior committed deliberately by an older child. The offending child is required to bend over and place his hands on a chair, safely out of the way. If the child resists, the parent should outlast until he complies. When the child is ready, one or a couple, meaningful swats are given. A lecture and other measures (like Tomato Staking) should usually accompany this type of spanking. "I Mean Business" spankings are never for wee ones.

Let me add a few precautionary words. Never spank anywhere but on a covered bottom. The bare hand, used with prudence, suffices for the very little ones. If you are dealing with a rebellious toddler or older child however, a mom's hand may be insufficient. I have used a flat wooden paddle upon occasion, and find it suffices. Interestingly, when I use a paddle, I am less inclined to spank hard, because a mild paddle swat is more effective than a forceful swat with the open hand. Because a swat with a paddle requires very little physical effort, I can remain more relaxed and calm while disciplining. Never, never spank in anger. 

A fool rejects his father's discipline, but he who regards reproof is prudent..
- Proverbs 15:5

The Child Who Resists
Betty: My six-year-old son refuses to receive his spankings obediently. He knows that if he does not humbly submit to one swat, he will receive another. Yet he fights me and will not turn around to receive his spanking. I don't want to misdirect the swat because of his twisting, nor do I want to have to pin him to the floor to get the job done. I wind up becoming angry about all of this and that's wrong.

Elizabeth: When he needs a spanking, tell him so. If he protests, tell him to be quiet. If he continues, tell him he will now receive another swat for arguing. Then tell him to bend over, place his hands on a chair, and assume "the position".

If he still refuses, argues, or writhes about, calmly tell him that you will not wrestle with him, but that he will not be going anywhere or doing anything until he submits to the number of swats you decide that he needs. Warn him that the more he rebels, the more he will be asking for discipline. Then pull up a chair and wait. Restrain him only if needed to prevent him from running off. Outlast him as you would for any other misbehavior. Some �corner time� may speed up the process. 

Eventually he will weary of crying, whining, and falling on the floor. When you sense this approaching surrender, ask him if he is ready to obey. If he assents, tell him to place his hands on the chair and bend over so you don't miss your target. Be sure he understands that he is not to move or take his hands off the chair until you are finished, and then only when you give him permission. Let him know that if he disobeys, he will receive another swat. If he still moves after the first swat, don't wrestle with him. Go back to square one and start over. Outlast until he submits properly to one or two single swats.

Give one swat at a time with a pause in between. Be patient and don�t rush. A spanking should be a calm, controlled affair, not a wild free-for-all. Usually only a relatively short period of time, and only a total of two or three swats, will be required before a resisting child gives in and obeys. If this is the first time you�ve tried this, it will take longer. 

Stop when he is submitting properly. If you give too many swats, or give them too rapidly, he will be far more likely to keep resisting. Don't engage in a wrestling match when spanking.

He is on the path of life who heeds instruction, but he who forsakes reproof goes astray.
- Proverbs 10:17

The Key to Spanking Seldom, Not Often

Magda: You say you rarely spank. I appreciate this. Unfortunately, I seem to spank all the time. I've been trying to cut back, but haven't figured out how, since my children are extremely rambunctious and always getting into something. What should I do?

Elizabeth: Your inquiry suggests to me that your children have picked up on ways to get around you and are getting away with numerous little things without your realizing it. I suspect that you are giving them too much freedom and expecting too little of them. Are you allowing too much rowdiness, �because they are children�? Little children do not need to be �extremely rambunctious�. It�s time to raise your standards, disallowing all wild behavior. Start correcting before things get out of control. The key to decreasing spanking incidents is vigilance and consistency and nipping things in the bud.

Do not hold back discipline from the child...
- Proverbs 23:13

Disciplining in Public
Joany: I hate to spank my child in public even though he may need it. How can I avoid correcting in public, yet be consistent and correct every time?

Elizabeth: I agree with your reluctance to discipline in public. If you can't discipline the instant your child misbehaves (in a restaurant for example), consider using one of the following strategies:

1. Try to minimize the damage, then work on further training after returning home. For the youngest toddlers, distract or pacify them until you are able to leave the scene. Once home, I rarely discipline very young children because they cannot make the connection between cause and effect when you wait any period of time. I don't simply dismiss the matter however. Public misbehavior signals to me that I have done an insufficient job training them, and I need to be far more vigilant in the future. So from then on, I look for similar character problems at home and train there. Thorough training at home is by far the best way to avoid embarrassment when you are out in public.

2. Leave the scene immediately and discipline in the car or at home. If the child is old enough to benefit from an after-the-fact spanking, then I might leave for home and discipline as soon as possible. I have only very rarely done this. Again, I am more inclined to defer discipline at that particular time and begin closer Tomato Staking and retraining at home. Be assured, whatever the problem was, it will surface again. Watch for similar behavior at home (setting up tempting situations if needed) and correct emphatically and consistently there.

3. "Count" each infraction and discipline accordingly when you get home. One of my favorite ways of handling public misbehavior is to "count." Here�s how it works: Suppose I am going shopping with a few young children. I pause outside the store to go over my behavior expectations with them, �Don't touch, talk softly, stay beside me, and don�t ask for anything.� While I�m at it, I also explain to them that if they disobey I am going to "count," adding one "count" for each disobedience. Once we are home, each child will receive a swat with the paddle, for each �count� he racked up. This counting method works wonders with children old enough to appreciate after-the-fact discipline. I've never gotten past the count of three before they've taken it to heart and shaped up. (And once they understand the process, it also works great for misbehavior in the car, when Mom is driving and unable to correct in any other way.)

In all cases, employ immediate Tomato Staking, to keep things under control until you are home. Continue Tomato Staking after you are home and after you�ve applied whatever discipline you may have felt necessary. Think �retraining,� not �punishment.� This is more important than anything else.

Do not reprove a scoffer, lest he hate you, reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
- Proverbs 9:8

Spanking Teens
Mason: I attended a strict Christian school where even the high school seniors were severely paddled for minor offenses. I deeply resent it to this day. Is this the kind of discipline you advocate?

Elizabeth: No, I don't advocate spanking teenagers, certain not for trivial offenses. Spanking is a training mechanism that instills in toddlers and young children, respect and obedience. Occasionally, spanking may be needed with grade school aged children -- usually those not trained to obey when younger, or those who are having behavior problems due to outside influences. Rebellious teens are generally beyond the point where a spanking is effective anyway, and all it does is cause bitterness. Occasionally I do receive a testimony from someone who tells me that they were spanked as a teen, on a particular occasion, for a particular major offense, and it turned them around. They are very grateful. But those are one time special circumstances, not the use of spanking as routine teen discipline, such as you seem to have experienced. 

Removal of privileges, and especially the removal of peer pressure that comes from outside influences, intensive Tomato Staking, and lots of communication, are far better approaches than spanking a teen.

He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.
- Proverbs 15:31

Options Other Than Spanking
Jewels: Are there any effective discipline options besides spanking? I ask because I grew up in a severely dysfunctional family, where physical, mental, and alcohol abuse were daily occurrences. The times I have tried spanking have left me emotionally devastated. Counseling has put my life back on track, but I'm simply unable, emotionally, to administer a spanking. Any help?

Elizabeth: Several parents have asked me how to discipline without spanking. Some, like you, find spanking traumatic. Others have foster children who cannot by law be spanked. Some live in countries where spanking is actually illegal. If, for whatever reason, you can't spank, you can still use "Tomato Staking," outlasting, ambushing, and standing in the corner. When spanking is left out, these approaches are often much harder to apply, but they will work if you are extremely diligent. (Spanking, if done correctly, just accelerates the process and makes it less emotionally taxing on both the parent and child.) 

If you are training a small child who refuses your order, you can skip the spanking, but you still must stop him from doing anything else until he obeys you. Keep his attention, and keep telling him what you expect, until he obeys. This outlasting usually takes forever, but it is an effective, proven option to spanking. 

Ambushing is also harder without the spanking option. You have to watch twice as vigilantly, and catch misbehavior twice as promptly. Instead of spanking, you might immediately banish the child in the corner, keeping him there until he is very bored, and motivated to obey you. You must watch vigilantly when you release him. You must be ready to promptly apply the same strict discipline for every single infraction. Without the spanking option, much tight, lengthy Tomato Staking is usually required. You may use other forms of discipline, but in order for them to work, extreme consistency will be mandatory. 

For they our earthly fathers disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them..., but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.
- Hebrews 12:10

Each Unique Child
When it comes to spanking or any other discipline tool, it is critical that each child be treated differently according to his own uniqueness. If you start with a young child and the very mild training swats described earlier, you will learn very quickly whether to apply more firmness or less. A stern look, or a simple "Don't do that again", may work very well for one child, while a persuasive spanking might be necessary with another. Yet another might respond best to standing in a corner or sitting next to you for awhile. Others, who are strong-willed or impetuous, may simply require a longer period of consistent Tomato Staking. What one child learns in a day, may take another child several months to learn. Expect these differences between children and adjust your discipline methods accordingly.

The inflexible prerequisite is this: know your own children. Discipline only to the point of sincere repentance and no more. Always aim at the same result, obedience with a good attitude, but get to that point by being creative and flexible, altering good methods and techniques according to personality, age, and circumstance.

If you don't need to spank, then don't spank. But beware of falling into the easy trap of using impoverished methods such as yelling, nagging, shaming, bribing and manipulating. These are much harder on a child than a simple spanking and can create lifelong negative repercussions. 

NOTE: Even if you initially do spank, once your child has learned to respect you, you should no longer need to spank. Except on very rare occasions, a verbal rebuke or another mild form of discipline, should be sufficient. In all cases, Tomato Staking is extremely helpful. 

He who neglects discipline despises himself, but he who listens to reproof acquires understanding.
- Proverbs 15:32

(c) Copyright 2007 L. Elizabeth Krueger.  All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.