Two aspects to discipline
We live in a polarized world when it comes to the discipline of children. On one side we have people who think that it should be illegal to spank, and that all spanking is the same as child abuse. They say that there are certain types of punishment or correction that are good, but that spanking is wrong. Usually, people in this camp will say that we need to focus more on talking and reasoning with children than with discipline. Then we have people on the other side who say that spanking is all we ever need. “Just beat em” is something I’ve heard before in backwoods, country churches and towns.
The biblical truth though is that there are two aspects to biblical discipline, one is verbal and one is not. If we look at the book of proverbs as a kind of “parenting manual”, what will be apparent is that God thinks that the rod (spanking) is extremely important, but it’s also clear that exhorting, admonishing, teaching, and verbally correcting our children is vitally important as well. The reason that people don’t understand spanking or using the rod is because they don’t understand the balance that God places in the book of Proverbs (and the whole bible) on verbal correction and physical correction. As a matter of fact, just in the book of Proverbs, verbal teaching and correction are shown to be TONS more important than the rod, simply by the amount of time dedicated to both. If we want to properly parent our children, and if we really want to see the rod work, we have to understand that it’s our words, our teaching, our exhorting and admonishment of our children during all the other times outside of spanking that will make the rod effective. If all you do is simply boss your kid around and then spank him when he doesn’t listen, then you’ll never get anywhere, but if you’ll see that you should be spending tons more time talking and teaching and showing positively what they should do, you’ll begin to see the times of “corrective discipline” begin to be more effective.
We call those two aspects of discipline “formative” and “corrective” discipline
Formative discipline is about forming our children in the right way, and corrective discipline is about correcting them when they “break the mold/form”. Both of these are vital, but what’s important to know is that scripture puts a clear emphasis on formative discipline…do you?
Why we Spank
With all that being said though, I’m writing this to explain the corrective discipline aspect of child training, and so I’m going to put my emphasis there, but I want to be clear that anything I say will NEVER work if you are a tyrant, a governor or a bully to your children. Only if you are a teacher, a discipler, and a loving parent will corrective discipline have any hope of working in typical circumstances.
Ok, so why do we spank? The biggest reason is because the bible tells us to. Do you think that you’re being “progressive” or “more loving” because you don’t spank? You’re wrong. Proverbs 13:24 says that if you don’t spank your children, it’s not because you love them, but because you hate them. You FAIL to love them and show them love if you refuse to spank them. I know many people will shudder at that. There are many who would say “I didn’t spank my child because I loved him”, but that’s simply not true…you may have thought you were being loving, but actually you were being abusive and neglectful.
Why is this? It’s because corrective discipline paints a picture of what is in store for the children if they will not honor the true and greatest authority in their lives. See, when a child disobeys you, they are not actually disobeying you, they are disobeying God. They are saying to God: “God, I hate you, and I think that you are stupid to have created me under the authority of my parents.” Do you view your children’s disobedience in that light? Do you see their disobedience as open and rebellious defiance to God? If not, then you will never take it seriously enough to deal with it properly. Only if you understand that each and every time your child disobeys that they deserve to be damned to hell forever will you understand how important it is to teach your children to honor your authority. By teaching our children to honor us as their parents, we are teaching them to honor their heavenly Father…so we MUST spank our children. Only when we understand this will we have the reason, the motivation, and the endurance to be able to take on the task of using the rod for discipline. It takes hard work to be faithful to use the rod, and it can be very discouraging at times. But, just as God is faithful with his children, to always correct and teach and train them, no matter how many times they rebel, so we must be also. So we spank our children, because God commands us to, and because we love our children, and because we pray that through their learning to submit to our authority, that they will one day submit to and trust and love their heavenly Father’s authority.
What we should use to spank
This might sound like a strange question, but it’s an important one. The bible clearly says that we should use “the rod” on our children. Now, there are many different takes on what a rod is, and I don’t want to go into that now, but what I will say is that a rod is different from your hand. It’s been said that the rod should be used for dealing pain, but our hands should be used for showing love. Is it sinful to ever spank a child with your hands? I wouldn’t say so, but I would certainly say that it is MUCH more preferable to use the rod. Yes, there may be times where a simple thump on the hand as a child reaches for something will be acceptable, but by and large, your child should associate the rod with discipline, and your hands with love and affection.
The process for administering the rod (spanking)
Sometimes it can be difficult to determine if you’re child is actually being disobedient, and I’m not going to offer suggestions on how to make that judgment call, but the more faithful you are to administer the rod and interact with your child from a teaching and correction point of view, the more you’ll be able to tell when your child is being disobedient. The very first step is discipline is to make sure you’re not angry. Disciplining your child when you’re angry is abuse, because it is no longer redemptive and corrective, but instead it’s punitive and vengeful, and God alone has that right to take revenge. So make sure you’re angry.
The next piece of the process is that, whenever possible, you should try to go to a private place to spank. Remember, spanking is a redemptive and corrective action, and as such, it defeats that purpose when we are humiliating, embarrassing or distracting our child with other things. The best thing is to be alone with your kid in the same room every time, so that they understand that this is the way of discipline. Children thrive off of routine, and chaos is unhealthy for them. This is true with spanking also. Your children need to know that something that is painful but also cathartic will be the same whenever possible. Of course, there will be times where extenuating circumstances make it hard or impossible to be in a private place, but if your children know that normally discipline is done in the same place and the same way, then those extenuating circumstances won’t be a huge detriment to obedience.
Now, if you are always just hauling off and spanking them without any process, then it becomes sporadic and unpredictable, and frankly, it tends to become simply punitive instead of corrective or redeeming. So, after you’ve called your child out for disobedience, and then sent them to “the room” (whatever it may be, at my house it’s the bedroom of the guilty party), then you need to talk to them and procure a confession from them. It’s important that children understand why they’re being spanked, and it’s important that it’s VERY clear that it’s not simply an action, but the attitude or motivation behind the action that is also the problem. This can be difficult with young children (like my 3 year old), but it IS doable. It takes some helping along, some explaining and LOTS of reminding, but again, discipline is supposed to be about taking opportunity to preach the gospel and correct your child, not just put them in some pain. With my young children I always ask them if they committed the offense. “Simon, did you play with your toy after mommy told you to put it away?” With my older children, I always simply ask them if they know why they’re going to be in trouble. The point isn’t to torture them or to draw out the process, but to help them understand why they’re being disciplined.
Once I’ve gotten them to confess that they were disobedient, then I talk about why it is wrong. Again, this is different depending on the age of the child. With Simon, I explain that he’s supposed to listen to mommy and daddy because we love him and keep him safe, but I also, and ALWAYS, take the offense up to heaven as well. I always explain that any disobedience is most evil not because they disobeyed mom and dad, but because they disobeyed God.
I ALWAYS explain that obedience isn’t simply some arbitrary service that kids owe to parents, but that it is because of the authority that God has given to parents that children must obey. Our children HAVE to see that we only have authority because God gave it to us, and so remind them that ultimately, they’re problem isn’t with us, but God. This also helps you as a parent not get offended when your children are disobedient to you. Remember, it’s not you they are hating, it’s God. It’s not you they are in rebellion against, it’s God. They don’t owe you anything except what God says that they owe you, so remind them that if they love God, and if they want to obey him, then the way to do that is to obey you.
Do you see what happens here? You take something simple (not putting away toys, talking back etc…) and you take it all the way up to God and his law. You’re giving your child the law, so that they can feel the weight of it, and even see a very tiny picture of what punishment they deserve when they break God’s law. This is an important step. Make sure they know that they were disobedient to you, but make sure they know why that’s wrong. Not because they have to obey you, but because God SAYS they have to obey you.
Now comes the hard part. I always calmly explain the consequences before I spank. “Simon, because you didn’t listen to mommy, God says that I have to give you a spanking.” Again, I hope you see that I’m not basing this discipline on my authority, but on God’s.
Then I administer the rod. The rule at my house is one spanking per offense. What I mean by that is that if I told my child to put down their toy, and they didn’t, and then they proceeded to yell at me, or talk back to me and argue, then they wouldn’t just get one spanking, but two. They’d get spanked for being disobedient (not putting down the toy), but also for being disrespectful. I’ve always found that the main areas where we need to spank are disobedience, disrespect, and dishonesty. I always tell my kids how many spankings they’re going to get and why, because again, I want them to understand 1)that I’m not angry, but that this is part of teaching and 2) that this isn’t arbitrarily up to my whims and wishes…this is intentional and purposeful. The way that I spank is different with my little ones than with my older children. With Jonah, for example, I always put him over my lap, and make sure he’s not wearing a big, padded diaper. With my older children though, I use a bigger rod, and it doesn’t matter what they’re wearing, of course.
I always tell my children “ok, I’m going to spank you now” right before I spank, just trying to again remind them that I’m in control of myself, and that I’m not angry.
Then I spank, and I ALWAYS make sure it hurts. It is SUPPOSED to hurt. The bible uses the words “if you beat your child”. Scripture talks about the blueness of the wound. These things aren’t arbitrary. I want it to be a little red, and I want them to feel it for longer than a couple minutes. Spanking is supposed to be painful so that the memory of the pain will help with remembering to be obedient next time. Make sure that when you spank it hurts. “If you beat your child with the rod, they will not die, and you will rescue their soul from hell” is what the bible says about this. We are not fighting against flesh and blood, we’re doing war for our children’s souls…so make it hurt. No, you shouldn’t be inflicting real harm to your children, no there shouldn’t be any lasting marks, yes, you CAN spank too hard…you know all that, so use good judgment, I’m just saying we MUST make it hurt.
The next part of discipline is that you must ALWAYS reconcile. By this I mean that your child has to be able to give you a hug and a kiss (or something like that) without being mad or upset with you. They have to be able to come back to you for the comfort they need. After I spank I always make my kids give me a hug and a kiss (well, my older ones just have to hug me). I do this because I want to remind them that this whole thing has been because I love them, and if they don’t understand that, then the process has been ineffective.
Now, if my child is refusing to reconcile, then I start this whole thing again. I explain why they’re being disrespectful and disobedient, and tell them why it’s wrong, and then they get another spanking. I tell my children that they shouldn’t be angry with me, but instead pleased that I am obeying God. I tell them that they shouldn’t be angry because I am showing that I love them by training them properly. I remind them that if I didn’t love them, then I would simply let them live however they wanted, even though I know that it may well lead to their eternal death. So we must reconcile, or else your children won’t learn anything about trusting you more, and instead they’ll only learn to handle the pain when they get caught.
And then, after I’ve done all this (which usually only takes about 3 minutes), I try, though I don’t always do this, but I try to always preach the gospel. That’s what discipline is about. This is the most important piece of the process. Everything you’ve done leads to this. We have to preach the gospel to our kids every chance we get, and discipline it the PERFECT opportunity to do so.
First I go over why they sinned, no, not because they wanted the toy, but the deeper issue. I TELL them (I don’t ask) that the reason they sinned was because they are sinful, and, for my younger children, I tell them it’s because they have a bad heart, I tell them they have a stony heart that doesn’t love God. Because of this, they are disobedient to God and God calls disobedience sin. Then, I explain what the consequences of sin deserve. I tell them that they deserve to go to hell. Again, this is hard to articulate to young children, and there have been times before where I’ve told Simon that he deserves to get “lots and lots” of spankings instead of just one. The point is to show them that the correction they’ve just received is NOTHING compared with the punishment they deserve. They deserve hell, they deserve God’s punishment, and we have to help our children understand that the best we can. I also make sure that my kids know that God is angry with their sin. God is angry with their sin and I am just a messenger, sending a message that my child needs to take seriously this warning in the form of a spanking, because they deserve much worse. Again, by showing that I’m not angry, I reinforce that this is not between the child and me primarily, but between them and God. This is about making disciples, not about making obedient children. So I make sure that they understand as best they can, that God is angry with their sin and that they deserve to be punished for it.
Then I talk about what they need. They need a new heart. They need a new attitude toward God. He is a good God, and his ways are good and can be trusted. His law that children should obey parents is a good law, and they need to see that. More importantly though, they need to be forgiven for the wrong they’ve done, and so the last part of preaching the gospel is to tell them how they can be forgiven and be saved and reconciled to God. By repenting of their sin, and believing in Jesus. I try to always tell the story of Jesus in a way they’ll understand. Simple, story format showing that Jesus got “lots and lots of spankings”, but that if we will trust in him and listen to him and follow him and love him, then we won’t ever get “lots and lots of spankings” from God.
Yes, I know that what Jesus did was bigger than spankings, and if you have a better way to explain the punishment he underwent for us, then by all means, use it. But I’ve found that using a similar punishment to what my kids are getting, they can understand more of what a big deal it is that Jesus did that for us. It can be a hard thing to articulate, and it takes work to know how to communicate it with your child. But take heart, God doesn’t need you to get the gospel perfect in order to save your kids. His word doesn’t return void, and he is able to take our flawed attempts and perform heart changing miracles with them. Just be faithful to preach the gospel.
So, after all this is done, I pray. I pray that my kids would listen to mom and dad, and that God would change their hearts and help them love Jesus, and that God would save them. Then we’re done. I know that it feels like a lot, but I can almost always, even with the worst of rebellions, do this entire process in under 10 minutes. And ten minutes with your child, where you’re preparing their hearts to hear the gospel, is the best way you can spend ten minutes in a day.
The most important thing is to give the gospel to your children, and to train them to be receptive to your law, so that, Lord willing, one day they will be receptive to God’s commands, first to believe the gospel, and then to delight themselves fully in God and his ways.