To Spank or not to Spank? We Do
I’ll say at the start of this that my wife and I spank our children.
But in this post I’m not going to begin with 10 minutes of throat clearing—you know, all that introductory stuff to make sure we are all starting on the same page. I’m just going to assume that the reader knows that when I say spank, I don’t mean beat. And I’m going to assume that the reader knows when I say spank, I don’t mean it’s the only way to discipline or even the best in every circumstance. I have never beat my children, and we have used many other methods of discipline in addition to spanking.
My wife and I have six children, so we’ve been thinking about this for a long time. But I’ve especially been thinking about it over the last few weeks. This year I’m officiating the weddings of five young couples, and during premarital counseling when we discuss the disciplining of children, it’s fair to say that most, if not all, seem moderately or strongly opposed to it. This trend has proved true for most of the last dozen engaged couples who have sat in our living room to talk about raising children (and budgeting and intimacy and for richer and for poorer).
The other thing that got me thinking about it was a humorous and somewhat odd sermon intro by pastor Matt Chandler (“That Which Satisfies” on John 6:22–71, preached March 3, 2019). While he tells a story of disciplining his own children, you can almost feel how the congregation seems both humored and uncomfortable. At one point, Chandler momentarily breaks from his story to say something like, “I know you don’t spank your kids, but we do.” Apparently, I’m not the only one hanging onto a method of discipline that’s going out of style—or one that has already long gone out of style.
Yet this post isn’t part of my crusade to get you to spank your children. I’ve never written about this before and don’t plan to do it again. I certainly don’t want to be another polemical voice in the already overly opinionated milieu of Christian child-rearing. Instead, I’d like to talk about how parents can spank their children rightly. In other words, if you’re already open to the idea of spanking—or perhaps already doing it—then I’d love to offer some thoughts about how to and how not to proceed.
The Bible doesn’t say much about spanking. The modern Proverb about spoiling a child by sparing the rod isn’t actually in the Bible. Although Proverbs does say these things:
Whoever spares the rod hates his son,
but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him (13:24)
Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. (22:15)
I don’t want to quibble with anyone about whether “rod” should be understood literally or if it’s a metaphor for discipline of another kind. Again, I’m simply trying to help those already walking a certain path to stay on that path in a way that honors God.
So, here are 13 thoughts about what would and would not help to make spanking most effective and honoring to the Lord.
1. A Calm Mom or Dad
Don’t spank in anger. If the child’s disobedience is causing you to react poorly, you probably should have spanked (or disciplined in some other way) long before you did.
2. A Spoon is Better than a Hand
My suggestion is that you use a wooden spoon or plastic spatula rather than your hand. This suggestion has little to do with how it feels to be spanked with either item. I think using a spoon is better than using your hand because, over time, it seems wise to have something else do the spanking that isn’t so closely tied to you. You can put a spoon away in a drawer or diaper bag, but your hand is always with you.
3. Spank Only for Willful Disobedience
Don’t spank a little kid for making the sorts of mistakes little kids tend to make. If a kid spills a drink at dinner, that doesn’t call for a spanking. But if a kid looks at Mom and yells, “NOOO!!” when asked to pick up toys, that does call for a spanking. Related to this point of “little kids being little kids,” if your child throws a temper tantrum because you went on vacation and kept the little guy up way past his bedtime for days on end, that’s not something to spank about either. That tantrum is on us, the parents.
4. Spank Away from the Presence of Others
Don’t spank a child in front of her siblings, friends, or other company. The point is not to humiliate.
5. Spank on the Child’s Bottom
If the child is very young, say 18 months, you can do it lightly on the hand. Otherwise only spank on the bottom. You don’t want a child fearful about what part of his body will receive the spanking. The punishment should be a procedure known to the child not something fearfully erratic.
6. Explain Why You Are Spanking
If a police officer gave me a traffic ticket, which has happened a few times, the officer has always made it clear what law (or laws) I violated. The same should be true of spanking. Children need to know what they did wrong. This is true with all methods of discipline.
7. Seek to Draw out an Apology
Related to making sure a child knows what he did wrong, explain the need to repent verbally and apologize to those sinned against.
8. Tailor Discipline to the Child’s Temperament and Age
A child might go through a season of disobedience where she needs a few spankings every week. But that should be very rare. And some children, because of their tender disposition, shouldn’t get but a few spankings the entire time they grow up. Know your child. When it comes to age, I’d say 18-months old to 6-years old is a decent window, though you might go a bit longer. But don’t spank a 12-year old, or a 12-month old for that matter. A friend mentioned something helpful to me about this. He encouraged me that if the child is violently resisting the spanking, then it’s not the time to do it. Wait for things to calm down. Traumatization is not the effect we’re aiming for.
9. Make Spanking Consistent
Children should not be surprised that a certain action resulted in a spanking, and when you do spank, they should be consistently done. Avoid being random and erratic. Don’t ratchet up the physical force for a greater offense. Also, spanking shouldn’t be the thing that only Dad does (or only Mom does). This pits children against certain parents and each parent against each other. In a blended family, more thought might be needed here, as sometimes it can be best for the biological parent of the child to do the more difficult disciplining, at least at first.
10. Give Only One Warning
Don’t threaten with a spanking if you don’t intend to follow through. If you warn a child sixteen times before a spanking, you’ll certainly be teaching but not what you should be teaching. And whether you spank or not, please don’t ever “count to three” slowly to get a child to obey. ONNNNEEE... pick up that toy... I mean it... TWOOOO... just bend over and pick it up... TWOOOO AND A HALFFFFF... Don’t make me have to spank you because here comes number three... This just teaches delayed obedience, which is also known as prolonged disobedience.
11. Reaffirm Love and Show Affection
When the spanking is over, it’s over—all of it. Hug your child and remind her how deeply you love her.
12. Apologize to Your Child When You Get it Wrong
A Dad who never repents is a terrible lesson to teach. No parent is perfect. It’s not if but when you’ll need to apologize to a child. The apology should be done privately, as with the spankings, but your apology should also be done publicly because likely others in the house heard the commotion. Public sin should have a public repentance.
13. Take the Long View
Big problems are not typically fixed in one afternoon. Consistent love and discipline (of whatever method) over the life of the child is what shapes the child’s heart and character.
Let me know in the comments what I’m missing.