A Family Circle Series: To Spank or Not to Spank?

By Leslie Diestelkamp

That parental discipline is necessary is so obvious that it need not be argued in this paper. When Paul said to train up a child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, he certainly included giving direction to the younger lives. Without discipline a young dog or a young horse would develop into a useless, unruly animal. Unless someone gives direction to its development, a grape vine may produce much foliage and little fruit. Only by rigid discipline of its growth is the delicate orchid brought to maximum beauty. Almost everything must be disciplined!

So, without arguing the need for discipline, let us proceed to consider ways and means that are good and bad, that are productive or counter-productive. And even in this very personal, intimate family problem the Bible becomes our guiding light:

1. First, consider some negatives: Solomon said, “He that spareth his rod hateth his son” and “A child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (Prov. 13:24; 29:15). Many parents may have loved their children much, but they may have loved them unwisely. Some seem to think they show their love by permitting almost anything the child desires and by granting almost every request. They seem to think that love for the child requires that the parent overlook all wrong-doing and ignore every misdemeanor. But in God’s sight, such parental conduct is a demonstration of hatred for the child, not love.

2. Next let us consider some positives: Again Solomon said, “He that loveth him ahasteneth him betimes” (Prov. 13:24). “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying” (Prov. 19:18). Then he said, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov.22:6). We must not decline our obligation to correct the course of a child’s life.

We have passed through a permissive time in which many tried to avoid strict discipline for children, both in the home and in the school, especially anything resembling spanking. But it seems there may indeed be a change of attitude today — at least there are signs that a change may be coming. Not only has the Bible continually taught us the proper attitude in this regard, but surely we will have seen the havoc wrought by the permissiveness of the last three decades. Rebellion against fathers, rejection of mothers, hatred of home and disregard for all authority is demonstrated everywhere. Many of the youth have become obsessed with selfishness, arrogance and mad-at-the-world attitude.

Application Principles

Punishment, including spanking, is not very beneficial, in and of itself, unless it is administered with the right attitude and accompanied with the right action by the parents. For instance:

1. Punishment should be, as nearly as possible, immediate. A child, especially a small one, will not benefit by a delayed action. It is quite vain to delay the punishment and expect the child to get the lesson just because you remind him of what it is for.

2. Punishment needs to be certain. That is, a child needs to know what to expect if he is disobedient. If the parent is vacillating, sometimes punishing and sometimes ignoring the matter, then the real benefits of discipline are mostly lost. A spirit of risk–of the thrill of risking-may indeed develop if the child thinks he may disobey without punishment.

3. Of course punishment must be fair and reasonable. A child may be “provoked to wrath” (Eph. 6:4) if he is punished unjustly and if he is abused. (I hasten to add he needs to be hurt. If he is laughing all the while, you have failed to punish at all. But this hurt must not be cruel, inhumane treatment.) Most of all, he must be made to see that he deserves such punishment!

4. Yes, if he is disobedient, spank him, good! It ought to hurt him worse than it does you! Then, do not apologize for what you have done. Rather, let him have time to cry-and to submit. Then, when he shows remorse, as he surely will if he has been trained properly, smile with him or cry with him if the circumstance demands such, and take him into your arms in reconciliation.

We must recognize that each child is an individual and each one must be handled in the wisest way for him. We have all heard of the mother who told the teacher, “Don’t spank my child; spank the child next to mine and mine will get the lesson!” But that will not work. Among children in a family, while still recognizing individual natures, fairness demands that all be treated equally. What a pity it is to see several children grow up with excellent guidance and then see the last child, the baby, spoiled rotten! And sometimes when this occurs, even the older ones are “turned off” by the pampering of the baby brother or sister.

Finally, remember that an ounce of punishment is worth a pound of threats. Actually, threats only serve to harden the children and to instigate more trouble. I can remember when my children were young and the family traveled long distances, sometimes they became too noisy or quarrelsome while confined to such close quarters so long. Then I would say, “If you don’t get quiet, I’ll let you walk a while.” Of course they knew that I wouldn’t put them out on the highway! So my threat was an empty, useless one. Usually it was better to get them involved in some travel game or otherwise divert their attention from the little problem that caused the turmoil.

Meaningless Rules

Every discerning parent knows that there must be some rules in every family circle. And parents must have the ability and the wisdom to make the rules and to enforce them. But rules that are made but not enforced become counter-productive-they do harm, not good. If you tell Johnny, “No, you can’t watch- that horror show on T.V.” you should be prepared to require his obedience. If he can throw a tantrum and get by with it, and turn the T.V. on while you cry and whine and scold, you have lost that much of his respect. Do not make rules you do not intend to enforce.

Love your children; love them with a pure heart, but with a strong will that does not yield to childish rebellion. With sincere love, bind up the wounds in their bodies and in their hearts. Love them instantly and constantly, love them openly and affectionately, and then love them with the integrity and strength that will produce the kind of children that will be altogether loveable even long after they are no longer toddlers beneath your feet. Next “Goals.”

Truth Magazine XXII: 13, pp. 214-215
March 30, 1978