This is a practical look at spanking children. Parents must understand that spanking is just one element in God’s child training program. It is essential, but is not the whole—only a part. Nor is it the most important part. Important yes, but not all-important.
One of our wise readers suggested: “Try, yet again, to explain to parents how to train, discipline, and enjoy their children. Too many parents get stuck on one of these elements and let the other two slide. But just as you need several key ingredients to make a cake, as parents, those three elements are crucial to having happy, obedient children.” E. D.
1. Enjoy your children
Parents must first enjoy their children. Only in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust can parents impart anything positive to their children. In an environment of tension and criticism, training and spanking are ineffective, even counterproductive. Make your children part of your life—the biggest part. Look them in the eyes and smile right through them. Love your way into their souls. Delight in the things they delight in, and they will delight in you. If they know that their existence pleases you, they will want their actions to please you also. Only in this context are either of you ready for training.
Training is done before the need to discipline arises. Training is what you do in the moments when all is well and you take time out to condition them to obedience. Your well-spoken words of praise and instruction will prevent many possible acts of disobedience or foolishness. Impart an understanding of why obedience is important. When you cause children to understand that you will hold to your authority firmly, you are pre-conditioning their hearts and minds to obedience.
You must also condition their bodies to obedience by seizing many opportunities throughout the day to walk them through acts of obedience. As the military drills their soldiers, you must drill your children. We have discussed this many times, and since our subject is the rod, we will not go into the training aspect here, but we want you to see training and discipline in perspective.
When parents have failed to train, their “discipline” tends to come in explosive spurts. Instead of training the child to obey, they wait until his disobedience drives them into violent discipline. That is like driving a car by bouncing off the guardrails on either side. It might knock your kids back toward center, but in the end it will wreck them. If you don’t take time to train, you haven’t taken time to be a parent, and your discipline will be more like war. If it makes you feel abusive, it proves you still have a conscience. Spanking is a great corrective tool when used on trained children, but it will make an untrained child stubborn and mad.
There will be times when the loving and the training will not be enough. You may have a great relationship with your child, and he may delight to please you, but he is still made of flesh, and is possessed of many lusts, and wooed by a world filled with distractions. The best of children will still experience the struggle of Romans 7 and must be loved, trained, and disciplined to “walk in the light.”
If you have enjoyed your child, and you have taken time to train, you are now prepared to discipline when necessary. The Bible says, “The rod and reproof give wisdom…(Proverbs 29:15).” The first level of discipline is reproof. You can chasten your children with your words, but as we have already pointed out, words that are not backed up with constraining force are nothing more than empty suggestions—personal opinions to be rejected or obeyed as the child pleases.
You will also want to use other forms of discipline when they are effective, like making them work, repeating a chore, or any number of unpleasant consequences. Children can also be disciplined by denying a privilege or pleasure. But this kind of penal discipline will only work when they know you have the power of the rod to enforce your rule. The ultimate child motivator is the rod. That brings us to our subject of how to apply the rod.
The rod in training
Those who oppose the use of the rod view it as an act of violence. Even among those meek Christians who use the rod in moderation, there are some who view it as punishment—“whipping them back into line.”
Others have discovered the power of using the rod in training. If you would learn to use the rod in training, it is possible that you would never have to use it in punishment. If you put off use of the rod until the child gets crazy with rebellion, and you wait until you are thoroughly provoked, you are in danger of acting with a disposition to punish. By then, it has gotten personal with you. You are thinking, “How dare that child defy me; I will show that little brat!” Ugly indeed.
On the other hand, if you seize the smallest disturbances as opportunities to train, you will use the rod more frequently but with no stress or significant pain for either you or the child. For example, one mother is out in the yard having war with her four-year-old, trying to make him sit in the car seat. She has taken him in the house and spanked him until his legs are striped, but he still resists. She is mad. He is angry. They are fighting. Her neighbor sees it and calls the authorities. She was practicing “corporal punishment.”
Another young mother is wiser. When she first sat her five-month-old in the car seat, and he arched his back and puckered his face, she resisted his usurpation of authority by firmly saying, “No.” When he continued to express his displeasure, without further ado, she enforced her word by giving him a little tap on the bare leg while repeating her command. If—now pay attention to the third word that follows—she is consistent and never rewards the child’s protest by letting him out of the car seat, then that will be the end of the matter. He is forever trained to sit in the car seat. If an entirely different issue comes up later, one where he again demands to exert his will against hers, and she gives in, then in the future he may again protest the car seat. For where there are many issues with the mother, each one separate in her mind, there is only one issue with the child—will I get my way or will she get hers?
If you use the rod to enforce your word in training, you may never have to use it as punishment. But if you allow the child to get his way for the first year or two, when you do begin using the rod you will have to be more forceful and it will be stressful.
The rod as chastisement
Training is done on the spot, without much discussion or hesitation. The rod falls within three seconds of the disobedience. You don’t even break stride. Onlookers hardly notice it, whereas chastisement is more involved and demanding.
When a child has developed a resistance to obedience and his attitude is bad, and you have lost his respect, and he has become entrenched in his self-will, he needs to be chastened with the rod. Chastisement will train, but it goes beyond training, yet it does not rise to the level of punishment. Chastisement is meant to put such discomfort in the way of the transgressor that it is no longer comfortable for him to continue in his errant ways. To relieve the pressure, he must turn his face to his master.
The rod as punishment
If you fail to gain the child’s heart through proper training and chastisement, his self-will may carry him into acts or motives that are evil. When a child has chosen the path of corruption, like anger that results in hurting someone, he has grieved his conscience and is in a psychological state of estrangement from all authority, from God, and from his higher impulses to be good. His guilt will isolate him from the social order and put him beyond the pale of reason and rebuke. It will be the jumping off point into total rebellion. You may see this occur in a child as young as three or four, but more likely in older children.
If you have trained properly, this may never happen to your child, but if it does come to this, you are not helpless. The soul of your child needs to be punished. He feels the need to suffer for his misdeeds. What I am telling you is well understood by the most reprobate of modern psychiatrists and psychologists. They call it a “guilt complex.” Children and adults in this state of mind often do harm to themselves. Their anger is turned inward because they hate the bad person they know themselves to be. Their soul is crying out for justice to be done to the self. They don’t know what is happening, and they will not voluntarily seek punishment, but their soul needs judgment. When your child is in the first throes of this debilitating condition, be kind enough to punish him. Care enough and love enough to pay the emotional sacrifice to give him ten to fifteen licks that will satisfy his need to experience payback.
If you do not see the wisdom in what I have said, and you reject these concepts, you are not fit to be a parent. I pity your children. They will never experience the freedom of soul and conscience that mine do.
What instrument would I use?
As a rule, do not use your hand. Hands are for loving and helping. If an adult swings his or her hand fast enough to cause pain to the surface of the skin, there is a danger of damaging bones and joints. The most painful nerves are just under the surface of the skin. A swift swat with a light, flexible instrument will sting without bruising or causing internal damage. Many people are using a section of ¼ inch plumber’s supply line as a spanking instrument. It will fit in your purse or hang around you neck. You can buy them for under $1.00 at Home Depot or any hardware store. They come cheaper by the dozen and can be widely distributed in every room and vehicle. Just the high profile of their accessibility keeps the kids in line.
When are they too young?
As soon as they are old enough to exercise a stubborn will or throw a fit of anger, they need to be lightly spanked. The younger children should not be punished, and the very young will not need chastisement. But from the time they are old enough to resist your will, they will need the little swats of training. Remember that we are not punishing the small child. We are just giving authority to our words. In most cases the child will not even cry.
When are they too old?
It is hard to say. It differs with each child and each family. Some families spank their kids until they are eighteen. Others stop by the time they go through puberty. Obviously you should stop when it ceases to be effective, or when they won’t cooperate. When it is embarrassing to you as well as to them, it is time to resort to reasoning and appeal. If you have a good relationship with your children and they recognize their need to be chastened or punished, then they are not too old. But if you have lost fellowship with your children and they are past puberty, they are probably too old.
Public or private?
Don’t be so indiscreet as to spank your children in public—including the church restroom. I get letters regularly telling of trouble with in-laws who threaten to report them to the authorities. Parents have called the Gestapo on their married children. Church friends who have noses longer than the pews on which they perch can cause a world of trouble. If you cannot get them trained before going out in public, stay home and read our four books again.
As to whether or not you should discipline your children in front of the other members of the family or in front of close, trusted friends, that is a matter of choice. In our home it did not make any difference to anyone whether the other family members were present. The children receiving the discipline were occupied with much more pressing matters.
When the rod is being used as training, it would be totally counterproductive to remove the child from the scene. For the rod to be effective as a training tool it is best delivered within seconds of the offense. If it can be delivered immediately, that is best. If a child is trying to stand up in his highchair and he receives a swat every time he puts his foot under him, he will be trained quickly. If you took him out of the highchair and removed him to another room, you would not be training him to stay in the chair. Parents who hold fast to the philosophy that you must remove the child to a private place are unable to train. By the very nature of it they put off spanking until the situation becomes unbearable. They fail for want of immediacy and therefore, consistency.
Some parents spank their children too hard, though most do not spank them hard enough at times. The severity should be scaled to the offense and the moment. If it is training, sometimes it doesn’t even need to hurt. A rolled up newspaper that makes a lot of noise can be extremely effective to gain an immediate response. Obviously, if you ever need to punish, the spanking will have to be more painful. The painfulness is not as important as consistency. Certainty and swiftness will eliminate the need for severity.
Your own heart tells you not to do bodily harm to your children. Be calm and patient, and your reason will have time to prevail.
If you are motivated by anger, wait until you calm down. Put the child in a room to wait until you are motivated by your head, not you anger.
How many licks?
There is no number that can be given. It would be better to administer more licks that are less forceful than to administer few licks that hurt severely. It is much more effective to administer chastisement or punishment in a slow thoughtful fashion. Our goal is to cause the child to voluntarily surrender his will. We want to impress upon him the severity of his disobedience. It takes time and thoughtfulness for the child to come to repentance. I have told a child I was going to give him 10 licks. I count out loud as I go. After about three licks, leaving him in his position, I would stop and remind him what this is all about. I would continue slowly, still counting, stop again and tell him that I know it hurts and I wish I didn’t have to do it but that it is for his own good. Then I would continue slowly. Pretending to forget the count, I would again stop at about eight and ask him the number. Have him subtract eight from ten, (a little homeschooling) and continue with the final two licks. Then I would have him stand in front of me and ask him why he got the spanking. If his answer showed that he was rebellious and defiant, he would get several more licks. Again he would be questioned as to his offense. If he showed total submission, we put it all behind us, but if he were still rebellious, we would continue until he gave over his will. Only about three of our five children ever resisted after a spanking and refused to cooperate. Each of the three required only one experience of continued spankings until they surrendered. None of the three ever tried it a second time. In all cases, it was between the ages of two and four that they tried their moment of defiance.
If you ever have a child who stands his ground of defiance and you let him win, you have lost his heart forever—unless you are able to go back and win a confrontation and keep on winning. If you ever let his rebellion triumph just one time, it makes it much harder to conquer in the future. After he gains the upper hand, one victory on your part will not be sufficient. You will have to persevere in several contests of wills until he is convinced that he can never stand against your authority.
Where on the body?
The Bible says, “the rod is for the back.” That would include anything that is not the front—the back from the shoulders down to the feet. When training, and not chastening or punishing, any convenient place on the body is effective. When you have told a child not to touch, and he reaches out, you can thump or swat his hand. If he is trying to climb down from his chair after being told not to, you can swat his legs. But when you are engaging the child in serious chastisement, the small of the back down to the thighs is the most effective. You can spank half as hard on the back with a light, stingy switch and be more effective than spanking harder on the bottom or thighs.
When training, you swat them in whatever position they are in when the offense occurs. If you are chastening, cause them to exercise their wills to place themselves in a yielding position over a chair or bed. This is one way of determining if you are conquering their wills. If they comply, they are already repentant. When my boys were larger, I would have them stand up and hold on to the door frame, or put their hands against the wall.
I never made my children naked on their bottom to spank them. If it was winter and they were over dressed, I would have them strip down to the clothes they would wear in the house.
What if they fight back?
Children fight back because they think they have a chance of forestalling the spanking. First make sure the child never gains anything by fleeing. Second, cause the child to understand that he is further hurting himself by resisting. Slow down, stay calm. If you are in a frenzy, the child will respond in kind. If a child flees, don’t chase him. Wait and allow time for the tension to go out of the air. Slowly pursue him, explaining that he cannot win. If it takes a long time, that’s fine. Go to his hiding place and laugh at his frail attempts. Explain that if it takes fourteen days to bring him to justice, he will be brought to justice. Patience. Calm. Dignity. Wait until he calms down in the back of the closet, or under the bed, and as you sit outside, or just beyond him, quietly tell him that you are coming to give him his ten licks, but that since he has fled, he is now going to get one extra lick. Wait several minutes for him to calm down and listen with reason, and ask him how much ten plus one is. “That’s right, eleven. Would you rather have 10 licks or 11?” He answers “10.” Then tell him that it is too late to get just 10, but if he doesn’t come out immediately you will raise it to 12. He must have calmed down for him to make a rational choice. If not, then wait a little longer. Keep this up until you raise the stakes to about twenty licks, explaining to him that when you get to 20 licks you are coming after him. If he is locked in his room, explain that you will unlock the door. There is no escape. Be calm, non-threatening in tone. Just quiet dignity. Think of yourself as a high-ranking government official in charge of negotiations. Know that in the end you will win. It is the quality of the win that counts. You want him to voluntarily surrender. There is no “violence” that way. It is a great victory if you can get him to finally give over and take the few steps toward you. One win like this and you are likely to never have this problem again.
If your negotiation for an unconditional surrender fails, calmly unlock the door and enter the room. While quietly explaining what you are doing, drag him out of the closet or out from under the bed and restrain him until he calms down. Explain your position and then put him in a confining position. And then proceed to spank slowly. When you get to the former number of licks that he would have received, stop and say, “OK that is the ten licks you had coming; I am tired of spanking, but I must give you the other lick that I promised if you did not come to me.” Whap! “There, now that is eleven, but you still did not come, so I told you you would get 12, so here is the twelfth…” And so continue talking him through it so that he knows that he is getting exactly what you promised.
If a kid is hysterical, he will not learn anything, except that you are more powerful. That is a good lesson, but you want more. You want him to come to repentance and take responsibility for every action. He must understand the causes and effects of his actions.
If you raise your voice and run and jerk the child around, you will add to his hysteria, and he will learn nothing. If you give over in any way, or you beg, or you act as if you are emotionally suffering, he wins; you lose, and in the end he loses in the area of character. The child needs you to win with dignity. His soul needs to surrender to a power greater than self. Remember, you are representing all authority to the child, including the authority of God.
Each child will be different. Some four-year-olds will need five spankings a day, whereas others will need only one a month. Some children hardly ever need a spanking after they are seven or eight; others still need one after they are married. Not that anyone is going to spank him.
You should not spank beyond your fellowship with the child. If you feel that your spanking is excessive, it is because it is not working. If it is not working to produce happy, creative kids, then you are missing one of the other elements we discussed. You have probably forgotten how to relax and enjoy your children. Or perhaps you have failed to train. The bottom line is that if other things are equal, and you give a child a spanking every time he needs it, the time will soon come when he will not need to be spanked so often, and eventually not at all.
When is it abuse?
You are abusing the child when it starts doing harm to the child. Listen to your friends—especially to those friends that share your philosophy. Ask the opinion of people you respect. If they think you are abusive, get counsel in a hurry. Ask the opinion of your older children. If your child is broken in spirit, cowed and subdued, you have a problem. Children should be happy and cheerful, full of enthusiasm and creativity. If your children are fearful or anxious, you should get some counsel.
What about in-laws and friends?
In-laws can be outlaws when it comes to raising kids. If they did a poor job raising their children and they criticize you, ask your trusted friends if there is any truth in what they are saying. If your conscience is clear, and your children are a delight and glory to God, and other counselors approve of your methods, then avoid displaying your discipline before your in-laws. You have no business having close friends that don’t share your views on child training.
If you train at home, you will not need to worry about offending your in-laws and friends, for your children will always be exemplary in public. When my children were young, we had a signal that was used in public. If they acted up in a way that required a spanking, I didn’t even rebuke them publicly. I just held up one finger, which meant, “You are going to get five licks when we get home.” Two fingers meant ten licks, and so on. With the lifting of my index finger, I have seen them tuck their bottom and cease all offensive actions. They knew it was waiting when they got home. It was as good as spanking them then and there.
Biblical training, chastisement, and punishment are of God’s design. They are consistent with the laws of human nature. The final proof of the superiority of our methods is the children raised in this manner. Those who oppose the Biblical method often find it necessary to drug their children as well as themselves. The most empirical proof of God’s way is the joy. You cannot argue with joy. We parents of joy obey God and our joy increases along with our joyful children.