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Volume 8, Issue 4: Childer

How to Spank

Douglas Wilson

The subject is of course fraught with peril. For all we know, the advice you are about to receive may be illegal. If any social workers in flak jackets show up at your doorstep, pretend you don't know us.

The point here is not to persuade the unconvinced. For those who still think that hitting a child teaches him violence, the following should prove singularly unedifying. But for those who want to instruct their children according to the scriptural pattern, a reminder of God's standards may prove helpful.
First, we should review our understanding of the biblical nature of the requirements. The Bible does not leave us uninformed on the disciplinary needs of our children. Proverbs 23:13-14 says, "Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell." We learn in Hebrews 12:11 that "No chastening seems joyful for the present, but grievous." The Bible tells us that the nature of discipline is grievous to the recipient, and that grief comes to the child from the rod.
Nevertheless, spanking does not provide the content of what a parent is teaching. For example, if a parent spanks a child for lying, he is reinforcing a biblical ethic with a biblical chastisement. But if a child is spanked for telling the truth, God's pattern for the home is being overthrown. The same goes for various sins of omission as well--if a child disobeys an order and nothing happens, that child is being taught to live like a nonChristian.
This means there must be consistency, biblically defined, between the lesson and the discipline. Moreover there must be consistency between the discipline and the number of offenses. The more parents are consistent with their discipline, the faster the child will learn, and the sooner the spanking will stop. Further, the Bible tells us that discipline teaches. This means that erratic, confused and emotional discipline is teaching lies. The spankings a child receives for a particular offense should not be erratic. If a child is spanked for lying only every fifth time he lies, the lesson he could well be learning is, "Never lie on Tuesdays." Consistency of discipline should therefore be evidence for every offense.
Also the children should understand the reasonable parity between the discipline and the offense committed. The biblical attitude for parents is seen in the Psalms. "As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust" (Ps. 103:13-14). Fathers are to avoid provoking their kids to prevent them from becoming discouraged (Col. 3:21). No better way exists to discourage the kids than through tyrannical and unreasonable discipline. The situation is made far worse when unreasonable men clobber their kids in the name of a "return to biblical standards in the home."
Whenever a parent is involved in the process of discipline, great wisdom is required. This means that anger, which clouds the mind, should never be involved in the spanking. Spanking is a judicial act, meted out by a stern and impartial judge. In Gal. 6:1, we are told that those who are involved in the work of spiritual restoration (which is what spanking is) must be "spiritual." Parents who fly off the handle are not qualified for the discipline. Parents who are qualified do not necessarily feel like disciplining, but that is what Scripture requires they do.
Spanking cannot be done pro forma. Going through the motions will do nothing except to convince both you and your kid that obedience to the Scriptures accomplishes nothing. After all is said and done, you will say that "we tried that and it didn't work." But what was actually tried was a little tippytap tippytap on the top of diapers and overalls. An average child will spend his time during the discipline wondering what is going on back there. In order to be effective, the child must want to avoid the next spanking more than he wants to commit the sin again. And this new set of priorities must stay with him. This means that discipline must be painful--if it is not painful, it is not discipline.
The purpose of the discipline is to correct and restore fellowship. This means that biblical discipline will only work effectively in a context of love and fellowship. When a child who is loved comes under discipline, that child wants back into the fellowship of the family. But if the "fellowship" of the home is little more than carping, arguing, whining, popping off, nagging, etc. all the time, what is there to get back into? Why bother? The child will simply accept the discipline as a random occasion of acute pain in a life of chronic pain. This means that parents must see to it that the context of the home stands in stark contrast to the periodic (and necessary) times of pointed discipline.
In such a setting, biblical spanking brings security. Children will come to take the fact of discipline in stride, and when they see some other kid flipping out in the supermarket, their eyes will get very wide. The order and calm of the universe is under assault--a fact they understand better than many adults--and they turn to their mother and say, "That boy needs a spanking!"

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