Sarah has graciously allowed me to host this most excellent post.
Aha. Welcome to my long winded “Why I don’t believe in spanking” post.
You will soon find that spanking isn’t the whole issue with me. I don’t believe in punishment at all (GASP!).
‘Course permissiveness can be unhealthy as well, so I am setting out on this parenting journey to tread not somewhere in between those two evils, but outside the whole paradigm altogether. Onward, fellow travelers! To the land of gentle discipline! (I’m cheesy and I know it… beeeooouuup beeouup beoup beoup beoup beoup beoup. Girl, look at that baby. He drinks milk! Okay, yes. Too much coffee. I’m out of control.)
Now that you know what you’re getting yourself into (should you choose to read on), allow me to indulge in a disclaimer.
And it shall be fuchsia. Which is spelled much more weirdly than I thought.
This is not an attack.
I have close friends who spank, and I adore each of them. I am not insinuating any sort of negativity whatsoever towards those friends and/or their sweet little children. I do not and will not sit around making grim predictions of their futures. They have attentive parents who love them. Their futures are bright!
There is no way around the fact that since I so dearly disagree with punitive parenting, I will disagree with any and every choice to spank or shame a child. And so, it follows that I will disagree with my friends – loving and attentive as I know them to be.
But if you are a parent who spanks and believes it is the right thing for you to do on occasion and you are my friend and you are reading this: please know that I am not walking about dwelling on this disagreement/difference. I have all faith in you and your parenting. I love you, and am grateful for your sweet presence in my life.
And now back to our feature presentation.
Often, it seems, punishment is seen as non-negotiable by many in the Christian community. Being a Christian myself, I grew up thinking that “Spare the rod, spoil the child” was actually in the Bible as a command.
Turns out it’s not.
That phrase was actually coined by Samuel Butler, who wrote a poem called Hudibras. He tossed that in there to make fun of the practice that modern day spanking actually originated from: domestic discipline. Oh, barf.
So, fine. But there are verses in there. The rod verses in proverbs. Here is a study that details some serious research regarding those verses.
But here I will just, for brevity sake (Ha, brevity. Like I know how to use that.), point out my favorite soap boxes about those rod verses.
I can’t remember where I first heard it, but I will happily cite the brilliant and lovely Crystal Lutton, who holds a Master of Arts in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. This is her website. It is full of eye opening facts and the like, including a nice little dissection of some of those verses.
I have learned that there are problems with the way these verses have been translated/understood.
Basically, we have a verse that in English is over there saying (Proverbs 23: 13-14) “Withhold not the rod of correction from your child, for if you beat him with the rod he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod and deliver his soul from Hell.”
I stand corrected.
Haha, juuuuuust kidding :).
To my best understanding, the word “rod” in this verse was translated from the word “shebet” which has three meanings in Hebrew. It could refer to a King’s scepter (which was a symbol of authority, and not used to hit people with) or a shepherd’s staff. A shepherd’s staff was used for 4 things: to gently nudge the sheep to and fro as they traveled to keep them headed in the correct direction, to pry brambles away from wool and free a sheep if he got carried away eating berries and found himself tangled in the thorns, to lift a sheep out of a pit with the hooked end if he fell in as he meandered along aimlessly, or to whack a wolf with if it tried to attack a sheep.
A good shepherd would never hit his sheep, despite that there is a ridiculous myth bopping around out there that shepherds used to break a lamb’s legs so that he could nurture it back to health and then the poor creature would follow him everywhere. But this is patently false. A friend of mine explained that away beautifully. And goodness, I know you savvy readers know better than to think an abused animal would follow it’s abuser anywhere ever again.
A sheep is, as it turns out, sheepish. They don’t do so well when you hit them. Pretty much no one does ;).
Not to mention that if the legs healed but left the sheep lame, it would hold up the whole flock. Like I said, ridiculous.
Ah, but i said 3, didn’t I. Shebet has a third meaning, and that is this crazy wooden club type thing with nails and junk sticking out of it everywhere (or something equally terrifying) that actually would kill a child if he was beaten with it. So it is all kinds of unlikely that the club is what that verse is referring to.
AHEM. Also :).
The word “beat” was translated from in that verse was, apparently, the same word used for “beat” in Jonah 4:8 where it talks about how the sun beat down on Jonah. Literally, it meant something to the effect of “To be ever present and not always in a pleasant way – just generally always there”.
That was a terrible paraphrase from me, but you get the idea.
So better translated from the Hebrew, to the very best of my understanding, that verse comes out more like “If you are constantly present with your gentle guiding staff, your child will not die.”
And that is truth.
There is more. In another verse, it pretty much does sound like it is implying that you must hit your kid if he…. oooooh, if he has committed very adult sins that would bring shame upon the family. The word used for “son” is the word na’ar, which was used for young adults. Not small children. And interestingly, never girls. Only men.
I have heard it argued that we should look at the fact that parents were told to actually STONE their rebellious offspring to death in the old testament and maybe chill out because now we’re only taught to spank them.
First of all, what? *Blinks*. Well, then why aren’t we still stoning our kids, if we’re following Scripture literally?
Oh yeah, context. :).
Second of all, even more context :). For further study will show that 1) there had to be a certain amount of witnesses present and the “rebellion” had to be very serious and essentially the parents had to go before the town elders or whathaveyou and admit that they had absolutely and in every way failed their child as parents. And 2) I need to look into this a lot, lot more, but my very best understanding right this second is that in some crazy way it was actually sort of a mercy. Don’t ask me why. I’ve yet to figure that out enough to utter one single word about it.
In any event, I encourage you to dig in deep if you feel like something in Scripture doesn’t fit with God’s character of grace, mercy, and lovingkindness. So far, further investigation has always pointed me towards Him being Him. Wild love.
I also need to throw out there another very important fact. Proverbs are proverbial. They are not commands. They were meant to be vivid word pictures used to drive home a point.
I find it very interesting that Christians cling to the rod verses as a reason to hit their children, but I do not know one single Christian who would take Proverbs 23:2 literally and “Put a knife to your throat if you are a man of great appetite”. For some reason we can all see clearly that this statement was not meant to be taken literally, and yet whole methods of parenting are built on a few similar verses in the very same book.
Somehow, the rest of the Bible is disregarded.
You thought I was done? Oh, I’m sorry. I’m just warming up.
You see, somehow the word “discipline” has become synonymous to many in our culture with “punishment”.
Discipline really means “to teach”. As it came from the word “disciple”.
So, I am compelled to look at the way that Jesus discipled his … disciples. Yes, He was at times firm and to the point with them, but He never once resorted to violence to teach them. And they were grown adults. Just imagine how gentle He would have been with children.
As a matter of fact, the whole message of the gospel is that we have not been given what we deserve. We have not been punished, even though we have done – all of us – a million things wrong in a day. Because punishment doesn’t help us learn. So God made a way that we could be spared what we deserve – we could be spared punishment. He’d rather we learn. He’d rather we be taught. He’d rather we’d heal and become whole like He meant for us to be in the first place. And punishment does not accomplish any of those things in adults.
And punishment does not accomplish any of those things in a child.
It is as 1 John 4:18 encourages us. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love because He first loved us.”
Love, not punishment, ya’ll :).
Even during a time when the cultural predisposition was to send children away rather than risk having to be exposed to a little one’s developmentally expected disruptive behavior, Jesus Himself said to bring them straight to Him.
They were (and are) the least of these. When Jesus said to bring the little children to Him, He was validating their value as humans. Bringing them up onto the same level of worth as adults.
That is what God does, you see. He is constantly elevating those that society sees as having of a lesser status to a place of equality and value.
So from a religious/Christian standpoint, I have to say that I am in every way convicted against punitive parenting – especially, but not limited to, spanking or any other form of violence. For me and my family, If I hit my child, I will have sinned. I will owe him and God an apology.
And God would forgive me, because I am already righteous under the Blood of Christ. And from that forgiveness, I would grow more able to be patient with my child. My little least of these. See how that works? 🙂
Forgiveness is for when someone has done something inexcusable. We are to excuse the excusable. And forgive the inexcusable. And heap grace and mercy on those around us (including our children… especially our children.). We are able to do so because God has/does heaped/heaps grace and mercy on us.
Come along, friend! We have made it through the Sparkly Forest of Scriptural Interpretation and are wading reluctantly into the bog of common arguments. There’s one! Straight ahead! (No, I have not eased up on the coffee. Why do you ask?)
I was spanked and I turned out just fine!
Did you, now? Teehee, just kidding. Sort of.
It is a special kind of awkward when someone goes and tries to hold him/herself up as an example of parenting goals well accomplished. We all have flaws. No matter how we were parented.
And anecdotal evidence is not evidence.
And besides, I probably deserved it!
Oh, really? You deserved to be hit because you were in a developmental stage in which it is natural to be literally unable to control your impulses? No. You didn’t deserve it.
It doesn’t mean your parents are bad people, or that they weren’t doing the best they could with the knowledge they had. It doesn’t mean they didn’t love you or have beautiful intentions, and it doesn’t mean that they were bad parents. It doesn’t mean that all the things they did right are suddenly void. But no child deserves to be hit for any reason. That includes you. I don’t care what you did. You didn’t deserve to receive violence in return for it, at an innocent age.
It is the only thing that works! I was the kind of kid that needed a whoopin’, and my kid is the same way! Nothing else gets his/her attention!
Oooooookay. Here’s the thing. Yes, for some kids, spanking “works”. In that it will stop a behavior. Sometimes even on the first try. And some kids will stop a behavior because they are afraid of time out or a mean look.
I see these all (the punitive measures) as parenting “short cuts”. A swift and easy means to an end – if the end is simply behavior modification.
Some kids will “stop” a behavior because they were spanked… except they won’t. They’ll just get really good at making sure they don’t get caught again.
I am so much more deeply concerned with what kind of adult my child grows up to be than with how obedient he is as a little one.
That he would desire to do what is right because it is what is right and not because he is afraid of the consequences if he does wrong.
I want him to know that he need not fear being honest with me because I will always be on his side. Helping him learn how to navigate life.
That our relationship would not be injured and re-injured every time he does something developmentally expected – no matter how wrong it is.
Deep in my bones, I have a suspicion that many things that look like short cuts – when it comes to relationships – can easily end up being long and painful detours.
Punitive parenting is adversarial. It pits parent against child. It creates a battle of the wills. Whoever wins hangs onto his/her will. Whoever loses goes away with a will that is either broken or secretly strengthened. (More on this later). But the truth is that when one party wins, everybody loses. Relationship is injured. A valuable teaching opportunity is lost.
Do I want my words to have meaning? Do I want him to listen to me? Yes, of course I do. But there are so many more options outside of the paradigm of permissive vs punitive.
There is this beautiful thing called grace based discipline.
How do I teach a stubborn two year old who can’t be reasoned with that Momma’s words mean something without violence or over-talking? Oh, there are so many ways :). I only know a few so far. Playful parenting, getting up and moving them to action, redirection, and transitional songs, and simply finding creative ways to set everyone up for success in the first place, for example.
And I know that life can really come at you sideways a million miles a minute sometimes.
And please don’t get me wrong. I absolutely expect to do everything all wrong the vast majority of the time. Novice, that I am.
But there are resources! Resources upon resources with different teaching tools to try so that I can find out what works best for my child in any given scenario.
There is all kinds of access (thank you, internet) to clever ideas for helping children learn through their respective developmental stages. And there is information aplenty about those stages, as well.
And I will be very happy to blog about what has or hasn’t worked for us in the future, for anyone who is interested :).
But sometimes, my child is directly disobedient. He/she KNOWS he/she is defying me and breaking the rules! And he/she does it anyway! That definitely warrants a spanking. Or a time out at the very least.
There are a few variations of this argument. Some more intense than others. So I shall break it down.
There is the camp of “First time obedience is the only obedience! They must do as I say on the very first try, or else it’s like they never obeyed me at all! And if they don’t obey me on the first try, they won’t obey God on the first try! God calls us to first time obedience AAAAHHHH!”
Okay buckeroo. Have a handful of chocolate chips and glass of rice milk with me and breathe for a second, pretty please.
Ahem, and turn with me, if you will, to Matthew 21: 28 – 30.
“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go. ‘Which of the two did the will of his Father?’ They said, ‘The first’. Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.”
Obedience is obedience. No matter how many tries it took us.
Then there is the camp of “A child’s will must be broken! That is how true obedience is achieved!”
I won’t even go into a passionate rant about this. Instead I will link you to a beautiful post where the argument has been succinctly put already. And I will add a quote from that very post, even, ’cause it’s so good (A quote within a quote… a dweam wivin a dweam… I’m doing it again, aren’t I? My bad… here’s the awesome quote) :
“It wasn’t until recently when I was reading about the persecution of Roman Christians under Communist rule that something changed for me. According to the late Patriarch Theoctist of the Romanian Orthodox Church, ‘Man has a very powerful will – so powerful that even God Himself does not break it. And by this [God] is actually showing that man is in the likeness of God. Without man’s will he could not make any progress on the way to goodness. So out of all the gifts that God grants the human being, we believe that freedom is one of the most important.‘ (Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer, p. 126)‘ ”
Suffice it to say that I absolutely 10000000% do not believe in breaking anyone’s will. Much less a child’s.
Then there is the camp full of normal, tired parents who are just over it with having their sweet babies look at them in the eye and do that thing they’ve demonstrated already a million times that they know how not to do, just to get on Mom and Dad’s last, raw, exhausted nerve.
And to those parents, I say this:
I am so sorry, and I am not far behind joining your weary ranks one of these days.
But I still don’t believe direct disobedience warrants punishment, and this is why:
I want my children to have a strong will. They will be needing that will in the future, to say no to peer pressures and all the alluring temptations of the world. They can practice crossing their arms and saying no to me as many times as they need to. It is important to me to make our home a safe place to practice saying no.
It is about learning healthy boundaries.
They are learning where they end and where another person begins. And also where other people end and they begin.
Now, of course, if I have told my three year old child five hundred times that the cat is not meant to be a projectile, and one afternoon following an exhausting morning he scampers away from me and reappears from round the corner with the cat in his hands and that twinkle of “direct disobedience” in his eye and then high tails it outside before I can catch him and tosses the cat off the balcony and onto his cousin, YES, I am going to be very upset.
But punishing him would not be constructive. Punishing him would be the wrong thing to do. Even if his cousin has to go get stitches because she tried to catch a creature falling from the sky who had become nothing but a yowling ball of teeth and claws.
I would need to remember to assign positive intent to my child.
A very small child has not yet developed the ability to have empathy. If an adult behaves without empathy – that pretty much makes him/her a sociopath. But a three year old is not sociopathic. A three year old also does not want an adult person much bigger then him/her to be angry at him/her.
Try to remember when you were a child. If you did something in “direct disobedience” to your parents, was it because you wanted to DEFY them? Or was it because you were intensely curious? Were you (as my mama friends like to say) hungry, angry, lonely, bored, or tired?
And if my child is testing a boundary it is not to try to win one over on me. It is literally simply to learn the boundaries.
Punishments are designed to teach through pain. But I don’t believe that pain is necessary for teaching, nor do I believe that it will teach without causing damage.
Natural consequences make sense and they do not damage the relationship between parent and child. If the cat must be kept away from the child until the child is able to keep him/herself from harming the cat, that is a natural consequence. It might make my child very sad to lose access to the cat, but this is not pain I am inflicting on him/her. It is me keeping everyone safe.
And so there is no break in the relationship with my child. If he is sad, I can hold him and comfort him without feeling as though I am lessening the pain I intended to inflict to drive a message home.
I can help him make amends with his cousin, and it is much more likely that he will communicate the all important WHY with me so I can know why he threw the cat over the balcony. If it turns out he did it because he was curious how a cat always lands on it’s feet, I can teach him about that. If he was angry with his cousin over something, I can address that.
Punishments don’t get to the root of the problem.
There is a reason behind disobedience. And it is important to me to figure out that reason as often as I can.
And if I tell them to do something ridiculous and they defy me and then I realize I was being ridiculous, I will be proud of them for sticking to their guns. Because there is absolutely a time and a place for that. And they will begin to learn when and how and when not at home where they are safe.
What about when they do something dangerous? Like running into the road? I must spank for danger!
First of all, spanking for danger assumes that the child first must attempt the dangerous thing. So do children need to try to run into the road and then play with a chainsaw and then walk on broken glass and then stand near the edge of a cliff and then…
and be spanked every time to learn to be safe?
Kids invent new hair raising ways to endanger themselves all day every day, don’t they? Should they be spanked every time?
No, of course not.
Spanking/punishing a child for doing something dangerous to prevent them from doing it again takes the responsibility for keeping the child safe off the parent, and places it on the child.
And if there must be a last resort, I will concede that being hit is better than being run over – but so is being a leash kid. There is always a gentle option.
I will add here that many of my college courses were child/human development. I have worked in daycare and in group homes for teenagers and adults with autism.
I didn’t punish in any of those settings. Nobody was injured, either.
That is very different from being a parent. I know this. I have only been a parent for 4 1/2 months, and it already is like no other thing I’ve ever done. Every second. Of every day. And night.
But my point is that there are ways to keep people from hurting each other and/or doing wrong things without the use of punishment. There have to be.
Because you can not spank a child with autism no matter how many times he tries to make a beeline for the road. That child will not be able to process what punishment did to him. Parents of children with disabilities find other ways to keep their dear ones safe, and parents of typically developing children can, too.
My best friend, for example, used to tell her daughter, “Keep one hand on the red car.” as she unloaded her groceries. That worked for her. It might not work for my kid or your kid, but this is our job as parents. To figure out our children and what works for them. We can keep them safe without punishing them, I promise.
Also, parents who have not spanked for danger have found that their children are more likely to come back to them when called (because they are not afraid of being punished! Surprise!)
“What if I have tried grace and mercy and the children took advantage?”
We take advantage of God’s grace and mercy every day, and yet He does not withhold it from us. Nor should we withhold it from our kids.
What we say to them will become the way they speak to themselves when they grow up. When they are little, they look to us to see what God is like. WHOA.
So I think, for me, I would want to do my very best to continue with the grace and mercy (How many times did Jesus say to forgive? 77 times 7? I believe that applies to our children, too.) and also try to figure out what isn’t working if the kids keep acting like banshees. Did everyone get enough protein today? Sleep? Again, are we hungry, angry lonely, tired? Or not tired enough? Should we break out some sensory play or big muscle movement? What developmental stages are my kiddos in? What do they need so that they can feel good enough to be physically able to listen?
I don’t even know who started it, but my best friend (and a bunch of amazing mamas I now know) use a “comfort corner” to teach their kids how to put themselves in time out. Not as a punishment – but literally to teach them the life skill of being able to remove themselves from a situation if they are becoming too emotional to control themselves.
Sometimes I think I could use a comfort corner.
I’ll let you all know more about that and how it goes when we start using it with our little guy.
Anyway, the point is – outside the paradigm of permissive vs punitive there are whole piles of tools out there to help meet the needs of all kinds of children.
“I have to show them who is in authority!”
They know you’re in authority! You already have complete and total control over their entire environment. They cannot eat without you deciding to feed them. Hitting a child only makes them suddenly feel as though you are able to lose control of yourself. It makes the environment they live in feel slightly (or vastly, depending of frequency/intensity/etc) less stable.
Punishment is about control. Control is only healthy when it is exerted upon something one possesses. It is healthy for me to control my emotions. I possess them. It is healthy for me to control my habits. I possess them as well.
It is not healthy for me to seek to control another human being (not that I want my kids to be “out of control” – but that means something different than what I am talking about here). It would not be healthy for me to see my children as my possessions. I do not own them any more than I own my husband or my mother or my sibling.
They have been entrusted to my care, but they belong to the Lord. Just like you and I belong to Him. I desire too greatly to show respect for Him and this gift He has bestowed on my life to seek control. Instead, I will seek relationship and understanding.
Okay I think we’re near the outskirts of the bog of disagreements. What say you? I’m trying to think of other’s I’ve heard. Spanking to keep kids out of jail? Too bad 99% of prison inmates were spanked as children.
Eep! I spy yet another on it’s way towards us!
“I would never spank my child in anger, so it is okay and safe.”
Would you understand it better if someone flew off the handle and whacked you in a fit of rage, or if that angry person went away and collected him/herself and then came back and told you that what you did was wrong, and you deserve to be punished, so, go on and sit right down so I can calmly cause you bodily pain. For your own good.
Please. That doesn’t work on kids any better than it does adults. Yes, it might stop the behavior, but again I say at what cost to the relationship? At what cost to actual learning? And sadly, at what cost to the picture they have of themselves?
So many women in abusive relationships find themselves making excuses for their abusers. Their internal voice – the voice of their parents – is in their head saying that they have done something to deserve being abused by their spouse.
Anyone can end up in an abusive relationship. No matter how strong or independent they are. That is another topic all together, but my point is that I would never ever want to teach a child that anything they can ever do makes it okay for another human to strike them.
Spanking in a controlled way says, “It is okay for someone to hit you if they are bigger. If they hold more power in the relationship. If you have done something to deserve it. The person hitting you gets to decide if you have done something to deserve it or not. And that is okay.”
Spanking in anger and then apologizing later says, “I am human like you and I made a terrible mistake. You can never do anything that would make it right for me [or anyone else] to do this to you.”
Studies have shown, even, that parents who are spanking while “not angry” are often spanking much harder than they thought they were. Bollocks that I can’t find you a link right now. I’ll add it later if I remember :).
Okay, enough of that. I’m sure I have convinced you, at the very least, that I can ramble endlessly against any pro-spanking argument tossed my way. So I will just add a few more points and then you can all go have a pizza eating contest… or… sit in a tree and silly string unsuspecting passersby …. or… go google what Nessie would look like with a mohawk, whatever kids are doing these days :).
* Spanking/punishing doesn’t only harm the child – it also does something really crappy to the punisher as well. I have never met a parent who really feels good about it, and I think it’s because deep in their gut, they at least feel a check.
This is because, besides the immediate damage to the relationship, it also changes the way the parent views his/her child. To use terms in one’s mind such as “He deserved it!” or “He was directly disobeying me!” or “It’s just a rebellious attitude!” paints a hard to handle little one in an even tougher light.
If I instead say of my child, “Wow, he must have felt so hurt/out of control/left out…” or “He desperately needs some one on one times with his momma” or even, “He is experiencing the natural consequences of his behavior and might need some comfort, but next time we can set him up for success by…” it feels empowering instead of bleak. It puts my child back into a human light in which he is truly just a little person going through developmental stages and needing guidance.
* Study after study after study has shown that long term spanking does not work. As a matter of fact, children who are modeled violence are more likely to see violence as a viable option for their own behavior as they grow older.
And why wouldn’t they?
If it is never, ever okay for my son to hit a friend or a sibling, then it is never, ever okay for me to hit him.
*Studies have also shown that long term, spanking can result in an adult with mental illness. Depression. Anxiety.
Again, I will add links if I can find them, but if you are so moved to do any research at all regarding spanking and you dare to read actual scientific studies, you will find again and again that spanking has been shown ineffective and damaging for the long term.
* Spanking is illegal in Sweden.
There’s a can of worms for ya! Hehehe, noooo, I am not going to try to hash out whether it should be legal here or not in this blog post – or maybe ever. That would be a bit of a red herring, don’t you think? Let’s not follow that train of thought down the bunny trail.
I only bring it up to point out that in a country where spanking is illegal, somehow everyone grew up without being run over by a vehicle or turning into hooligans. In fact, the Sweeds I’ve met in real life have been polite and charming individuals.
Of course anecdotal evidence isn’t evidence, so never mind that ;).
Okay, so. That was very very long. If you read it all, you can be sure that I adore you for it.
And if I think of more things to say, I will probably come back and try to add them later. There are so many angles to see this thing from. But I confess… I am an ENFP and I am sort of tired now of blathering about one topic.
Much love to you, all of you.