I'm trying to be sensitive...
Many adults were never spanked and others were abused while the word “spanking” was used as a very thin veil to justify it. If that was the case for you… I’m truly sad and sorry about what you experienced.
This post was originally published on a blog I wrote years ago. This version has been updated before republishing here. 🙂
All posts in this series can be found here.
That was NOT loving and it was NOT what I’d consider to be a biblical, loving, God-ordained spanking.
In light of experiences like what I’ve described, I understand how it can be very difficult for people with such a background to know what a “good” spanking should be like.
Hearing me refer to a “good spanking” could be sending shivers up your spine even now. Again, I’m sorry for what you experienced… but please stick with me.
Let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water (as they say)…
There is a HUGE difference between someone using a hammer to drive a nail into a wall or two by four and someone using a hammer to bash their neighbor over the head.
Right? In the same way…
There is a huge difference between a loving, biblical, good-for-the-child spanking and legitimate abuse.
If you will stick with me through this post, I hope to show you the difference and why it’s a vital distinction to make.
My wife and I have raised 5 kids. All are now adults. All were spanked.
But none were abused.
We accomplished that seemingly impossible feat by…
1) Doing the work required to understand what the Bible says about spankings (and discipline in general – the link goes to the previous post in this series).
2) Applying God-given wisdom to know how to apply those truths to the varying circumstances that arise along the parenting path.
You can’t apply one of those without the other and expect to arrive at “spanked children who were not abused.”
What follows are our “guidelines” for spanking, developed through the two-step process described above.
I’ll do my best to walk you through what they mean, how we arrived at them, and how we applied them.
Of course, I’ll have to do so in general terms because each situation and each child presents their own unique challenges… which is why step two above is necessary.
WISDOM has to guide the entire process on an ONGOING basis.
PRINCIPLE 1: Be clear about what constitutes a “spankable” offense
Spankings are a serious form of discipline. They should never be implemented arbitrarily or according to the parents feelings in the moment.
We suggest that the Mom and Dad pray over and discuss (or the single parent prayerfully decide) what offenses in your household are considered worthy of a spanking.
Notice that, this will be somewhat unique — for YOUR household and family. Of course, biblical truths and instruction are the basis for the decision but you may be led in a different direction by the Holy Spirit in one or two of the specifics.
What you’ll find in the rest of this section is what OUR decision was on this issue. It’s short and sweet, to the point. Which is how a list of spanakable infractions SHOULD be.
Remember, spanking is for the serious things, not everything.
The Green family’s “You get a spanking” list
Once upon a time, my wife said a profound thing to one of our children when she was explaining to them why the lie they told is such a weighty and consequential thing. She said…
“Life is about words… words are what relationships are based on. If your words are not truthful and trustworthy, then your relationships will suffer. Your words MUST be full of truth in order for your life to be right.”
Behind her statement is this reality: God Himself is all about truth. If we are going to raise children who know how to be truthful people, then lying has to have a firm consequence.
God’s two main commands to kids are to obey their parents (we remember that one most of the time) and to honor their parents (oops, forgot that one…).
If our children are showing disrespect toward us (tone of voice, rolling eyes, argumentative attitude, HUGE sighs when instructed to do something, whining/complaining attitude, “awww dad…..”) or anything that even smells like disrespect, they will receive a spanking.
Again, go back to our relationship with God. He is to be feared — and respected. Our children need to learn that without exception they are to honor their parents because that’s how they will learn to honor God.
Deliberate disobedience or obstinance
When our kids were growing up, if we gave an instruction to one of them, no matter how minor of a task, and they deliberately or obstinantly defied us by refusing to obey that instruction, then we spanked them.
God takes rebelliousness quite seriously.
- He banished Adam and Eve from the garden because of it.
- He had his people (Israel) conquered and captured by foreign powers because of it.
- Before all of that, He cast Lucifer out of heaven for it.
Look through the scriptures. Moses, Abraham, David, Peter, even Paul were disciplined, often severerly, because of rebelliousness and/or disobedience.
REMEMBER, our relationship with our kids is a “model” for their relationship with God (flawed as it is). We’ve got to show them that rebellion and disobedience, toward us and God will not be tolerated at all.
If a child is rushing into a harmful situation in an utterly oblivious/foolish manner (running into the street, reaching for a hot pan, sticking something into the electrical socket) a spanking is part of what teaches them not to be so foolish.
It’s much better for them to be spanked and receive a relatively small amount of pain than to be hit by a car and receive a massive amount of pain that could negatively impact the rest of their life. And if the minor pain of the spanking teaches them to avoid situations that could result in the massive type of pain described, all the better.
That’s the point, in fact. It’s a very fair, and LOVING trade-off.
And we might add, this one is obviously biblical (Proverbs 22:15).
Intentional harm to another person
If one of our kids intentionally harmed another person (a sibling is usually the target of choice), without sufficient cause (self-defense, etc.) we disciplined them with a spanking.
Jesus’ two biggest commands were to love God with all we are and to love other people. Violent or hurtful behavior toward others cannot be allowed.
I hear parents quite often talking about how their kids “fight like cats and dogs” or how they just can’t seem to get along (sibling rivalry is the excuse-of-choice much of the time).
In situations like this, a series of errors have likely happened in the parent’s thinking:
1) Mom and Dad have assumed they would get along (after all— they ARE siblings) instead of teaching them the importance of loving each other in practical ways, based on the command of their Savior.
2) Mom and Dad have not required/demanded/insisted on kindness and consideration toward each other.
A firm spanking, immediately upon such an offense will curb that tendency rather quickly.
Watch out for…
You’ll have to watch out for the behind-the-scenes, passive-aggressive stuff kids try to pull for a while, and address that too. But over time such animosity will fade away, PROVIDING you are teaching them what the Bible says about such behavior to accompany your spankings.
Some will say, “So you address violence (their hitting) with violence (a spanking)? That is so wrong!”
The argument sounds logical on the surface, but in reality, it’s a ridiculous statement and here’s why… Violence and spanking are different things. Worlds apart, in fact.
At the root of violence is a desire to harm or bring damage to another person. Spanking has, at it’s root, a desire to lovingly correct and direct a child. The two are about as similar as night and day.
Through the course of our 30+ years of parenting there were certainly situations where we spanked that were outside of these parameters. You have to take it on a case by case basis, taking into account the serverity and long-standing nature of the behavior or attitude you’re dealing with.
In the end, you will develop your own list of spankable offenses, but we encourage you to think and pray it through, seeking to align your heart and mind with the heart and mind of God. You want your convictions about this issue to mirror His as much as possible.
I’ll close this section with a few stories to show the fruit of what I’m describing in this section…
There have been a number of times that our family has been in a public setting and we’ve been complimented on the obedience, respect, and overall consideration our kids exhibit. I attribute that fruit to God, in giving us the tool of a good spanking and the wisdom to apply it well.
There have been other times when we’ve been in a public setting and we see some other kid who is practically tearing the place apart. Typically, said child’s parents are either embarrassed or unconcerned. Once, when this was the scene, our son turned to us and said, “That boy needs a spanking.” From the mouths of babes…
PRINCIPLE 2: Make sure love and concern are at the heart of your actions.
Motives are everything. Your motives as a parent, that is.
In discipline in general and in each situation, you need to understand WHY you are moving toward a disciplinary action.
Regarding spankings, weigh yourself according to the following balance…
“Why am I spanking in the first place? Is there a truly wrong attitude or behavior I”m seeking to correct for the good of my child? Is there a sin I need to corect or instruct them about?
Am I going to spank because I irritated, bothered, offended, or put-out personally?”
When your answers are good…
If there are truly wrong attitudes and/or actions demonstrated in your child that you’re seeking to correct, then procede. You’re ready to go about the business of spanking. A spankin gmay be the righ tway to help them, guide them, or enable them to move into the realm of self-control so that their urges and spontanteous desires don’t control them. That’s behavior that honors God, and it’s a good motive for physical discipline…
When your answers are questionable…
If anything about your approach, attitude, or emotions even SMELLS like the things represented in the last sentence of those questions, hold off on the spanking until you get your attitude straight.
Tell the kid(s) that you need to address their behavior or attitude, but that you need a minute to pray and think about what is appropriate. Take that minute to pray about YOU so that you can do what you need to do, appropriately.
PRINCIPLE 3: Make sure the offense is clearly understood by the child.
What good is a spanking going to be if the kid you spank has no idea why it was doled out? They must be clear on why they are being spanked. It’s YOUR job to ensure that is the case.
Depending on the age of the child you have to go about this in different ways. With very small children — a firm “NO!” when pointing to the forbidden electric outlet they are reaching toward will do most of the time. As you do so, a stinging swat to the hand drives the instruction home effectively. Afterward, when you are comforting them, explain it again in very simple terms, including the harm that can come to them if they disobey.
With older children, understanding can come through loving conversations with them. I suggest that you talk BRIEFLY about the offense to lay the groundwork, then deliver the spanking, then talk more extensively about it afterward as you comfort/hold the child.
Speak to the specifics of the issue. Things like, “You did a bad thing…” aren’t sufficient. You need to say, “YOU hit your brother… that means YOU were not being loving to Him and God wants YOU to love YOUR brother.” Do you see how it’s personal? Kids don’t always put 2 and 2 together, so we have to make sure they see the REALITY of what they actually did.
Your child’s precious self-esteem will be able to handle a spanking if you follow up properly, so don’t worry about that long-standing but nonsensical cultural myth.
Overall, just remember, if your child is disciplined but doesn’t know why, you’ve pushed them toward embitterment, not wisdom.
When the spanking is done, have your child apologize as needed. Others were hurt in most cases. At the very least, they have sinned against God. Apologies are always needed.
When they apologize, don’t allow them to get away with saying a simple “I’m sorry…” with their eyes turned down and a timid voice. Chances are that they really aren’t sorry if that’s how they go about it. They are more worried about their embarrassment and personal awkwardness than making things right with the person they hurt.
This is a place where you MUST get to their heart, to help them see and feel the seriousness of what they’ve done.
It may (probably will, initially) require you to help them tease out the significance of their offense. Some ideas about how to to this…
- Draw attention to the love they have for the person they hurt, and that we don’t treat people we love in the manner they did.
- Help them see that the other person is injured as a result of what they did, physically or emotionally or in their minds. Ask them to imagine how they would feel if what they did was done to them.
- Explain how the wounded person might feel that they (your child) doesn’t love them, doesn’t care for them, or possibly even hates them because of the way they treated them.
- Point out that though they’ve done wrong, Jesus is eager to forgive them and to help them make things right with the wounded person.
- Lead them in a prayer of confession and repentance toward God.
When you are satisified that their heart has been pricked with a taste of the pain they’ve infliced on the other person, have them look that person in the eye and say SPECIFICALLY why they are sorry. “I’m sorry that I hit you,” etc.
Some feel that this is too humiliatiing or overbearing.
There’s a biblical work for that — hogwash.
Scripture tells us to weep, mourn, and wail over our sin (James r:9). The reason is that we sinful humans are quick to become calloused and self-justifying when we’ve sinned. God wants us to see that sin (our sin) is a serious thing that has serious consequences — and that we are helpless against it without His grace.
Leading your child in confession and apologies is the completion of the process of repentance. They get to make things right with those who were hurt. It brings a healthy and appropriate dose of humility to their soul that will serve them well moving forward.
And — it teaches them how their actions impact others so that they can become self-governed through the desire to love others well in the future.
PRINCIPLE 5: Administer the spanking sooner rather than later.
Don’t let too much time pass between the offense and the spanking, especially with smaller children. Their memories are not all that good yet, so they need to be able to associate the spanking with something that has recently occurred.
Another aspect of this, with all ages of children, is that the “shock value” of a swat or spanking that comes immediately after an offense will help to communicate the “no nonsense” attitude you have about misbehavior and disobedience. This is especially the case with foolishness or deliberate disobedience.
Ther may be times when the spanking has to wait (you’re at the store when the offense happens, etc.). In a situaiton like this, communicate that the spanking will be administered when you get back home. Then, don’t delay about it when you do arrive at home.
This principle alone will prevent you from becoming one of those parents who counts to 3 and then doesn’t really do anything.
PRINCIPLE 6: When possible, use a rod (in a normal, applied-to-the-seat-of-the-pants manner)
The bible speaks of using a “rod” to spank children, so we decided to do so. For us, the handle of a wooden mixing spoon worked well. It wasn’t heavy enough to damage the child, but was firm enough to deliver a healthy sting.
Why use a rod and not your hand?
We found that when the rod came out, the kids immediately realized the seriousness of their offense… and the seriousness of our concern to curb their attitude or behavior. It also seemed to put an air of somberness into the situation that facilitated them becoming tender and repentant more quickly.
And if the rod is not available?
There are ocassions where the rod is not available. You’ll have to improvise. Once, at a like-minded friend’s house, we borrowed a mixing spoon from their drawer. I’ve known of families who keep a mixing spoon in the car so it’s always available.
Your hand will do in a pinch. It’s OK.
But in situations action needs to be taken right away (a small child sticking something in the electrical outlet, or running out into the street) don’t take time to go get the rod. Get them out of harm’s way as quickly as you can and swat them then and there.
This happened in our family once. I was playing with my oldest son in the front yard and overthrew when I returned the ball to him. The ball bounced through the gate and into the street. He ran after it, laughing all the way to the curb.
I caught him just before he got to the curb and delivered three firm swats with my hand as I yanked him away from the street. As I did so, I said firmly, “You do NOT go into the street without Mommy or Daddy holding your hand.!”
He never did it again, lived in spite of the spanking, and now he’s got 4 boys of his own.
PRINCIPLE 7: Spankings should always be controlled and consistent.
Let’s get something obvious but necesary out of the way right now.
There is no excuse for a 220 pound man to be swinging uncontrollably at a 65 pound kid! That’s abuse, not a spanking. You need to be in full control of yourself when you spank your child.
But having said that, let’s not cluck our tongues too loudly. We all know that it’s possible to be hopping mad at your kid for a very legitimate reason when it comes time to spank.
How do you avoid going overboard?
You DON’T do so by making a foolish and unbiblical guidelin that, “I just won’t spank when I’m angry.”
That’s an approach that is neither healthy nor right (for you or the kids). Many times, your children need to see your anger at their sin (not at them personally) in order to get a full-blown picture of the wrong they have done.
Remember, you are demonstrating what God is like in your parental role, and God gets angry at sin every day (Psalm 7:11). He also let people see and even experience His anger throughout the biblical record. When He does, we readers learn a valuable lesson: “God doesn’t like it when people do X-Y-Z. Because I love Him, I’m not going to do X-Y-Z.”
God’s example shows us that it is manifestly foolish to conclude that being angry while spanking is an automatically wrong thing. The issue is not the anger, the issue is our sinfulness and lack of self-control as parents.
Ephesinas 4:26 explains to us that it is possible to be angry, and yet, not sin in our anger. It’s possible through and by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. And when we are able to pull it off, our kids get to learn the powerful lessons that come from seeing what makes Mommy or Daddy (and God) angry.
Set guidelines for yourself that support biblical truth
If you want to be self-controlled in the way you spank your kids, which is what we’ve come to, then take control of the situation by putting a structure in place that will help you do that.
Here’s what we did:
Mindi and I sat down to discuss the administration of spankings, each of us being fully transparent about how anger can get the best of us if we are not careful. As a result we came up with a clear, agreed-upon guideline to keep us in check.
We decided to define a spanking as 3 firm swats. Never more, never less.
We let our kids know the definition. We held each other accountable to it. We did not allow ourselves to vary from it.
This enabled us to apply the benefits of a spanking without the risk of losing control.
PRINCIPLE 8: Make sure the spanking is effective (that it hurts appropriately).
The tender hearts among us are wincing at that headline. I get it, it can sound a bit harsh to say, “make sure you hurt your child.”
But let’s keep things in perspective by remembering what scripture says about the proper use of the rod. I’ve written about this previously but here’s a summary…
🔸 It’s a loving thing to spank your child when they need it (Proverbs 13:24).
🔸Spanking will not harm your child long-term (Proverbs 23:13-14).
🔸Spanking can impart wisdom and prevent shameful behavior (Proverbs 29:15).
🔸Foolishness can be driven out through proper spankings (Proverbs 22:15)
The temporary pain of a spanking is a much better plan than the long-term pain that comes of not spanking appropriately.
Having said all that…
What use is physical punishment if the child has no reason to avoid it? There must be an appropriate level of pain to your spankings.
AGAIN, I’m not saying you beat your kids black and blue. I’m NOT saying you should leave bruises on your child. What I am saying is simple…
Appropriate spankings need to smart enough to make the child think a second time before committing that particular sin again.
Sometimes a mom with a heart-the-size-of-Texas feels so sorry for her kid and is so sad about having to spank him that she’ll just give him a little “love tap” instead of a real spanking. I understand the sympathy.
But what she probably doesn’t understand is that she’s taking it easy for HER SAKE, not his. It’s actually doing damage to her child by teaching him that the consequences for his wrong actions aren’t so bad that he should avoid doing the wrong behavior next time.
Do yourself and your child a life-long favor. Learn to spank appropriately.
PRINCIPLE 9: Always follow the spanking with comfort and assurance.
When I hear parents say, “Spankings just don’t work on my child,” I suspect they are not applying this principle effectively.
Once the actual discipline is over take your child immediately into your lap or hug them (depending on size of the child). They need to know that this offense has not permanently divided them from you. They need to know your love in a tangible, tender way that they more easily recognize.
Hold them close like this as you talk about the issue. Hold them close as you reassure them of your love and your confidence that with God’s help, they can change this kind of behavior. You are instilling hope in them, giving them assurance that thte sin doesn’t define them and that you are not against them. On that count, you want them to know that God isn’t against them, either.
Be sure to remain truthful during this time. In other words, in your desire to comfort them don’t downplay what they did. It’s not “alright.” They sinned.
But they are repenting and can move on with the help of God and you, their loving parent.
Back to where I started on this point, when parents say, “Spanking just doesn’t seem to work with my child,” and I probe a bit deeper, I find out that they are administering the spanking and then walking out of the room.
Your child will begin to question your love for him if you do this. He’ll become angry and sullen instead of humble and teachable. He’ll begin to see himself in opposition to you instead of the two of you being on the same side.
Take the time to stay and comfort/reassure your child. You’ll see the effectiveness of the spankings you administer increase.
That’s it. We are thankful to the LORD for all He has done to guide us in our parenting and are confident that as you trust Him and apply His word faithfully in the wisdom He provides, He will be your guide as well.
I’m happy to add a Q & A section to the end of this post if anyone would like to ask specifics on this subject.
Feel free to send your questions to carey(at)careygreen(dot)com.