"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6

Q&A: Double Trouble – Spanking Children – Use the Rod or Spank with the Hand?

Q&A: Spanking Children. One Twin is Double the Trouble

Q:  Dear Mark and Sallie,  I am so happy to have found, by chance, your site.  I completely agree with you.  I’ll describe how we are disciplining our children, my dear wife and I.  I would so much like to know your opinion, as we feel as we are the only parents here (we live in Europe) who are raising their children in the Christian way you so wonderfully expose.  We need some support!

 My twin GirlsI know from experience that kids who receive a few hard swats on the behind when needed are better behaved and easier to manage than the kids whose parents do not do this.  It seems that when other forms of punishment are used, it takes a lot of the parents time and effort, and arguing. I don’t think kids should be afraid of their parents.  But, it seems to me that children who know that there is the possibility of experiencing real pain are more likely to manage their behavior appropriately in an effort to avoid the pain!

  My mother spanked me only rarely and inconsistently and it didn’t work!  I had a lot of problems growing up.  My dear wife, on the contrary, was brought up by very strict Christian parents.  She was never spanked in anger and always knew exactly why she and her siblings were being spanked.  I have tried to instill these same procedures into our three children, a boy 9 years old,  and two twin  girls, 4 years old.  We always agreed on discipline methods and started real spanking when our children were less than 2 yrs old.  We still have to spank them fairly often but somewhat less now.  When we do it, is not just a love tap to the bottom. .    Spankings need to be painful to present a lesson.  We don’t think 1 swat on the rear does any good.  It just confuses the child, because it doesn’t hurt and is easily forgotten.  Spanking all the time with brief painless swats is what causes problems.  The child gets used to it, and it has no purpose.  When spanking is necessary, it should be done over the knee, bare bottom and enough times to make an impact – one or two for every year of the child’s age.  I’ve not found information in your site about how many spanks a child should get.  Do you think we’re right?

 Another question.   We use our bare hands, and I see that you don’t approve of this.  I’m not convinced.  I hate the idea to use implements of any kind.  Besides, with bare hands blisters and welts can be avoided, and there is much less risk to make unwanted harm, and it’s easier to judge precisely when to stop. May I have your opinion on this?  

RJ

A: Dear RJ, thanks for your encouraging note.  I cannot find any fault with your reasoning about spanking and the necessity for it to be something that the child will not easily forget.  With your permission I would like to add your questions to my site with my answers.  (Your name will not be shown).  If  you check my letter on Why, When, and How to Spank you will find some additional detail about the “mechanics” of spanking, if you have not already seen it.  

Here are a few thoughts on your comments: While your point about using your hand to avoid leaving welts on the surface seems sound, I believe that there is one excellent reason to use the rod which is compelling: God recommends it in the Scriptures.  There is no indication in the implementation of the new covenant that the principles concerning the need to discipline children in the Book of Proverbs were superseded by the coming of grace.  See the references in Hebrews to “chastening” which clearly indicate that the writer of Hebrews considered it normal for children to be strongly disciplined by loving parents.  Indeed the writer of Hebrews says the sure sign of an unloved child was the lack of discipline; such unloved children suffered neglect at the hands of their indifferent or distracted parents.

Now, as a practical matter, you asked how much should a child be spanked …  it depends on the child.  My daughter had a higher threshold of pain and she would laugh off a spanking that would bring her younger brother to tears immediately.  We spanked our children until their attitude changed from defiance to compliance.  A strong-willed child may require a higher level of pain than you can safely produce using your hand which is one reason I don’t recommend the hand except as a convenience for immediate use with very young toddlers.  You will find as your children grow older that a suitable spanking may produce lasting discomfort to your hand, particularly in the case of your wife.  A suitable utensil produces the desired effect without resulting in inadvertent “punishment” to the parent!  

In addition to the Scriptural directive to use a rod, (see verses in Proverbs) it makes sense to me that a child should learn to associate the discipline and punishment with a symbol of authority and judgment …the rod, and not with the same hands that he has come to associate with my love and care.  When the rod is used, the child knows that it is not personal.  The very act of telling him to bring the rod is often the beginning of his voluntary choice to submit his will, resulting in humility and repentance, which quickly leads to restoration of fellowship.   

To shift the subject slightly, where do you and your wife live? We lived for three wonderful years in Ansbach Germany from 1992 to 1995.  I observed how weak Biblical Christianity was in Europe.  America is doing it’s best to catch up, God bless you and your wife for your efforts to bring your children up in the knowledge of God, you will not regret it one bit and neither will they.  

Regards in Him, Mark and Sallie 

Dear Mark and Sallie,

I’ll be honored to have my message and your reply added to your site.  I hope it can be of some use for the people who would read it, as it has been useful to me to be fortified in the knowledge that we are not alone in believing in the importance of discipline.  As you have been so kind as to answer so promptly to my questions, I dare to add a few comments to your replies and a couple more questions.  First of all, some information about us: my wife was born in Eastern Europe, I am Italian and we live in Italy.  Here we feel very lonely with our ideas on disciplining children.  Everybody here seems against it: the government, the municipality, the Catholic church, the school, and other parents.  Even if we are convinced that we are doing the right thing, as all human beings from time to time, we need some support and that’s why I appreciate so much your contribution.  And now that I’ve informed about us, as you have requested, I have a couple of comments.  

I very much appreciate the importance of your reference to the Scriptural directive to use a rod.  It seem to me an incontrovertible truth that the Scriptures say that loving parents should strongly discipline their children with corporal punishment and that the rod can safely be used for this purpose.  At the same time, I think Scriptures don’t forbid parents to use a corporal punishment different to spanking with the rod.  If parents feel it is right for themselves and their children to use their bare hand, I think they are accomplishing their duty towards God and their children as well as those who use a utensil.  But I very well know that I’m on slippery ground here, so I’ll leave it at that.  

 Concerning the practical matters you mention in your letter, in our experience spanking with the bare hand never produced to us any discomfort, probably because we never had to spank our children more than 20 or so calm, firm swats, and this is clearly not enough to provoke any damage to the parent who is spanking.  But I don’t rule out to begin using an implement myself, in the future.  

I’m very well aware that older or particularly strong-willed children could well require a more severe spanking.  We haven’t really dealt with this problem right now.  Time will tell.  And finally, a question, which in some way is linked with the comment you made about your daughter being much more strongly willed than your son, and needing more severe punishment.  As you know, we have three children, a boy of nine and two girls who are four.  There already very clear signs that one of our daughter compares very closely with your daughter, while the other one is much more pliant, with the boy approximately in the middle.  

By the way, this different attitude in the twins does not surprise us, as most books say that it is common for twins to differentiate strongly between themselves.  Here we see two problems: First, twins live most of the time absolutely together, and when something bad is done, both participate: but usually it is Laura who has the idea, and her sister Anna just follows her lead.  

I’m afraid we haven’t been as consistent as we would have liked in dealing with this: Sometimes only Laura has been punished, sometimes one has had a more severe punishment than the other (say, 20 vs. 10 swats), sometimes they got the same.  What would be your suggestion as a guideline?

Second, you say that you spanked your children until their attitude was changed from defiance to compliance.  In principle, I agree with you, but in practice with a very spirited little girl like Laura, wouldn’t this rule bring about an excessively severe punishment? What if she needs 50 swats to break her will?  I know it’s not the same thing, but what about postponing part of the punishment?

RJ

Dear RJ,

My wife and I just returned from a walk where we discussed your note.  After reading it we both felt that you and your wife are doing well with your children, so we hope you will both will continue steadfast.  

In regard to the discipline administered to your twins I would make these comments.  First, spankings are normally reserved for sins of attitude and willful disobedience.  There are many creative ways to discipline children and we should reserve spankings as a tool to return to their hearts the fear of God and respect of authority, when it is clear they are endangering their bodies or their spirits by disobedience or a rebellious attitude.  

As a rule, the act of disciplining a child for defiance, rebellion, or disrespect should be done in private.  With such hostility on the part of western governments and societies, it is prudent to never spank in public.  You should discipline each child separately so they can receive your full attention without the distraction of a nearby sibling.  The other can wait their turn in another room.  

You need not be concerned for making the discipline “fair” in the sense that one child may receive more frequent or harder spankings.  Spank for the desired effect, which is repentance and submission.  If Laura notices that she is spanked more than her sister Anna, you can suggest that she soften her heart more quickly and she would find herself spanked less.  God does not treat each of us the same when he disciplines us.  The stubborn and rebellious are disciplined with more severity.  He orders our experience so we experience appropriate consequences for our actions.  It doesn’t hurt to remind children that your job as parents is not be fair but to administer God’s judgment without partiality or favoritism.  

Some children will respond instantly to discipline and sweeten their attitudes without delay.  However, strong-willed children such as Laura may require some time to compose and gather their thoughts before the process of repentance is complete.  So if necessary, you may give them a few minutes to cry alone and let them return to be welcomed back into fellowship with a hug and reassurance of love when they have settled.  Usually they will return sweet in spirit, but if the first spanking wasn’t sufficient and the wrong attitude continues then a second one can be administered, or a third or however many are required.  Once they perceive that you will not yield until they obey they will not make such efforts to resist, but inconsistency or laziness in discipline will result in more trouble than the job done properly at the first.  

Parents must seek God’s wisdom in dealing with their children.  Each child is different, as you have remarked.  As parents we must have the patience and consistency of God when it comes to administering justice.  If Laura acts as ringleader you are right to punish her more severely.  You can use the opportunity to explain the importance of providing the right example for others.    

The reason we demand their respect is that God has ordered them to honor us.  It is their first test of devotion to Him and we should be certain that they succeed in honoring God by never tolerating their disrespect.  Otherwise we teach them poorly by our example.

Our love in Christ, Mark and Sallie

Dear Mark and Sallie,

Thank you for your new message.  I’ve read it with the utmost attention and I think I’ve found in it something new and significant.   We are in a long weekend here, as the 1st of November is a religious and national holiday.  I’m at home alone for a couple of days, as wife and children have gone to visit relatives who live in another city, providing Ideal conditions to think and write.   Here are some of my thoughts: I completely agree with what you say on the need to discipline children in private and separately.  This is exactly what we always did, from the outset.

I also agree that there are many ways to discipline children other from spankings, but I think that your definition that spankings be reserved for, “endangering their bodies or their spirits by disobedience or a rebellious attitude … defiance, rebellion or disrespect … sins of attitudes and willful disobedience” is sufficiently broad to account for almost every infringement which could, in my opinion, deserve punishment.  In fact, not only I would not spank a child for spilling a glass of milk, wetting his bed, clumsily breaking a bottle or forgetting to feed the cat; I also wouldn’t punish or discipline him at all.  I would just have a good talk.  Of course, the matter would be different if they willfully had done any of these things or had disobeyed rules.

From an early age they were always spanked for that and they will.  So I suppose that in the next few years spanking will remain our main disciplining tool and the other ways will continue to play a secondary role.  But I don’t know what we will do in the teen years.

And now comes the most thought-provoking part of your letter, which I will deal with at length.  You say: “You must not be concerned for making the discipline “fair” in the sense that one child may receive more frequent or harder spankings.  Spank for the desired effect, which is repentance and submission.”  You have really guessed right about my attitude! Yes, I have to admit that I’m always concerned to make the punishment fit the crime, more than the offender.  I’ve more or less consciously tried to “objectively” respond to bad behavior, and in so doing I’ve overlooked other factors.

I fear it is true that as I didn’t want one of the twins to get 90% of the spanking, and her sister 10%, the one more guilty probably received less and the other one more than they deserved.   I’ve been struck by your contention (in your first message) that you spanked your children until their attitude was changed from defiance to compliance.  I hadn’t fully understood what you really meant, but after you so forcefully explained it to me in your second letter, I suppose I do.

It makes me really think.  It seems to me a wonderful goal to be set, to gain submission through spanking, as a step to reconciliation and to reassurance of love.  I examined the possibility that even if we apparently do (or did) spank in very similar ways and circumstances, the meaning we give to this act were different.  If it is not retribution we must achieve, but a process of repentance, I’m afraid that we are not always attaining this goal now.   I have to reflect on what you say, also with my wife.  I can’t clearly see, yet, all the implications of your views on the disciplining of my children.  It is not so much a problem of technique (the rod vs. the hand), but of the whole meaning of the practice.  I think it would bear not a little difference, especially on Laura, as with Marco and Anna our present rules seem to work well enough.  They respond to discipline, and “sweeten their attitudes” soon enough.  After they’ve got a spanking, when they are still in tears, they look very sorrowful and repentant, and it is so easy to give them a hug and tell that we love them.  And I know they are sincere.

But Laura is different.  While basically a good little girl, loving and happy, endowed with great curiosity, she is stubborn, very strong-willed, and in the last few months she even has sometimes got defiant and pushy.  For example, last Sunday afternoon Laura just disappeared from the yard and came back after two hours.  We learned that she stayed in the comparative safety of our neighborhood, with some friend, but she got a spanking all the same, for breaking the promise she had made not to go away without telling us and for not obeying the rules.

After the spanking, even if it was fairly hard by our standards, she showed what you would probably call a rebellious attitude, screaming and yelling and saying and doing things, which clearly showed she was unrepentant and not submissive.  When she was younger, she would throw a tantrum in similar circumstances, and maybe we were wrong in just ignoring it then.  Now we were very much annoyed, but left the matter at that, as under our rules she had already been punished for her offence.  Now I understand that in your perspective the spanking should not have ended as we had reached the prescribed number of swats, but taking into account the child’s response, a second spanking or “however many are required,” as you say, should have been administered till the desired goal of submission was achieved.

I see very well your point, but this is uncharted territory for my wife and me.  While I’m absolutely convinced that pain should be experienced in chastisement, and our children, as I’ve told you, certainly do not get “symbolic” but “real” spankings on their buttocks, I don’t really know how can one go beyond the 20 swats with the hand we  have been inflicting until now.  I must confess that “however many are required,” seems to me a very tall order.

What, if she just resists?  What I’m certain I will do, is to be more strict in applying our present rules, so that Laura gets all the spankings she deserves every time she has earned it.  Beyond that, I only know, that I don’t absolutely want a repetition of the situation I described above: many swats and a still rebellious child! A punishment which ends like it ended last Sunday has not really served its purpose.  You seem to have gone through a similar challenge successfully, as your daughter’s page on your site so wonderfully shows.  But how far did you have to go to win the battle with a stubborn child?  Was a single “victory” over her will sufficient, or should we prepare for a long struggle? Isn’t 4 years too early for a more severe punishment?  Shouldn’t we wait? At what age did this take place in your case? I would welcome some accounts based upon your experience, hoping they could allay my fears.

And now that I’m (finally!) drawing to a close, my answers to your questions: my wife was born in Poland, but she really feels Italian, as she lived in Italy since she was a little girl.  About my English: I’ve never studied it in school (I learned French), it is just that I’ve read many books and magazines, translated a few books, regularly watched satellite TV, used (since 1997) the Internet.  Concerning Italy: it is a nice country and Italians have many qualities.  But they also have their shortcomings, and it may be not far from the truth saying that (the lack of) discipline has something to do with the self-indulgence most people seem to show here…

In a few hours a new working week will begin, and I won’t have much time to discuss again this matter at such length.  But I will certainly very much appreciate any further comments on your part.

Thank you again for your help.

RJ

Dear RJ,

Your last note has given me a better understanding of your situation, and I have a few additional thoughts.  First, there is no method which “followed” will result in a child’s salvation and trust in Christ.  This is always our primary goal.  However, there are many promises in Scripture a loving parent can hold firmly to in prayer for their children.  It is an intensely spiritual challenge, which requires seeking God in prayer, and a life of daily obedience on the part of the parents.  

  It appears that your early discipline of Laura, although mostly correct in form and procedure, (as evidenced by the fact that the same methods used with Anna and Marco met with good results) failed to address her strong will and exceptional stubbornness.  This means that you will need to reclaim some ground to correct the situation in a way that is both effective and just.  

While it appears that you have already concluded that your spanking has been ineffective with Laura, at this point I cannot recommend that you simply increase the severity or frequency of your spankings.  Rather, it is especially important now, that you carefully seek God’s leading as to how you should tailor your discipline to deal with the situation.  Before you make any change in your methods, you and your wife should first be in full agreement that a change is needed, and agree on the details of how you will respond to her behavior.  

It would be good if you and your wife spent some time together in intense prayer to seek God’s leading in how you should deal with Laura.  Perhaps changing to the use of a rod, rather than using your hand to spank will be required, but the issues you are grappling with are bigger than just the methods and procedures of spanking.  You are fighting a battle over her very soul, and the charge must be led from a spiritual vantage point.  Prayer and fasting and earnest obedience in your own lives is recommended as prerequisites to prepare yourselves for this challenge.

As you make these significant changes in your expectations towards Laura’s behavior, it is appropriate that you explain to her why you are making these changes before you begin to implement them.  It will help for her to understand why you are doing these things.  Children have a right to expect consistency in our behavior.  Although I believe in expecting unquestioning obedience from children, I also believe that after they have obeyed, we should fully engage their minds and explain to them the reasons for our actions, so they may learn to cooperate with our efforts.  Discipline is a wonderful opportunity to teach and impress spiritual truths on our children, once their minds and spirits settle, and they are receptive to teaching.  

As to what struggle you should expect and when you might expect signs of “victory” I would suggest that the problems with Laura’s attitude did not develop overnight, and it would not be reasonable to expect an overnight change.  You should have the patience of God, and the confidence that if you are faithful to obey God he will be faithful to work in Laura’s heart.  

After all, how long has he been working in our lives in his efforts to get us to live lives pleasing before him? I would expect to see her life change over a period of months in response to your day-by-day obedience to God and consistent application of discipline.  

One of the most important factors in your success will be to prayerfully seek God’s guidance and to study the scripture to be sure that you have the inner confidence to win the war.  It is not enough to win battles, wars are won by strategic victories that make it impossible for the enemy to mount any further resistance.  Have a clear expectation of what you expect God to accomplish in Laura’s life.  

In closing, a strong-willed child makes an exceptional servant when they have learned to submit their lives to God.  You can look forward to wonderful things from her in the future, but only if you succeed in bringing her into present obedience.  Your goal is to help her submit her strong will to the mighty will of God.  Make sure that yourselves are providing the examples of humility and meekness that she will need to understand the nature of God.  And of course, Laura learn the Scriptures as a way to transform her thinking and equip her to live in obedience.  

In reference to what you should do when they become teenagers, we attempted to pack our discipline into the early years.  Our children required almost no spankings (yet they still required frequent “discipline” and guidance) after they reached the age of 10-11 years because they grew accustomed to obeying.  With Laura, make the next few years count!  As children grow older, you will eventually need to put the rod aside, since it should be primarily with children, not with young adults.   

Our prayers are with you both,  Mark and Sallie

Q:   Dear Mark, I would like to resume our correspondence on discipline matters.  Most of all, I’d like to have your opinion on the matter I’ve raised in my last letter, i.e. if it’s right that mothers do the largest part of disciplining in our family, as I suppose it happens in most other families. With a demanding job, most fathers are simply not at home when discipline is needed.  At the same time, is it correct that having come back at the end of the week, sometimes only on Saturday evening, I should be spending all day Sunday having to chastise our children?    

This is really a problem for me now.  Laura is not an easy child, as you well know, and requires constant attention.  She is very affectionate, and we love her dearly, but she just needs frequent discipline.  Now I have accepted that she has a special need for that, and we must be up to it. 

We have finally have come to accept that we should use a paddle. We hope that by using it we will have to spank less. We had more problems this summer, with Laura, but also with Sandro. He is not accustomed to regular discipline. Her mother tended to give him a slap on the face, if angry, but she tends to be rather inconsistent in discipline matters. 

She is very willing to follow Johanna’s advice: she is eight years younger, and listens to her ‘big sister’. So I have procured a wooden flat paddle, it is light and thin, four inches wide and ten inches long. I need your opinion on this matter.  I feel that we cannot use the paddle only for Laura.  If we use it, it should be used for all the children, even Marco or Anna, if needed. Do you agree?    

Moreover, on the practical side. We have always given our children over the knee spanking; is it advisable to spank in this manner if using a paddle? Should we have to stay at some distance and place the child on a bed or leaning over a desk? I cannot imagine any of my children staying there in place waiting for the next spank: she would just run away. 

When we spank them over the knee, they resist strongly, at least at the beginning, but it is not difficult to keep the child in position. How did you do with your children? 

I have some ideas about an article on the corporal punishment of children, and how recent research and public opinion trends seem to indicate that a substantial part of parents, and even opinion makers, at least in the English-speaking world, are supporting it more than in the recent past. I would contrast this situation with the European one, where children’s rights rhetoric is still dominant.  If, and when, I will have a draft ready, I will send it to you for an opinion.

RJ 

A: Dear RJ,

So good to hear from you again.  A mother is responsible for the early discipline of children and Scripture says in Proverbs that it is to the mother’s shame when a child is left to their own.  This indeed implies that God expects mothers to discipline the “little” children most of the time.  If you travel for business, it is important that most of your children’s contact with you, as their father, not be exclusively while you have them bent over your knee for a spanking!  This means your wife will have to keep up with discipline while you are gone, and not store it up for your return. 

If Laura needs a spanking multiple times a day, then discipline her as many times as it needed.  If your wife is doing most of the discipline in your absence, she should continue to discipline the children while you are at home. You want your children’s view of you balanced. They should see you as one who provides affection and love, not just discipline, during the time you spend with them. 

However, be sensitive to the demands on your wife for the burden of this daily discipline by assuming your share of it when you are home for longer periods.  It is important that your children have the expectation that neither you nor your wife will tolerate disobedience.  Of course, it is important that you both use the same standards for the severity and frequency of discipline. It would be unfair to your children, for you to do otherwise.  It is also quite important that you recognize and encourage your wife for her labors in the realm of child discipline, for it is a lot of work each day to discipline children properly! 

Remember that when it comes to the application of discipline, there are two people needing training first, before any training with children takes place.  Mom and Dad must come under God’s authority and be trained to obey God in their daily living, so they are not disciplining as they see fit, but disciplining in order to follow God’s will for the raising of the children he gives!  We cannot impose our own will, which tends to be capricious; God’s will should rule in our homes. 

I agree that all your children should be spanked using the rod.  You can spank them differently as required, (harder or less as appropriate for the offense and the temperament of the child in question) 

As to pulling away from a spanking, I do not think your children would pull away if they knew that the spanking would start over, every time they pulled away! Children are much more practical in these matters than we credit them.  They know how to act when it regards their own best interest. Parents cannot be fooled by their children’s antics. They will look to see the determination in your eyes and test your resolve first.  If you let them run away from the spanking, you teach them they can receive a reward for disobeying.  That is not a good lesson to result from a spanking; do not let them run away! 

We normally retired to the bedroom to apply discipline, leaning them over the bed after they were over 2 years old.  When they were toddlers, we spanked on the spot at the place of disobedience, except when out of the home.  We would occasionally make a trip to the automobile from a public place but this was not frequently required. We made sure that they remembered each of these trips so well, they knew when we threatened to make such a trip, it was to be avoided! 

As far as resisting, if they did not cooperate, the first spanking was for the transgression.  The next would be for not staying still for the spanking.  If they screamed and made a fuss they could be spanked for fussing too loudly afterwards. We required them to lower their voice and cry softly.  We normally gave them a period to compose themselves before a special time of hugging and reassurance afterwards.  We would remind them of the reasons for the discipline as we assured them of our forgiveness and affection.  

Regards,

Mark and Sallie

Dear Mark and Sallie,

Thank you again for your words, both kind and firm.  I will treasure them.    Now I think it’s time to draw this correspondence to a close.  It has been so enriching.  I very well know that bringing up children is not only a problem of what discipline technique to use, even if this is more important, in my view, than most people in our age seem to think.  

We talk a lot with our children about morals, what is good and what is wrong, of the need to love your neighbor, and of justice.  We will continue to do so, and certainly we will take special care of Laura’s needs in the future, given the circumstances.  I’ll let you know how things develop.  

Best wishes R

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