This is the final post in this series, “To spank a child,” though I’ll no doubt write on the subject again in the future. My intention has not been (contrary to some accusations) to encourage others to mistreat their children, but rather to encourage people to consider that perhaps God’s instructions in the Bible, about spanking as a form of loving discipline, are indeed best. I believe they are His gift to us as parents and also a gift to our children.
The MAIN REASON this is such a volatile issue is that we have developed into a culture of “reactors” – people who see a legitimate problem such as child abuse, and instead of thinking it through logically and considering the specifics of each individual situation, they “react” to it with emotionalism and illogic, and consider anyone who uses any form of corporal punishment to be an abuser. That is simply not the case, and is very unfair to many parents who lovingly discipline their children according to the Biblical guidelines for spanking.
One component of that “reaction” mentality is the issue of anger. I’ve heard it said a million times if I’ve heard it once, “You should NEVER discipline your child while you are angry.” The assumption behind the statement is that if you do discipline while you are angry then you will inevitably wind up abusing your child. I disagree with that assumption and I disagree with the statement.
I believe that as we are to have a healthy and proper fear of the Lord, our children should have a healthy and proper fear of us. That doesn’t mean that every discipline issue needs to be packed full of anger. That’s not what I’m saying at all! But there are times, when our child has done something or made a choice that is SO contrary to what is right that we SHOULD respond with an appropriate amount of anger toward their action. An example should help…
One of the big offenses in our household is lying. We don’t tolerate it because integrity and honesty are the only things that make a person worthy of trust in the eyes of others. If a child’s words cannot be trusted then the child cannot be trusted. We want our children to be trustworthy. It’s the best thing for them to learn to be so. As a result of that belief, when we come upon a situation where we have learned that a child has intentionally lied (whether for self-protective reasons or greed, or whatever) we will respond with a good amount of anger. We are angry at many things – at the child for choosing the wrong thing, at the harm lying will do to them if it is carried out over a long period of time, over the deception that has taken place, etc. The child needs to see that we are angry about their sin. If they don’t they will get the idea that lying really isn’t that big of a deal and is O.K. under certain circumstances. But the truth is, it is NOT O.K. – EVER.
Being angry at something like this is one thing, remaining “in control” while being angry is another. Scripture tells us that we should not sin when we are angry. So any response to a child that is sinful (out-of-control spankings or other out-of-control hitting of the child, verbal abuse, throwing things) is wrong and should not be done. But a spanking given when a parent is angry is not automatically wrong. If the parents is in-control of their actions, then the spanking can still be administered in a proper way.
- Much of the expression of appropriate anger should be done in the conversation surrounding the spanking. The child needs to hear the anger in your voice (again, not verbally abusing or berating the child), they need to understand WHY you are so upset (so explain it to them on their level), they need to see the long-term impact of their actions if they were to continue. You need to communicate these things with passion and anger where appropriate. Your child needs to know the seriousness of the offense and know that a spanking is coming as a result. They need to have a “fear” of doing that action again. That’s part of what helps them to learn the appropriateness or inappropriateness of their own behaviors. If it upsets mom or dad, then they will learn quickly that it is not an appropriate action. That however, requires that mom and dad are only getting angry at things that merit that kind of response. Don’t fly off the handle at any little thing. Reserve the expression of your anger for those issues that are character damaging or harmful to others.
- Set a limit: In our home, a spanking consists of 3 firm swats. Never more. Seldom less. We have set a limit by which we as parents can be held accountable (by each other). This way there is no possibility of out-of-control anger being expressed at the child’s expense. 3 swats is enough to communicate the discipline without abusing the child.
- Be aware of your own history. If you were abused as a child, or if you have a history of angry outbursts, then it may be wise to set a more stringent standard for yourself. I would never encourage you to avoid spanking your child altogether – that would be ignoring the Bible’s encouragement toward spanking, but I would caution you, as an individual with those kinds of issues, to make sure you don’t spank when you are angry (not everyone, just people with this kind of history). Go back to the first guideline and express the anger verbally (again, not abusively) and then carry out the spanking when you are more in control of your emotions. And, by the way, figure out how to deal with your angry outbursts, etc.
Don’t be afraid of your anger. Anger is a tool God has given us to indicate when something has gone wrong, or to show us that an injustice has been done. Figure out why you are angry and respond accordingly. If you are angry because you’ve been irritated or inconvenienced, then you need to deal with that – it’s not your child’s fault. But if you are angry because your child has lied, mistreated someone else, disrespected you or another authority, cheated, stolen, etc. then allow your anger to fuel your discipline in a constructive way. Your kids will learn the lesson faster if they see your righteous anger at the wrong they have done. When you fear your anger, you will tend to water it down so much that your child doesn’t understand the seriousness of their misbehavior, deceit, disrespect, etc. Then, you are doing a disservice to your child.