Spanking is a very unpopular form of discipline right now. We probably all know parents who don’t spank their children. Some see it as abuse. Others think “it teaches kids hitting is okay” or “it harms their self-esteem”. Regardless of the motivation, taking spanking away limits parent’s options to maintain authority in the family system. There are certainly other forms of discipline that are more effective at times, especially as a child reaches elementary age. But for the ages of 2 to 6 years there are not many other options. Time out has become the most popular alternative. But you cannt do this in a store or other public places, where children most often take advantage of their parents inability to give consequences.
Spanking is not politically correct. The trend against this God given form of discipline has resulted in the most abusive parents ever. Child abuse has steadily increased in America over the past couple of decades. An incident of child abuse is reported every 10 seconds: an average of 4 children die daily as a result of child abuse, and 79% of the victims are less than 4 years of age (1). As these statistics show the children most severely affected by abuse are those in the age range where spanking is most effective.
Spanking can easily be misused, and there are parents who should never spank because they lack self-control. Spanking should never be done out of anger, which is the only time parents really want to spank their kids. It may be used to get even with the child if it is driven by emotion. It is not effective in teaching the child why their behavior was wrong. The child will think the behavior was wrong simply because it made the parent angry. The real motivation for spanking should be to prevent the child from behavior patterns that will be damaging to the child, not the parent. It should be done because we love them enough to give them consequences to prevent them from a life time of really negative consequences due to inability to relate bad decisions to negative outcome.
There are three different problems that can arise when parents decline to use spanking as a form of discipline. First, there are parents who are afraid of confronting their child’s bad behavior. Second, there are parents who become overbearing to prevent bad behavior, and avoid the need for discipline. Finally, there are parents who simply resort to yelling and verbal abuse as a form of discipline.
Some parents are afraid to discipline. They may be afraid because they know that discipline will mean stopping the child from doing what he wants thus escalating bad behavior and resulting in a tantrum. Parents who are afraid to discipline results in inconsistent parenting. This makes it impossible for children to predict the consequences of their behavior. The children increase bad behaviors to see if the consequence will be there or not.
The parents may be afraid to discipline because spectators my disapprove of them disciplining. This is a very dangerous situation. “It is when parents are desperately trying to avoid punishment that their level of irritation reaches a dangerous level (2).” I was at the thrift store a few months ago. There was a girl about 4-5 years old screaming and throwing a fit in the check out line. Her mother did nothing accept let her blood boil. When they got into her car, the clerk saw the mom hit the girl in the face a couple times. I would have gotten her license plate number and reported it, but the clerk didn’t think about that. The woman didn’t want to be a “bad mom” and spank her child, which resulted in child abuse. Had she spanked the child at the onset of the tantrum, she wouldn’t have lost her temper.
Other parents constantly control their children to prevent bad behavior. They hover over their children; they manipulate, criticize, and violate the child’s boundaries. Often these manipulative parents withhold acceptance or approval to get the child to do what they want them to do. This does not allow the child freedom to choose. This overbearing parenting makes it impossible for children to set healthy boundaries or say “no” to others. The child’s identity is enmeshed with the parent’s expectations. They can live their whole life to make others happy, and never stand up for themselves.
God gives us free will. He does not force us obey his laws or prevent us from sinning. He allows us to choose, and allows us to face the consequences for those choices. God draws us to himself with acceptance, kindness and grace. He does not use rejection or manipulation to get us to do what he wants us to do. He allows us to behave however we choose, but provides us with a better way of living inside his guidelines to avoid painful consequences.
Finally, there are selfish parents who use yelling as a means of discipline. This is probably the most damaging. The child is constantly rejected by those who are supposed to love him unconditionally. This is the easiest form of “discipline”. It requires no self-control or effort on the parents part. They can scream and insult according to their emotions, and never get off their lazy butt.
“Usually, rejection is manifested by an outburst of anger, a disgusted look, and impatient answer, or a social snub. Whatever the form of behavior, it communicates disrespect, low value, and lack of appreciation. Nothing hurts quite like the message of rejection (3).” Using rejection to manipulate children to stop bad behavior is very effective when they are young. Everyone seeks to avoid rejection at all cost, as it is very painful and our most basic need is to be loved. While this temporarily stops a bad behavior, it leads to many damaging patterns of behavior later on. This form of “discipline” permanently scars a child’s heart, and changes their personality. Deep insecurity and depression are a certain result.
Children need encouragement and affirmation to grow into the people God created them to be.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Eph. 4:20). It is God’s will that we build our children up even through discipline. The devil wants to use our mouths to cripple our children’s self-worth. Have you ever tried to give a gift to an insecure person? They have a very hard time receiving a gift, and will usually try to repay it. Insecurity and the inability to receive a gift greatly decreases the chance that a person will receive Christ’s gift of salvation. If they do get saved it is usually out of fear of eternal damnation, and they spend their whole life on a legalistic treadmill trying to pay for their salvation through perfection and good works.
2. Dobson, James. Parenting Isn’t for Cowards. Word Publishing, 1987, p. 119.
3. McGee, Robert S. The Search for Significance. W Publishing Group, 1998, p. 57.