Regarding Punishments…

This post started off as a response to a message from a friend. Somehow I ended up with a nearly 1400 word essay about discipline, punishments, and parenting. Craziness! I’d never just sat down and written so much about my parenting beliefs and I had no idea how strongly I really do feel about spanking and punishments.

The next day I let another friend read my essay – unedited. She really enjoyed reading it and encouraged me to edit it and make it public. So here goes and maybe others will find this post to be edifying as well :-) At the very least, after reading this you’ll know where I’m coming from and maybe even where other Christians who choose not to use spanking are coming from.

I’m leaving this in letter form so just pretend that I’m writing it to you!

Dear Friend,

[snipped pleasantries]

Gosh, I don’t even know where to start about spanking… before I start I guess I’ll let you know straight up that I have friends who spank their kids, although generally as a last resort type thing, and we’ve come to an understanding and agreed to disagree. I have strong feelings about physical punishments, but I understand that sometimes people run out of other tools to use while parenting and believe that spanking will help the situation. After all, I’m an imperfect parent myself so I’m certainly not here to judge anyone :-)

First of all, I guess I’ll start with the Bible. Nowhere in the Bible is anyone commanded to hit their children. On the contrary, we’re exhorted to discipline – which does not equal punishment, correct, and instruct them. We’re also commanded to not exasperate them or provoke them to anger (Eph 6:4). I don’t know about you, but spanking certainly exasperated me! Actually… it enraged me and strengthened my resolve to not get caught the next time.

My goal is not to hurt my children or make them feel badly. In fact, they are perfectly capable of making themselves feel badly and I rarely have to instruct them to apologize now that they’re 3 and 4 years old. My goal is to teach them how to behave properly and then help them to do so when they are unable or unwilling to. Does that make sense?

I don’t want my children to fear me! I want them to obey me out of love and because my requests and demands make sense to them. I always make sure that I have a reason for anything I tell them to do or not to do. If I find that I don’t have a good reason for telling them to do something then I reconsider before saying anything.

I want my children to question authority as adults which means that I encourage them to question me while they’re children. If they have a good rebuttal for something I’ve said, I reconsider and sometimes I stand firm while other times I concede to their point. I want them to know that I sometimes make mistakes, that I’m willing to accept constructive criticism, then critically examine the things I do as well as humble enough to admit it when I make a mistake. By modeling that, I hope that they will also be humble and examine critically the things they do and even the things they believe.

Yes, the world will hurt them, but that doesn’t mean that I need to hurt them. I want to be the one to whom they can come after the world has hurt them. I want them to know that I will be brutally honest with them, but won’t harm them in any way. I won’t shield them from the true consequences of their actions and will encourage them to own up to whatever they’ve done as well as take responsibility for their actions and mistakes, but I see no reason to set up artificial consequences in order to teach them that.

It might shock you to hear this… but I don’t use time outs with my children either. I do remove them from volatile situations and help them calm down in whatever way they need help with, but that’s not a punishment, that’s teaching them how to calm down and remove themselves from volatile situations when I’m no longer around to help them with it.

I truly believe that in order for us to receive respect from someone else, we need to show them respect. I want respect from my children and I have their respect. After a bad situation has been dealt with – usually with food, rest, or snuggles as well as a discussion about what happened once my children are feeling better and able to listen and pay attention to what they’re learning from the discussion – they respond in the same way as people say that children respond after being spanked. They apologize and tell me that they love me and that they’ll try better next time. Then they do try harder next time! They still fail a good deal of the time, but they want and try to do better. They truly feel sad when they fall short without needing any emotional manipulation from me.

My oldest knows when she’s grumpy because of being hungry. I specifically taught her how to tell when that happens. My older two girls seem to have the same blood sugar issues that I have… when our blood sugar gets low, we get amazingly grumpy and irrational. One of the most important things I can teach them is to drink some water and eat something healthy when they start feeling like that. Especially protein! Once they eat even just a little bit, their moods improve astronomically!

Now, imagine that I spanked them for misbehaviors without finding out what the root cause was… I could be hurting them for something that was age-appropriate or that could have easily been fixed with a simple glass of water. Whining can often be fixed with a glass of water, believe it or not. Children at their ages don’t have much impulse control and often cannot stop themselves from doing things even when they know they shouldn’t. Instead of hurting them, I help them stop. I hold them or remove them from the temptation and then help them discover other ways to deal with that temptation the next time it happens.

There are some people who actually advocate deliberately placing temptations in front of the child and hitting them every time they touch what the parent knew beforehand would tempt them. This is essentially setting them up for failure and being hurt from the beginning.

There are even self-professing Christians who advocate this sort of parental behavior. Where is the grace and the love? God’s wonderful Son – part of himself really – died on the cross for our sins so that we would not have to endure the punishment that we so richly deserve, but where’s the grace for the smallest of these? Where is the grace that should be shown to the little children whom Jesus loves so much?

I truly believe that as a Christian parent, I am here to show my children just a glimmer of God’s love and grace. The whole rest of the world will show them wrath and punishment. My job is to equip them to function properly in the world; to love other people as they love themselves; and to trust in, love, and revere God.

I’m raising future teens and adults, not children, and my job is to discipline, guide, and teach them with an eye towards helping them become wise adults. I don’t think that pain teaches much past a very primal level – which would translate to a child: “don’t get caught” – and that’s not the message I want to send my kids. I want them to trust me enough to come to me for help or advice if they’re thinking about or actually experimenting with drugs or sex. I want them to trust me enough to come to me for counsel about anything even if they know I would disapprove. I would rather know and be able to be there for them and guide them than for them to hide their lives from me in the way I had to from my parents.

I was too scared to come to my parents for help when I was suicidally depressed in high school and in college. I was too scared to let them know the horrors that resided in my mind. I don’t want my kids to be scared of me or to fear me. I want them to know that I love them unconditionally by my actions and not just by my words. I want them to know unconditional love from me so that they can more easily accept the unconditional love of their Savior.

Finally, to address the idea that not spanking is the main reason that children behave horribly: My children behave appropriately for our setting for the most part. Sometimes I let them do things, especially at home, that other parents would not allow, but they know how to behave properly in public and choose to behave whenever it is in their power to do so.

We take our children to restaurants and nearly everywhere else we go in public and have only gotten compliments on their behavior. Permissiveness has nothing to do with whether someone spanks or not. I’ve seen pro-spanking parents behave permissively with their children and my children – as well as the children of many of my friends – are living proof that parents can avoid spanking and still have high expectations for their children’s behavior.

With love and great respect regardless of how you take this crazy novel I just wrote!

~B.

“Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”~ Matthew 25:40

Edited to add: My next post about the context of the book of Proverbs and why context is important is a follow-up from some of the comments I received for this post. Thank you for reading!

About barefootbetsy

I'm a musician, a mama, a lifelong lover of learning, an advocate of informed choices, and an avid barefooter.
This entry was posted in Figuring it out, For the Bible tells me so., Grace-Based Discipline. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Regarding Punishments…

  1. Debbie Burgett says:

    I am a writer that has been toying with the idea of writing a book on parenting. With five grown children of my own and now grandchildren coming on the scene, it is a subject that is still very dear to my heart.

    But one of the reasons I have held off writing is because every answer we need for “life and godliness” as the Bible says, is right there in the Bible. All the answers are right there in the pages. So why should I write a book that people will maybe read one time and then sit on a shelf, when what they really need to be reading is gathering dust on a shelf? And do I really think I could say anything better than He has? Then why do it?

    But then I remembered reading books myself that have pointed me to God’s Word when maybe I couldn’t get there on my own. That’s why I can write a book – to highlight what God Word says, not what I say. Only His words have the truth and the power to change our lives and our families.

    Here’s my point. I just read Proverbs in my devotional time last week. I actually had to stop reading one morning and just cry. I was overwhelmed with how we live so far below what He has for us and desires for us. He speaks about the wisdom and integrity He wants us to aspire to in every aspect of life. He speaks about how He wants us to handle every important relationship in our lives. And when I looked at how God wants us to practically live our lives before Him for our benefit and protection and how we choose to do it our own way and the blessings we forego because of it, it broke my heart.

    And that’s why I am very curious about your statement that “Nowhere in the Bible is anyone commanded to hit their children.”

    It’s simply not true. While Proverbs does speak about discipline in the training and teaching sense, it also speaks of it in the corporal punishment sense. And while I agree that it should only be used as a last resort, it does still have its purpose or God, who loves our children way more than we ever could and has a plan for their lives over and above what we ever could imagine for them, wouldn’t have mentioned its purpose and use.

    Either all of the Bible is true or none of it is. We can’t pick and choose. No matter how uncomfortable it is for us, or what our experiences may have been, or how badly we might want to wish it away, God’s Word is God’s Word. And if we don’t trust it and trust Him and His great love for us and our children, we really have only our own human thoughts and reasoning to stand on. And that’s pretty scary.

    • barefootbetsy says:

      Debbie – First of all I would like to thank you for your respectful comment!

      I have a feeling that my full response will end up being a bit long for a comment so I am planning to write a post exploring more about the issue of “Biblical spanking” and why I respectfully disagree with you about spanking being commanded in the Bible.

      I fully agree with you that we cannot pick and choose what parts of the Bible are true. However, I believe that it is of the utmost importance that we take into account the context of verses as we interpret what they mean. Cultural context is extremely important as is the literary style in which the books are written. Some are law books, some are history books, and still others are poetic, wisdom literature, or apocalyptic. This does not mean that any of the books of the Bible are “less” scripture than any of the others, it simply means that they serve different purposes.

      Any good English literature teacher would be happy to expound for hours about the necessity of understanding the cultural context and even linguistic differences when reading Shakespeare. How much more should we strive to understand the various contexts when dealing with a much more ancient text that wasn’t even originally written in English?

      Yes, certain verses in Proverbs do appear to condone corporal punishment, but as I dug more deeply into the issue, I found that appearances can be deceiving.

      I hope that you will bear with me as I try to explain more clearly how I came to the conclusions I have come to.

      Thank you again for your comment!

      ~B.

  2. Pingback: Regarding Punishments | Why Not Train A Child?

  3. Ceste says:

    Probably one of the best things I’ve read in yrs.

    “I don’t want my children to fear me! I want them to obey me out of love and because my requests and demands make sense to them. I always make sure that I have a reason for anything I tell them to do or not to do. If I find that I don’t have a good reason for telling them to do something then I reconsider before saying anything.”

    Now, I get the whole not wanting to be feared thing, but what about the fear of the Lord? I still don’t completely understand what exactly the fear of the Lord is, but…
    ——-
    “I want my children to question authority as adults which means that I encourage them to question me while they’re children.”

    I love this one! I hate it when my students don’t ask me questions…then I don’t know where they are learning-wise
    —–
    “Yes, the world will hurt them, but that doesn’t mean that I need to hurt them. I want to be the one to whom they can come after the world has hurt them. I want them to know that I will be brutally honest with them, but won’t harm them in any way. I won’t shield them from the true consequences of their actions and will encourage them to own up to whatever they’ve done as well as take responsibility for their actions and mistakes, but I see no reason to set up artificial consequences in order to teach them that.”

    Love, love, love this!!!
    —–
    “I truly believe that in order for us to receive respect from someone else, we need to show them respect. I want respect from my children and I have their respect. After a bad situation has been dealt with – usually with food, rest, or snuggles as well as a discussion about what happened once my children are feeling better and able to listen and pay attention to what they’re learning from the discussion – they respond in the same way as people say that children respond after being spanked. They apologize and tell me that they love me and that they’ll try better next time. Then they do try harder next time! They still fail a good deal of the time, but they want and try to do better. They truly feel sad when they fall short without needing any emotional manipulation from me.”

    Now this sounds good in theory…but there is a time for discussion and not. I mean, God doesn’t always explain things fully. Most of the time, we just have to take a leap of faith & trust. This is what I’m telling my students 90% of the time. I take time to explain on some things, but most of the time I just look them in the eye & say, “I’m the professional here and can u trust that I know what’s best? I’m not going to do anything to maliciously put you on the spot or make u look bad. Can you please obey so we can move forward?”
    —–
    “I truly believe that as a Christian parent, I am here to show my children just a glimmer of God’s love and grace. The whole rest of the world will show them wrath and punishment. My job is to equip them to function properly in the world; to love other people as they love themselves; and to trust in, love, and revere God.”

    Reading this article got me thinking. Wow, is spanking really the old covenant & not the new? Papa (God) doesn’t get mad & give us swats. But He doesn’t save us from natural consequences either.

    ——
    “I don’t think that pain teaches much past a very primal level – which would translate to a child: “don’t get caught” – and that’s not the message I want to send my kids. ”

    I disagree w/ this. My dad almost always spanked me in a very loving way and would often cry b4 administering my spanking always saying, “This hurts me more than it hurts you, sweetie. But if I don’t do this, then God says that I don’t love you. And I do love you sweetie.”
    —–
    “I was too scared to come to my parents for help when I was suicidally depressed in high school and in college. I was too scared to let them know the horrors that resided in my mind. I don’t want my kids to be scared of me or to fear me. I want them to know that I love them unconditionally by my actions and not just by my words. I want them to know unconditional love from me so that they can more easily accept the unconditional love of their Savior.”

    I was also too scared to tell my parents these things, but it wasn’t cuz of this. It was bcuz there are no secrets in my house. And I was afraid of the shame of it. That’s one thing I hate, punishing w/ shame. But I don’t think spanking is always a “shaming” act….again it depends how it is administered.

    But I love the unconditional part there…I don’t think I’ve ever felt my parents unconditional love….not til now anyway…and I think that’s cuz I was finally able to tell my dad this yr that I always felt like I had to have my room clean & if I didn’t, that he didn’t love me.
    —-
    “We take our children to restaurants and nearly everywhere else we go in public and have only gotten compliments on their behavior. Permissiveness has nothing to do with whether someone spanks or not. I’ve seen pro-spanking parents behave permissively with their children and my children – as well as the children of many of my friends – are living proof that parents can avoid spanking and still have high expectations for their children’s behavior.”

    agree whole heartedly w/ this!

  4. barefootbetsy says:

    Ceste – thank you so much for writing! I appreciate your feedback both positive and negative. Explaining myself further is something I find to be very useful in evaluating my beliefs and I appreciate the opportunity. I hope that my answers will help you understand more where I’m coming from with the statements I made that you weren’t sure about.

    “Now, I get the whole not wanting to be feared thing, but what about the fear of the Lord? I still don’t completely understand what exactly the fear of the Lord is, but…”

    Well, the thing about the fear of the Lord is that I don’t believe it’s applicable to a parent-child relationship. Fearing God is something that makes sense to me. He is all-powerful and all-knowing, truly fearsome in His wrath. I do not believe that God has changed his nature (the Bible states that His nature never changes) and the God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament.

    Now, fearing me? I have no idea why someone would fear me or why I would find that desirable. I’m not all-powerful nor all-knowing. I’m a fallible human being. I do not want my children to blindly obey any fallible human being and in my parenting I want to model that to them (or as much as I can by the Grace of God, given that I’m fallible). I don’t really see how not fearing me would lead to them rejecting or not fearing God since I am certainly nowhere close to being God!

    “Now this sounds good in theory…but there is a time for discussion and not. I mean, God doesn’t always explain things fully. Most of the time, we just have to take a leap of faith & trust. This is what I’m telling my students 90% of the time. I take time to explain on some things, but most of the time I just look them in the eye & say, “I’m the professional here and can u trust that I know what’s best? I’m not going to do anything to maliciously put you on the spot or make u look bad. Can you please obey so we can move forward?””

    Well, my answer to this is pretty much the same as my previous answer. No, God doesn’t always explain, but he’s infallible. I don’t need an explanation from an all-powerful being who knows everything, but if someone human wants me to do something, I’d hope they would give me a good reason. No matter how much we know, there is more to learn. No matter how well-meaning we are, there can be unintended consequences to our demands.

    How many doctors’ errors might have been avoided if they had simply talked to the patient about what they were planning to do? I’m specifically thinking of things like operating on the wrong part of someone’s body or circumcising someone’s child without their permission although I’m sure there are many other examples. Even highly trained experts in a field could do even better if they talked more about their intentions with those who will be most affected by them.

    How much better would your students understand what you were trying to teach them if you explained to them why you had them do something every single time? Even if that explanation consisted of an age-appropriate version of, “I can’t explain it to you now at your understanding level, but I promise that you will understand why later and that it’ll be worth it to you in your studies!” At the very least, it would motivate them more highly to do what you wanted them to

    “Reading this article got me thinking. Wow, is spanking really the old covenant & not the new? Papa (God) doesn’t get mad & give us swats. But He doesn’t save us from natural consequences either.”

    Well, I don’t agree that spanking is part of the old covenant either, but there will be more about that once I get my next post up!

    I don’t save my children from natural consequences. I just refuse to set up artificial consequences to manipulate their behavior to my liking, preferring instead to instruct them in the ways of the Lord as the Bible commands. I’ll use the King James Version because I particularly love this verse in that translation:

    “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” ~Ephesians 6:4

    Nurture and admonition – love those words! Other translations use discipline, training, or teaching for “nurture” and fear, instruction, or advice for “admonition.”

    “I disagree w/ this. My dad almost always spanked me in a very loving way and would often cry b4 administering my spanking always saying, “This hurts me more than it hurts you, sweetie. But if I don’t do this, then God says that I don’t love you. And I do love you sweetie.””

    That’s exactly how my parents spanked me! The problem with it was… I certainly didn’t believe the first part (My 6yo self: “who’s the one getting hurt? ME! That’s who!”) because at the time it was used I was still in a very concrete-thinking stage. My dad spanking me wasn’t hurting himself. No way! Now, if he’d spanked himself as well as me, I would’ve believed him.

    Now, the second part is exactly the reason I don’t hold any spanking my parents did against them. They never spanked me “excessively” or “abusively” – though I’m not sure where exactly the line would be drawn, I never felt that they did – and they truly believed that they were doing what God required them to do.

    “I was also too scared to tell my parents these things, but it wasn’t cuz of this. It was bcuz there are no secrets in my house. And I was afraid of the shame of it. That’s one thing I hate, punishing w/ shame. But I don’t think spanking is always a “shaming” act….again it depends how it is administered.”

    I agree that spanking is not always a shaming act, but it’s always a hurtful one. If a spanking doesn’t hurt, it’s considered ineffective and you may as well be patting someone on the head. No matter how much love there is behind it, it still hurts. I was hurting so much during those parts of my life, that I couldn’t handle the thought of being hurt more, even by those who loved me and might hurt me “for my own good.”

    Part of trust is trusting that you won’t be hurt on purpose. I lost out on my parents’ guidance – the guidance I believe God intends children to have from their parents – in so many areas of my life because that trust wasn’t there!

    Again, thank you! I hope that my explanations have made sense. I understand if you still disagree with me about those points, but hopefully you understand a bit more where I’m coming from! Please feel free to ask for any further clarifications

    ~B.

  5. Synesthesia says:

    Great points.
    Love and trust when it comes to raising children is often overlooked in favour of being too strict.
    I FEARED my mother because she hit me when I lived with her. I don’t want future children to fear me, but to trust me and you really can win trust a lot better when you don’t resort to inflicting pain on someone

  6. Pingback: Spanking and Proverbs – Part 1: Context | Dare to Disciple

  7. Gem says:

    Count me as one who believes the Bible as wholly and thoroughly true and adequate for any instruction we need in our lives, but who also does not believe that it commands spanking.

    The “rod” verses a) aren’t commands any more than “If your right eye offends, pluck it out” is a command and b) aren’t teaching corporal punishment.

    Regardless of what one’s preacher may have taught about beating a sheep with a shepherd’s rod, or breaking its leg, that is NOT in the Bible and completely contradictory to the picture of Christ out shepherd who leaves the 99 and gathers up the 1 and carries him to safety. The Old and New Testaments are not in contradiction to each other, they are complimentary. Thus, we need to go back and see what the Old is actually teaching, that brings the New to where it is, to Jesus.

  8. TealRose says:

    I simply learned fear, anger, hatred and a whole lot of other nasty things.

    I dont believe either that the Bible does tell us to spank children. I believe that God is Love – and that spanking / hitting and LOVE do not go together and cannot.

    I don’t and can’t live in ‘fear’ of God, I respect and love him and thank him for all the good things. I again, don’t feel that ‘fear’ and ‘love’ can be a mutual thing. I believe God wants us to love him not to fear him… the same with children and parents !

  9. Pingback: Spanking and Trust

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