Updated: Mar 2
"I got spanked and it didn't ruin me."
"She just needs her butt whipped."
Usually, those sentiments are expressed with sharp annoyance in rude tones at the most challenging moments for parents.
I've heard these phrases time and again. Although I am not ready to join the "spanking ruins their psyche" stance, I do believe we owe our children a more specialized plan for discipline. Spanking is too often used as blanket to cover all discipline matters, instead of carefully weighed for it's effectiveness.
When I hear those sentiments, I sharply think...yes, maybe it didn't ruin you, but did it teach you not to make abrasive comments to others in their discomfort in difficult parenting moments?
Does she need her "butt whipped", or do I need to think of a plan to teach her to respect others as they have a conversation? What does the best plan of action look like with that end result in mind?
Spanking is effective in that it stops the annoying or offensive behavior, but usually in a way that feels chaotic to all parties. Mom and Dad have lost patience, feel helpless, have lost control of the situation, and don't have the brain power in the moment (because who has slept since the 2nd trimester) to think of a way to address the problem, to they use force to stop the momentum of the moment.
Anybody can whack a kid a get a result, but after a while, that child looses respect. They start to say, "didn't hurt", or they retreat and withdraw. Then usually the parent's next plan of action is more "licks" or a change of instrument : from spoon or hand to belt or tree branch.
Often, we can look back at the chaos in our childhoods and laugh. As an adult we chuckle about the spankings, or even brag at how we outwitted them. We remember our little selves running, hiding, or choosing our own whipping stick. Memes of mother's wielding tree branches and sandals, or Dad's with belts abound.
The look and sounds of exasperation from our parents is even humorous to us, somewhat endearing into our own childrearing years, unless the spankings and beatings ever evolved into something of reckless harm.
We remember the antics, but do we remember the lesson learned?
Usually, it is something along the lines of:
Don't get on Mom's bad side when she is in a hurry
Don't make Dad mad
Find the best branch
Hide the wooden spoons
Stuff rags in your pants
But where is the actual discipline?
In the Bible, the word discipline is best described as "teaching". When we discipline, we hope to teach our children how to be respectful and good stewarding adults.
We owe it to our kids to teach them well, even if it feels like we don't have the energy to come up with appropriate solutions that address specific problems. That's what strength from the Holy Spirit is for us for, and that is why the buzz word - self care - is so important. We can't teach when we are worn out.
There are at least 4 questions that every parent should ask before they spank.
This may mean we have to have our own "time out", to pause, pray, breath deep. Those responses will elicit much more respect from children who see a controlled countenance over a frazzled, screaming, grabbing one.
Find calm, and ask:
1) How old is the child?
Easy, right? Focus on Family resources suggest that a child older than preschool age needs to have spanking in the phase out period. By big kid age, they can be taught lessons on how to repay broken items with chores and allowance money, or by having things they care about being taken away from a while. There are scores of children's books that address specific issues of manner and respect that are available online with a click. The time invested in reading these routinely and recalling them will cut the time needed in direct discipline.
Children preschool age, (BUT NOT INFANT AGE!!!) do not respond to reason yet, and do not understand danger, do respond to a tap on the bottom to get their attention. Other important questions must be asked before swatting a young child, which I will address further. Note that this time window is very short!
Infants do not need discipline, other than telling them what to do, over and over again, redirecting their attention. A baby does not choose to "be bad". Baby stages are all about needs and having them met. Attention is a need, especially in our smart phone era. It is not manipulative for a child to need your attention instead of a screen. Young children check our eyes for contact every few moments when they are young: it is an important part of infant development - "I am doing this right? Am I safe? Are you here to help me?". It's our job meet these needs as the child grows from thinking that they are a part of our bodies (literally the mom's at her breast) to being safely in control of their own.
According to Focus on the Family, it is never appropriate to spank a teenager or near teenager. At this age, they need the respect to be related to in a reasonable manner, teaching them perspective, responsibility, and grace. I do not remember where I read this, so I hate to not be able to credit it, but in the earlier years (big kid) there are rules, rules, teaching them rules. As they come into adulthood, they need grace upon grace.
Literally, they have areas in their brain that are not matured yet, even though their bodies look grown. They do stupid things, but are old enough to learn from the shame of their own mistakes. If we want good relationships with our children as adults, we must set the foundation of respect, grace, trust, and truth with them as is appropriate in each stage. Freedom to fail and learn, knowing that family is unconditional is so important; even if that means that parents express love and care through strict laws of no drugs or sex in their house, to the point of the adult child moving out and supporting herself for a time. The laws of the house stand, but the child is always welcomed home and given dignity after terrible mistakes. A relationship of grace and love can be the lighthouse in the worst moments until a grown child longs for the protection and security he had back home.
Read the Prodigal Son parable.
Note it doesn't say, "and the father reminded the son how stupid he was and shamed him ever after, ruining what could have been a pleasant relationship, and setting himself up to have distance between him and future grandchildren because the son could stand the nagging and shame no longer". Amen.
2) Am I angry?
Hold up! A parent should never spank out of anger, period. Cool down, and think of what would best teach the child not to repeat this behavior. Chances are, a better, albeit more time consuming but connecting way is available. Ask the Holy Spirit for help and wisdom.
3) What am I modeling?
I have seen before when a young child, almost big kid, may do something impulsive like hit or push, or accidentally rear that sweet fuzzy head into a parents nose. The next impulse of the parent is a reactive hit on the butt. It's a quick and thoughtless retaliation, much like the thoughtless behavior the child just exhibited. Its a back and forth impulse party where no one is fit to be an example. What do we want to model for our children?
All the time, I hear the exasperation in my son's voice as he tries to boss around his little brother. He sounds just like me. It is a gnawing, annoying sound and he learned it from me. I can't stand to hear it, so I must stop it myself. They mirror what we model. If we want our children to be calm and controlled, so we must be.
When I was growing up, I had an adult figure who was obsessed with respect. He would curse and scream and yell, and then complain that no one gave him respect. As you can figure, he didn't give any himself. We must model what we want mirrored.
We must model what we want mirrored.
We aren't victims to our kid's terrible behavior. They are our mirrors to gauge how well we handle the issues of respect, and how dedicated we have been to consistency and calm. If you have not been in control of yourself, don't despair. I have read before (idk where, sorry) that if a leader is right only a small percent of the time, he or she is seen as good and effective. So, there is grace for parents. We won't ruin our kids as we so often screw up, as long as we are loving them well, seeking maturity ourselves, and safe guarding our homes against abuse. God designed parenthood to be a learning process for us too, and I believe He programmed children to be more forgiving and forgetful (literally) than adults are, but we should never take those margins for granted. We should always strive to operate through the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit as we parent our children.
The fruits of the Holy Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, forbearance, gentleness, faith, modesty, self-control, and chastity
4) Lastly, what do we want them to learn?
This question takes time, and we have to breath through the frustration that kid's rebellion and exploration brings. They learn how the world works through breaking rules. That is the most effective way to learn. Instead of being personally offended by my children's testing of boundaries, it helps to remind myself that they are wired this way by God, to learn what is appropriate. I expect that they will test me and the rules I uphold, and I try to have plans in place to address infractions. It is even better if the children know the plans too, so they can see the snowball effects of their behavior pan out just the way I have taught them that their disobedience will. Can I admit, this is so tiring? It takes forethought and lots of prayer, but it fosters trust and peace amidst child uprisings at home and out and about. I draw from the Holy Spirit.
Some last thoughts - it is never ok to spank a foster child, whatever the age or a newly adopted child. And really by the time the adopted child has grown some in your home, that appropriate time window has most likely passed.
We can't lean on the crutch of spanking for long before it becomes inappropriate and ineffective, so we just as well spend some effort thinking of more specialized ways to address specific behaviors. #rationalization #reason #naturalconsesquences Even in the Bible if we look at the laws in Leviticus, the spirit of those laws is sometimes making an example for the community, but is usually reparation among parties - making things right. We should aim to teach our children how to make things right with other people when they sin against them by hitting, interrupting, snatching, yelling, or breaking.
I want to add, that some ways are just simply being involved. For example, I was in a long line with my kids yesterday. We we got stuck right by the candies and magazines. I was so tempted to take out my phone and scroll, or even hand it to them ( sometimes that is the ticket!) but I got their attention as they were grabbing candy and starting making them read magazine headlines. I kept their attention a full 10 minutes standing still. If I had escaped through facebook, half the candy aisle would have ended up in my cart and fussing, nagging, protesting, and probably a swat to the bottom and crying throughout the Kroger would have ensued.
We can choose better if we don't disassociate and distract ourselves from the stressful moment, but rather lean in and control the tone. I told them they needed to stop, put the candy items back, and provided them with something to do, at a time when them trying to entertain themselves with the candy aisle was undesirable behavior. I parented them.
I want to leave you with some resources that have helped me in finding more thoughtful solutions than spanking children.
https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/is-spanking-biblical/ ( Some great unpacking of what the "rod of discipline" means in the Bible)
Happy Parenting, Loves!
We are all learning and maturing together, so don't afraid to talk about your struggles to a friend, especially someone who has respectful kids and shows the fruits of the Spirit in her own life.