To Spank or Not to Spank?

The Great Spanking Debate
Spank or not spank

If you work with Christian parents, it’s tempting to stay far away from the spanking debate. There are the “never spank” parents, the “immediate obedience or get spanked” parents, and everything in-between. Try to have a conversation with parents from varying positions and you’ll see how quickly this issue can become overwhelming.

And yet… here we are. Talking about whether to spank or not to spank.

Because you matter. And your fears and concerns and feelings of being overwhelmed with parenting and discipline matter. 

We often get asked, “What about spanking?” And we want to offer some thoughtful perspectives.

You are not alone in your confusion or doubts about spanking (or not spanking). Many God-honoring Christian parents wrestle with the issue. Today I want to specifically speak to the many parents who deeply respect biblical teaching, but who are uncomfortable with what they’ve been taught about spanking.

Everybody has advice on spanking

One parent we talked with explained a conversation she had with her pastor about her daughter’s difficult behavior. She told us that the pastor’s advice was brief and to the point. He said, “When she gets that way you need to be consistent and firm in asking her to stop, and spank her immediately and without question whenever she is defiant.”

She wanted to know what we thought of his answer. 

This scenario brought up several thoughts.

For instance, I wonder why the pastor did not ask what about the child’s behavior was frustrating and difficult. I wonder why he didn’t seek more understanding of the situation or the child’s perspective on what was happening.

I wonder if, by so quickly prescribing spanking, the pastor may have actually promoted the mother’s disobedience to Ephesians 6:4, which says, “Parents, do not exasperate your children.”

The problem with the so-called “rod” verses in the Bible

It is troubling to us that the answer of spanking is so quickly given and justified in the name of six Proverbs that speak about “the rod.” You cannot ignore the rest of scripture, and especially the New Testament, which is filled with stories of grace and mercy. 

The spanking-oriented verses are proverbs, after all, not imperatives. And even those verses are interpreted differently by different Christian scholars.

That doesn’t mean the Bible includes any imperatives against spanking either. It doesn’t. We don’t believe spanking ought to be absolutely ruled out, just that it’s been far too strongly offered as a primary form of discipline. That’s why it’s essential to proceed with humility.

To learn more, download our FREE Perspectives on Spanking ebook.

What’s behind the spanking?

Understanding the why is as important as what happens. Why do you spank? What’s motivating the spanking? Here’s what I see happening so often with parents who spank.

Parents get angry because of what is important to them. 

So start with the Foundation: What’s going on inside of me when I spank?

“Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). 

With some honest self-reflection, a lot of parents find that their motive for spanking is about their own selfishness and need for control. 

You may come to realize that spanking occurs more when you and your child are stressed. Stopping and asking if you’d still spank your child if you’d had enough sleep or a good day at work might be a helpful motivation test.

Moreover, because spanking doesn’t require a lot of self-reflection, when parents start to self-reflect, they often come to the conclusion that they’re spanking their kids for the very things they themselves are doing.

  • You may find that your children don’t listen well because you don’t model listening well. 
  • You may find that kids whine because they watch you whine, or complain because they hear you complain. 

We’ve seen many kids spanked for doing exactly what they watched their parents do in a more grown-up form. Changing your behavior in these cases may be the first step to guiding your child to better behavior.

Do parents sometimes misbehave when they discipline?

I once asked the 16-year-old son of a pastor, “Do you think, when your parents discipline you for misbehaving, that they ever misbehave in the way they discipline?” Without hesitating the young man said, For sure! Only their misbehavior is much more refined than mine, and there’s no one to hold them accountable for it.”

Our thought is that there is far too much spanking done in the name of immediate obedience by parents who are exasperated, not Spirit-led. 

The Bible doesn’t tell kids to not exasperate their parents. It tells parents to not exasperate their children.

But let’s be honest, it is easier to practice firm discipline in order to get immediate compliance and a sense of control. It takes more work and time to grasp the complex dynamics between yourself and your children, let alone the teaching needed to lead children to true repentance and forgiveness. 

Parents don’t typically want to be accountable or responsible for their own junk. That’s too much work. They just want the kids to be accountable. It’s easier. But it’s not better. It exasperates their children.

Note: It is also true that being too permissive exasperates children in a different way. So what we’re advocating for is that parents take firm authority for the discipline of their children while learning to do it with more spirit-led love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control (See Galatians 5:22 – 6:1)

6 thoughtful questions about spanking:

The next time you’re inclined to spank your child, ask yourself some of these questions:

  • Am I feeling out of control?
  • Might I be sinning against my child?
  • Is this the best way to reach my child’s heart?
  • Am I disciplining my child for something they’ve seen me do?
  • Might a different consequence better help my child value doing what’s right instead of just fearing doing what’s wrong?
  • Does my child see in my eyes the love I have for him or her?

The answers to these questions can help guide you more effectively as you consider how to discipline.

We’ve also written a much more thorough e-book on this topic. If you’d like to dig deeper into the scriptures and science of spanking, download the FREE Perspectives on Spanking ebook.

I’m glad I don’t get immediately spanked every time I don’t immediately obey.

How about you?