My grandfather told me this funny story from when he was a boy. I think I asked him if he ever got in trouble at school. He said, “Oh yeah. One day I brought in a switch I made for my teacher, to use on the other kids. The day wasn’t over before that thing was used on me.” And get this, he laughed when he told me this. What? That’s not supposed to happen, right? You mean to say that getting whooped, in front of the class no less, and then recalling the vivid details of that horrid event didn’t cause him to become unglued due to the years of mental anguish he suffered? That’s right. And like myself and most people I know, while it wasn’t always done correctly, it often achieved its purpose.
Note: Here comes the disclaimer. I want to make it clear that spanking shouldn’t be the only tool in the toolbox and for some kids it will not be effective. I also want to acknowledge that some people have been both emotionally and physically abused through this kind of discipline. I am not advocating a ‘spank them into submission’ approach here. Whenever we discipline our children it is for the goal of building them up and bettering them. Sometimes those lessons hurt.
Spankings, Butt Whoopins, Whippings, and Corporal Punishment
When I was a kid they spanked in school. Or, rather, they paddled. There were tall tales of the electric paddle in the principal’s office and stories about the aerodynamic shape of the paddle that made it lightning fast and would literally rip the arse right off a kid. I have been on the positive and negative ends of discipline with the paddle, where in some cases it was used as the only means to discipline me and others it was reserved for the worst offenders – still me – and was administered with extreme prejudice. I got paddled a lot, and truth be told, it didn’t always work. Well, it would work for the day, usually, but either I really hated school or I loved being a class clown and before too long I was being sent back to the principal’s office.
This may be part of the reason we initially decided not to spank our boys. Add on to that, growing up in a society which promoted a ‘better, gentler’ way of raising children, it seemed like the right thing to do. We were just going to love our kids enough and be good enough parents that we wouldn’t have to spank. Unfortunately, that didn’t work. I heard someone later say, “You know what they call kids that are just ‘loved’ a lot? Brats!” We found this out when our now 15-year-old was just 2, or maybe a little older. He was slowly becoming a little terror and I felt like we had only one option left. When I administered his first spanking, it was like a light went off. “Holy crap, these guys aren’t f’ing around!” is how I imagine his little brain processing the event. It worked for him. For our other son, not so much. He would often be spanked and not show any immediate change in behavior. It got to the point that I realized I was disciplining out of anger and not because I knew it would achieve the desired outcome. I had to find a different strategy.
Why Do We Spank?
“Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” – Proverbs 13:24 NIV
There has not been a more controversial quote in regards to spanking or corporal punishment than Proverbs 13:24. Some say that the ‘rod’ mentioned is a tool used by the shepherd to guide and lead the sheep, not to beat them. Others say it is advocating disciplining your children by hitting them with a stick, plain and simple. There is a complimentary verse in Proverbs 29:15 which I think helps:
“A rod and a reprimand impart wisdom, but a child left undisciplined disgraces its mother.” – Proverbs 29:15 NIV
It seems to me that the rod is separate from the reprimand and so indicates that the rod is in fact a rod or reed and is meant to inflict a bit of pain. If you’re a Christian parent this is something you need to make a decision on.
Regardless, Christians aren’t the only people who discipline their children through spanking so it’s really a moot point. The question is, why do people spank at all? We do it for a number of reasons.
Order in the Home
There is a proper order of the family and it includes children respecting their parents. As parents, we are in a position of authority. This doesn’t mean we can’t be questioned or corrected, but it does mean that we must be respected. There is no organization or functioning group of people whose leadership is constantly undermined that will last. It is our job to lay down the law and hold onto our position of respect. And get this, the respect may not be due us. You might be a terrible parent. But if there is going to be order on your ship, the captain (you) must be respected. Otherwise mutiny will occur. Disorder and disrespect are serious enough that spanking as a means of correction, along with reprimanding (more on that later), should be employed if necessary.
Pain is a Powerful Reminder
We are naturally averse to pain. At a young age, before we are able to think and reason on abstract subjects like disrespect, lying, unkindness, and disobedience, pain serves as a teaching tool. When a parent sees their toddler reaching for the wall socket, they might give them a pop on the hand so they associate it with pain before they experience the real and dangerous pain they otherwise would.
Sometimes the Lesson is that Important
The featured image is an old Liberty Mutual ad (click on it to see the full size). In it the dad says, “I never struck him before…but what could I do?” He goes on to tell about pulling out of his driveway and almost backing over his son who rode his bike too close to the parked cars. He is disciplining him out of love for his son’s life. He wants this lesson to stick so his boy doesn’t get run over by someone else.
Because We’re Angry
I can’t just list the positives here. Sometimes we spank our kids because we are angry at them. We might be angry because they continue to push the boundaries and we haven’t disciplined them yet, so we just get hotter and hotter until we explode. Other times we are angry because we have been inconvenienced or embarrassed by them. Unfortunately, this happens far too often and is one of the reasons corporal punishment has such a bad reputation. Spanking is not a tool to relieve our frustration.
What are the Benefits?
Over the years I have talked to a few guys about this subject and it is generally remembered with an almost nostalgic air. For most men, there is an odd sense of pride in remembering our early disciplining. It seems to mark a point in our life that we can look back on and remember just how naïve or arrogant or lazy or deceptive we were and how easily we were caught. Looking back on those times now, as an adult, we appear to ourselves as ridiculous, almost laughable. And, picturing our poor moms, dads, and grandparents having to spank us – we now being in their position – we feel for them and recognize how hard it must have been. We also recognize that they must have cared about us a lot if they were willing to spank us while they loved us. The way we were going to turn out was important to them and they didn’t take the easy road that so many advocate now.
It teaches us to accept our punishment
There is something to be said about being able to stand there and take your licks. Sure, someone may be holding your arm and you may be doing your best to get away, but still, you take your licks and move on. In life we will make mistakes, and manning up to them (being willing to accept them, and learn from them as well as take the earned consequences) is becoming a lost quality. People are constantly looking for a way out of the trouble they created. There is a growing number of people who are willing to blame-shift the entire outcome of their life rather than taking their licks and moving on.
It teaches us that we can be wrong and still be loved
This may be the greatest lesson we learn from being physically disciplined. You can be completely in the wrong, totally screw up, be smacked across the rear for it, and still be loved by your parents. How cool is that? In a world where people can’t seem to disagree with each other without being called a bigot, racist, zealot, or what-have-you, I think this attitude is sorely needed.
A Right Way and a Wrong Way
Before instituting any kind of discipline there should be the goal of teaching and correcting rather than just punishing for the sake of executing parental justice. This is honestly the hardest part for any parent. Usually we discipline in the moment and don’t give much thought to why we are doing it other than we want a certain behavior to stop. Here are some principles that can be helpful with any kind of discipline, not just spanking.
The Right Way
Reserve Spanking for Serious Offenses
Any kind of discipline that you use too often can become ineffective. I don’t know where the line is for “sparing the rod and spoiling the child” but I, personally, don’t think a kid should get lashes for every offense.
Set Punishments Beforehand
If a kid is given crayons and decides to draw on the wall, we like to think they should have known better, but, depending on their age, they may not. Would it be fair to spank them for this? I don’t think so. But they should be warned of the consequences next time and reminded often.
Don’t Threaten, Follow Through
I can’t stand to hear a parent threaten their child with some punishment and not follow through with it. Kids pick up on this very quickly and at a very young age. If you say you are going to do something, you best do it.
Tell Them Why
They don’t have to agree with the discipline or even agree that they were in the wrong, but they should be told what rule they broke and why they are being punished.
Wipe the slate clean. After the punishment is issued, let them know they are on good terms.
The Wrong Way
Don’t Spank When Angry (Most of the Time)
There are times when kids cross the line with such a serious infraction that they need immediate correction. However, these instances are rare. If you feel yourself getting heated it might be a good idea to remove yourself from the situation for a bit. If that isn’t an option, let the kid know that you are about to pop and to give you some space. It’s best not to spank or discipline out of anger if it can be avoided.
Don’t Call Them Names
When someone goes before a judge, even for serious offenses, they are doing so because they broke the law; it’s not personal. When we label our children and call them names and dump shame on them we are outside of the bounds of grace that discipline is supposed to show. It is one thing to wear out your son’s backside because he was smoking cigarettes and another to call him a dirty, lying, stealing, piece of trash just like his Uncle Joe. One is a temporary pain, the other is a lasting wound.
There is a difference between being stern and raising your voice in a commanding sense and all out screaming at your child. If you are in screaming mode you have obviously crossed into the anger zone. Screaming is a sign that you have lost control of the situation. At this point immediate discipline will likely be ineffective as the focus has turned from the rule that was broken, to a battle of wills.
This was a tough article to write because I feel there is so much caution I want to issue around this subject. It was also tough because it caused me to think back on how I badly mishandled this with my own boys. I have since apologized but it is still a tough thing to reflect on. However, instilling discipline in our children is so important that I thought it was necessary to go here. I think most of us have seen kids in stores, on the streets, and in schools, that could do with having their tail worn out…if it could be done out of love. The problem is that parents are often too willing to hit their kids and not discipline them. There is a difference.
Also, there are other tools in the parenting toolbox. Keeping kids on the right path isn’t always about punishment, it is also about encouragement and rooting out the deeper heart issues that keeps a defiant kid in constant trouble. Spending time with your kids, especially time outside, will do wonders for your relationship which makes your word and opinion carry more weight. If you can practice that, there’s a good chance spankings will be few and far between.