Is Spanking Your Children Biblical?

spankingMy son was arching his back and throwing a massive, ridiculous fit in the middle of a restaurant the other day and my first response was to grab his chubby, obstinate little hand and look him square in the eyes, “Cade, I have to spank you if you keep it up.” And within a few more seconds of his tantrum, I swatted his wrist. And then my ears began to burn. Were people looking at me bizarrely? Should I have taken him into the bathroom? Is spanking unhealthy for my children? Am I going to be contacted by CPS?

Spanking is a touchy subject both inside and out of the church. All three of my siblings were spanked (one of us, my kid brother, more than any of the others). We all are extravagantly loved. We all turned out psychologically sound and still at 27, I live with a healthy fear of disobeying or grieving my parents’ hearts. Was it because I was spanked? No. And yes. It was because of their faithfulness to discipline me just as much as it is because of their faithfulness to love and cherish me. I knew my boundaries, and I also knew careful consequences that came into play as well. One of the best verses in defense of spanking is from Proverbs 13:24, “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” That’s an intense verse.

I don’t want to hate my children. I want to love them carefully.

My only C letter grade in college was in Old Testament Bible. My husband and I met in that class. But I didn’t do poorly because I was distracted by him. In fact, we sat entire auditorium away from each other most of the semester. When my Mom saw my grades that semester, my only defense was that my professor was preaching the wrong gospel. She was dubious, but I explained that from day one he undermined the reliability and accuracy of the written Word of God. I didn’t spend 12 years in Christian school for nothing. I came away from school and my home with a rich respect for the Bible. And the result of those kind of statements left me doodling most classes throughout the lecture. I probably could have tried harder. But I felt uninspired, and a more than a little resentful.

Call me old-school, but I believe the Bible has solutions for every human problem, and I believe it is 100% fail-proof. From sickness to relational difficulties to eating habits, I think God packed it all in there and all we need is the Holy Spirit breathing life into it to make the Word come alive for us. I’ve found the Word even has stuff to say about parenting. In my anger, do not sin (Ephesians 4:26), my words have the power of life and death for my kids (Proverbs 18:21), and even where to stand on spanking:

“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away,” Proverbs 22:15

“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die, punish them with the rod and you will save them from death.” Proverbs 23:13-14

“A rod and a reprimand impart wisdom, but a child left undisciplined disgraces its mother.” Proverbs 29:15

“Discipline your children, and they will give you peace; they will bring you the delights you desire.”

Proverbs 29:17

My first thought in spanking is this: if you’re a Believer, you have the Holy Spirit. And He teaches you all things. And the fruits of the Spirit include love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self control among others. So He teaches us how to discipline with love, in a peaceful and patient way, with kindness and gentleness, and always within the parameters of self-control.

The minute any of my parenting discipline begins to leave those Holy Spirit boundaries, then I am now disciplining out of my flesh, and that is not helpful for my kids.

The pastor of the church I attended during college had parenting tips that were so revolutionary for me that even then, without kids, without a husband, and without any immediate plans to gain either, I still soaked up the advice.

1. Spanking should always be explained, ie: “Baby girl, God’s word tells me that if I don’t spank you, I don’t love you because I am not training you to obey. If you don’t obey me, you won’t know how to obey God later in life. I don’t want to spank you, and it hurts my heart to do it. But your behavior leaves me no choice, and so I have to spank you, because I do love you and I want you to keep growing up and learning how to behave in public and in private.”

2. Spanking should ALWAYS be without anger on the parent’s side. If you’re still angry, take a few minutes, go by yourself somewhere, and wait until your temper has cooled. Then explain the correction and discipline.

3. Spanking should end with restoration. Restoration includes a hug, an “I love you”, a clear pronouncement that although a child’s behavior wasn’t great, that child is still so precious and great and their favor with the parent hasn’t been and will not be jeopardized based on their performance.

I’m not perfect in following these principles. But these are my goals. I want my children to know that spanking isn’t something I get pleasure out of, and it’s something I do because I obey God and fear Him. Maybe at 4 Eden doesn’t understand the whole of it, but she also knows my heart towards her is trustworthy.

Another important key to spanking is knowing your child. For my daughter, spanking looks like the world’s most wimpy tap on her behind. She dissolves into tears and it always ends in a profuse amount of hugging and kissing. It never takes more than that gentle pat for her attention to be caught. But for my son, the wild little man of God that he is, spanking doesn’t even phase him. Most days he just stares at me in dubious fashion, his little eyes saying, “Mom, you call that a spanking?” But I intend to keep on being consistent, and keep the boundaries fixed. I want him to know that there are boundaries in our family, and he operates within those boundaries just like we all do.

I only have little kids so I’m not an expert on when to stop spanking, how hard, when or if to ever use an actual “rod” like the Bible says, or when to leave it up to Dad. But I think there is room in the Bible for us to all hear God together. If you’re concerned that you spank too much, or too hard, get accountability on it. Invite a friend whose walk with God you trust into your life and ask them to hold you accountable. If you’re worried because you weren’t spanked as a kid and you’re afraid of what it might do to your own kids, I would encourage you to just keep working it out with Jesus. He won’t let you miss the boat in parenting if you’re faithful to obey His word and listen to Him. Or maybe you were abused when you were little, and you could never physically spank your own child. God knows all of the intricacies of our individual journeys, and I am not anybody’s judge. But I’d encourage all of us to bring the methods and ways we discipline before God’s loving eyes and to His life-giving word, and ask Him for help. Like James 1:5 says, “If any of you needs wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault.” So don’t just take my word for it, take His.


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