Saturday, March 27, 2010

The R's of Discipline

"Moreover your little ones and your children...who today have no knowledge of good and evil, they shall go in there; to them I will give it, and they shall possess it."--Deuteronomy 1:39

Now that I've shared why my husband and I will not be spanking our child, I thought I'd share some of the disciplinary tools we are planning to use to help and guide our little man through the confusing journey of growing up. I compiled a list, "The R's of Discipline" to sum up the basic principles and practical application.


The strategic use of distraction to transition very young children away from an undesired activity to a desirable one.


Teaching values, morals and good behavior to a child through verbal communication, games, reading books, drawing pictures, utilizing real-life experiences, being an example, training, and making opportunities to convey lessons as often and as creatively as possible.


Modeling the behavior and values ourselves that are expected from our children. Here's a powerful video that shows representation needs to be one of our highest priorities as parents..


Firmly and clearly addressing and correcting bad behavior. With young children firm language should also be accompanied by restraint or removal in a potentially harmful situation (like touching a hot stove or running towards the road).

Respect :

Showing the child the same respect we expect them to show us; respect for their feelings, perspective, situation, body, and voice.


Explaining the purpose behind a rule, restriction, correction or standard. Children are much more likely to behave if they know WHY they should behave in a certain way. The phrase "Because I said so" only plants the seeds of resentment.


Clearly and SIMPLY stating the behavior expected from a child and WHY it is expected on a regular basis, especially for younger children who have short attention spans.


Creating a clear set of fair standards for the home and life in general along with the principles behind those standards. So children KNOW what is expected from them.


Followup with consequences for bad behavior. If you have established that certain behaviors have certain consequences, follow through and don't make idle threats.


Repeatedly praising a child for good behavior and reaffirming your love for them no matter what their behavior is.


the consistent practice of discipline.


Strengthening the bond and trust between a parent and child. Many behavioral problems stem from broken relationships and lack of trust in this vital relationship. Seek honest communication, respect, and quality time with the child.


Acknowledging good behavior and going out of the way to associate behaving well with good experiences.


The use of time-outs, taking away privileges, rewards, objects of interests, etc., etc.,


Physically restricting a child from touching "no-no" items or from hurting themselves like during a temper tantrum or running out in the road.

Having children replace belongings they have broken or damaged.

This a basic principle that teaches a child responsibility for their actions and can be applied in different ways depending on the age and understanding of a child. If my toddler is playing with another child and purposefully breaks that child's toy out of frustration, then my toddler would be instructed to give the child one of their own toys of "equal value." If an older child damages or is careless with other people's belongings, that child would have to replace the damaged items with money from their allowance or work it off in some other way.

Realistic Consequences:

In a controlled environment AND within reason, allowing children to experience the natural consequences of their actions. If they refuse to eat a lunch, they cannot eat again until the next meal, if they refuse to do their own laundry, they have to wear dirty clothes until they do, if they are told to hold on tightly to their balloon and still let go, the balloon floats away and they lose it. There are countless ways to allow children to experience the logical conclusions to their actions. Here's a decent article explaining the concept further.

Regaining Order:

Establishing a controlled-environment in which a child's temper tantrum does not take over a social situation. For instance, if a toddler throws a temper tantrum at a restaurant because they want dessert now and refuses to calm down after being instructed to, the parent would immediately remove the child from the table, take them to the bathroom or the car, make sure they are safe, but allow them to choose their behavior. They can continue throwing a tantrum, but it will only keep them from the fun inside, will not get them what they want, and the parent will not even engage in a conversation with the child until they choose to compose themselves. Once the child has calmed themselves down, BEFORE bringing the child back inside, discuss their behavior, instruct them on how they must behave once they go back if they want to stay in the restaurant. Repeat process if necessary. The same principle can be carried out while shopping or just at home. It's time-consuming and requires the parent to sacrifice their social time as well. But if this practiced consistently, it will not have to be done that much or for long. The child will soon learn that temper tantrums simply do not work.


Anticipating a child's behavioral tendencies (based on temperament and experience) and creating a plan before bad behavior arises. Discipline sessions go much smoother if a parent already knows how to respond to unwanted behaviors. Also, by being acquainted with a child's behavioral tendencies, a parent can avoid putting a the child in overly-tempting situations unnecessarily. For instance, don't take a temper-tantrum prone child on a long shopping during nap time. Make it as easy as possible for the child to do what is right by avoiding situations that are too much for the child to handle. Don't surround the child with things he cannot touch. Maximize the outlets to play and explore and limit the chances to get into trouble.

These are some of the disciplinary techniques we have chosen, what are some of the disciplinary techniques you find work best in your family?

Here are the links to the rest of this series:

We're Coming Out of the Closet...

Spanking and the Bible

Are the "Rod" Verses Figurative or Literal?

Why do some Christian Reject Spanking?

Spanking and The Imperfect Parent

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spanking and the Imperfect Parent

I am a violent person.

Well, I was a violent person and at times still desire to be one. By violent, I do not mean that I killed someone or beat someone up (except that one bully in the fourth grade), but that I struggled for years with fits of rage, during which I have thrown plates, punched walls, kicked doors, and even slapped, pinched, and pushed my husband. The early years of my marriage, a particularly angry and hurting time in my life, were filled with episodes of such unbridled rage that the ONLY relief came by hitting, punching, kicking, screaming or breaking stuff. Thankfully, my anger has dulled since those days as I began the long arduous process of healing from childhood wounds. I am happy to say that those uncontrolled behaviors have been tamed (now if I could only get my tongue under control!). But to this day, my husband reserves the skin on his elbow to offer me a "pre-approved" pinching spot to help me out when I am on the brink because when I get angry, the desire to act out in physically destructive ways rears its ugly head.

All that to say, I know myself. I, of all people, absolutely cannot give myself permission to spank under the guise of biblical mandates and loving discipline. It would not be so. Even though my mind and heart are wedded to the ideals of nonviolence and grace-based everything, I still live in a body that likes violence and likes to see people get what is coming to them.

Some have said that within every human being, there rages a war, a war between "good and evil." This analogy refers to the complicated web of conflicts and contradictions that make up the character of us humans. We possess profound beauty and potential for greatness as image-bearers of the Living God, and we also can produce disturbing ugliness and destruction as fallen, broken creatures.

So while the nonviolent and insanely gracious teachings of Jesus have won my heart, my base instincts prefer a theology of retribution, retaliation and vengeance. The teachings of Jesus have won me over precisely because of this reality. "Turn the other cheek" is beyond beautiful to me because I know firsthand how ugly the desires behind "an eye for an eye" really are.

My son is nine months old, and already there have been times when he cries in the middle of the night or will not settle down to eat or be changed that I want to give him a good whack. But this desire has nothing to do with discipline. This desire comes from the part of me that is selfish--the part that is put out and frustrated because MY sleep is being interrupted, because MY time is being infringed upon and because my innocent, precious son can't "get with the program." The desire to whack stems from the desire to relieve frustration. That is the ugly truth. But these are fleeting desires that quickly pass as I remind myself of the teachings of Jesus, the beauty and innocence of children, and my own shortcomings. The theology that preaches spanking would, in my case, foolishly nourish those momentary selfish desires and justify them under the guise of discipline. So, while biblical interpretation plays a major role in transforming my opinions about spanking, this decision is also informed by the painful awareness of my own weaknesses in this area.

I don't know what other people experience while spanking their children, but I do know that when Christians preach spanking as the only godly form of discipline, it puts Christians like me in a very precarious situation. I am not alone in this. When I began this series, I started by announcing my husband and I were coming out of the closet because choosing not to spank is a very controversial decision in church world. I have received quite a few e-mails from Christians who feel pressured, bullied, and biblically-guilted into spanking by their friends, churches and christian culture in general. I hope for someone, somewhere, my story and struggle can be a source of encouragement. And hopefully, the Church can better foster open and honest dialogue about this issue and the possible repercussions of spanking in the hands of imperfect parents like myself.

Why Do Some Christians Reject Spanking?

Since sharing our decision not to spank our child, I've received a lot of feedback, both positive and negative. In general, I've noticed that the biggest misconception about Christians who reject spanking is our motivation for doing so. Many in the pro-spanking camp portray non-spanking Christians as "world-pleasers," just going along with "the world's wisdom" instead of "God's wisdom." But the truth is, non-spanking Christians hold their convictions precisely because of the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament, not because of the advice of Dr. Phil or The Super Nanny.

And that's why the "rod" verses in the Book of Proverbs must be viewed through the prism of the New Testament. Even if those verses are NOT figurative, they can still be legitimately superseded by the higher standards of love and grace found in the New Testament. The Old Testament has been fulfilled through Christ. In Christ, we have a fuller picture of how God, as Father, relates to us, as His Children, and in turn, we, as parents, have a fuller picture of how to relate to our own children. We have Christ's example of nonviolence, overcoming evil with good, disciplining through teaching, unconditional love, mercy, grace, compassion, gentleness, kindness, patience, and self-sacrifice. We have been given the Holy Spirit to teach, guide, and convict. In light of these "developments," many Christians find themselves conflicted about using physical retribution to force children into compliance, let alone to bring about true repentance. Our understanding of the teachings of Jesus lead us to believe in grace-based discipline (which will be the subject of another post).

This conviction about forgoing corporal punishment, is much like the slue of other Old Testament practices that Christians have abandoned because of the fulfillment of the law and the higher callings of Christ. For instance, Christ updated "eye for an eye" with "turn the other cheek." He updated the callous allowances for divorce to a higher standard because of the hardness of men's hearts. We no longer abide by dietary restrictions, though eating shrimp is famously labeled an abomination in the Old Testament. We no longer engage in the harsh punishment, such as stoning people for behaviors like adultery (Duet. 22:23-24), fornication (Duet. 22: 13-21), or breaking the sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36). We also do not stone rebellious children (Duet. 21:18-21), or put to death children who curse or attack their parents (Exodus 21:15, Leviticus 20:9).

Likewise, much of the content of the Book of Proverbs, must be understood in the context of its relationship to Law of Moses, the legal system of the time, and all of the Old Testament must be filtered through the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Randall Heskett explains in Interpretation Journal:

"The book of Proverbs can only be appreciated and correctly understood in an environment where the Law of Moses is the legal orientation. Without this understanding, the book has no real context. Remove it from this context and you have chaos. This also makes sense even from the very beginning of the book of Proverbs...Solomon, in the first proverb also urges his readers to "..hear the instruction of thy father, and do not forsake the law of your mother.” The word for “law” is the Hebrew word “torah” which is used numerous times to describe the “law of Moses.” The point is, all of the information that you find in the book of Proverbs was produced within a legal and religious environment where the Law of Moses was the governing religious system."

Of course, many of the standards of the OT carry over into the NT. The ones that do are reiterated in the NT, but no where in the NT are we told to physically strike children, though there are many passages that address the parent-child relationship. We are told to love, teach, train, discipline, and educate, but never to physically strike. In fact, when Paul lists the qualifications for leadership in the church, he requires that leaders must be a "no striker," (1 Timothy 3:3). And a few verses later, when Paul calls for leaders to have obedient children, he does not make an exception for disciplining children. Samuel Martin, author of Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me, expounds on Paul's "no striker" requirement:

"There are no exceptions given. He should not strike his neighbors, he should not strike his co-workers, he should not strike his wife, and he should not strike his children. In the Bible verse that follows the one that says that a pastor should not be a striker, the Bible says that the pastor should have "his children in subjection with all gravity." If striking the children was meant to be used as one of the means to keep the children in subjection with all gravity, then this would have been an excellent occasion to give spanking as an exception to the commandment to be "no striker", but no exception is given."

The absence of a single clear instruction to physically strike a child in the New Testament combined with the overall heart of the New Testament leads many of us to raise our children without resorting to hitting. Parents have a responsibility to discipline their children and teach them right from wrong, but many of us just don't believe spanking is an appropriate tool for the task, and in the long run, we believe it does way more harm than good.

Another good resource for the non-spanking Christian position is Rick Creech's article over at Bible Gems.

You can read my posts on the figurative interpretations of the rod verses here, spanking and the bible here, and our original "coming out of the closet" post here.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Are the "Rod" Verses Literal or Figurative?

"Spare the rod, spoil the child."-- A phrase often mistakenly attributed to the Bible, but really comes from a 1664 satirical poem by Samuel Bulter entitled Hudibras and is actually describing a sex act.

The Book of Proverbs is part of the Bible's "Wisdom Literature." Using short and poetic sayings, the writers (whom most scholars believe to be Solomon, Hezekiah, and possibly Joseph, son of Jacob) convey the principles and practices of wisdom. And while these truths are timeless, they must be understood in the context of the book's intrinsic style and the culture from which it came.

Being wisdom literature, the verses naturally consist of metaphor, similes, and hyperbole. And the "rod verses" are no exception. To demand that these verses be applied literally quickly raises some problems. For one, should all the proverbs be applied literally as many spanking advocates demand the rod verses be? Should those who overindulge themselves and commit gluttony literally take a knife and slit their own throats as Proverbs 23:1-2 recommends? No sane person would teach that. The writer is making a point about the severity of gluttony and the need to restrain oneself, not advocating suicide.

Another proverb uses the rod in a clearly figurative fashion:

"In the mouth of the foolish is a rod of pride: but the lips of the wise shall preserve them."--Proverbs 14:3

Obviously there is not a literal rod coming out of a fool's mouth, but "a rod of pride" is a word picture to describe the nature of pride. Likewise, "the rod of correction" need not be a literal rod used to physically hit a child. A rod can simply symbolize verbal correction, teaching, creating boundaries, a constant influence, and giving consequences that teach a child self-control, responsibility, and right from wrong. None of these goals require resorting to hitting. All the "rod verses" (Proverbs 13:24, Proverbs 22:15, Proverbs 23:13, Proverbs 23:14, and Proverbs 29:15) can legitimately be seen in a figurative light. The "rod" is a symbol for authority, guidance, training and teaching--in other words, discipline. Plus, since the rod is most likely a reference to a shepherd leading sheep, it must be noted that a shepherd did not use a rod to beat sheep, but to guide them along the right paths and to fight off predators.

So one does not have to spank in order to take the bible seriously and remain faithful to the these proverbs.

Ironically, for all the talk of "taking the bible literally," these verses are not even applied literally in Christian spanking circles. The word used for "rod" is shebet and is most often used in the scripture to refer to a shepherd's staff, walking stick, or ruler's scepter, which is rather large and thick. There are other Hebrew words for "smaller" or "thinner" rods, like the the word matteh, which is a branch or vine, or the word choter, which is a branch/twig type rod, but neither of these terms are used.

Most spanking advocates carry out spankings with their hands, a wooden spoon, a belt, a small paddle, or some other small object. But the word shebet does not call for any such instrument. If these verses are to be read and applied literally, then an actual rod should be employed. And I don't know any parents who would consider spanking their children with such a large, menacing, potentially damaging object.

The word shebet is used 36 other times in the Scriptures. Most of these uses are clearly figurative, symbolizing the authority of God, nations, people (both wicked and righteous), and the heritage of God. Almost all of these instances use "the rod" to convey the image of a shepherd's staff or a ruler's staff, and only in a couple of instances is the rod used in connection to literally striking another person. And each of those instances are found in the Old Testament and are addressed to fully grown adults.

Another interesting point is that the proverbs in question are addressing a parent using the rod on their "child." But the Hebrew word here is na'ar, which literally means "he who shakes off" or "he who shakes himself free." It is most commonly used to describe teenage boys or young men who have yet to marry. The very first chapter of proverbs is addressed to a "na'ar," which is rightly translated there as "young man." The only time this term is ever applied to a baby or young child is in two extraordinary cases. Moses is called na'ar only after he is sent down the river and found by the Egyptians. This makes sense since he was "shaken loose" from his real mother at an abnormally young age. We also find that Samuel as a young boy is called na'ar after his mother takes him to live at the temple. Again, here we have a child being shaken loose from a parent before the normal age. Samuel Martin, author of "Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me," points out that:

"This word is found over 200 times in the Bible.There are some poetical uses of this phrase 'naar,' but the vast majority of these texts refer to younger men or women who have yet to marry."

Also, Proverbs 23:14 declares that beating a child with the rod will save his soul from hell. This is also not a literal phrase, nor do spanking advocates take it literally, since we (and they) do not believe salvation can be achieved through physical punishment or any other means besides God's grace through Jesus Christ. This is just more evidence to the figurative nature to these proverbs.

So if one insists that these rod verses are literal and call for the corporal punishment of children, then they must use a literal shebet rod to do it, only use it to hit a male child who is a teenager or young man still under his parents' care, and teach that the very act of hitting can save a person from hell. Most spanking advocates start spanking children as young as four months and recommend stopping by time the child reaches the age of 6 through 9. But there is absolutely no biblical basis for this. It may be wise to reconsider the meaning behind the rod imagery in Proverbs, because the so-called literal reading is neither taught literally, nor carried out literally. But the meaning behind these metaphors are full of wisdom and truth to be lived out by parents committed to their children and their God.

To read a more in depth analysis on the words shebet and na'ar (and the non-spanking perspective in detail) see Samuel Martin's book, which can be read for free online, "Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me: Christians and the Spanking Controversy.

Also see Parenting Freedom and Arms of Love Family Fellowship for some good resources.

The next post will focus on another lens through which The Book of Proverbs (and the entire Old Testament) should be viewed through: The New Testament.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Spanking and The Bible

“Recognize that your children are miniature versions of yourself. Learn to think in terms of Adam and Christ, sin and grace. That itself will help you realize why God has given you the command not to exasperate your children.” --Sinclair Ferguson

So, my husband and I came out of the closet about our decision not to spank. Many factors contributed to our decision. And the first consideration was the Bible.

Spanking. Is it biblical? This is the big question, because for many in the spanking camp, the issue does not come down to practical results or passion for spanking for spanking's sake, it becomes an issue of being faithful to the Bible. If the Bible taught parents never to take their kids to the circus, parents would comply, not because they found any obvious dangers/evils present in the circus itself, but because the Bible forbids it. With spanking, there are indeed some who say, it works best practically and others who say it's one of those "God's ways are higher than our ways" concepts.

But what does the Bible actually say on the subject? (Of course, there are a myriad of interpretations of the Bible, some in conflict with each other, so I am not claiming that I am just so smart that I've figured it all out, but based on my studying, praying, and conviction, I am settled on how to proceed for our family on this issue.)

So, there are six verses in Proverbs that appear to support corporal punishment for children.

Proverbs 13:24: He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.

Proverbs 19:18: Discipline your son while there is hope, And do not desire his death.

Proverbs 22:15:Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.

Proverbs 23:13: Do not withhold correction from a child, For if you beat him with a rod, he will not die.

Proverbs 23:14: You shall beat him with a rod, And deliver his soul from hell.(Sheol)."

Proverbs 29:15: "The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame."

These six verses alone make up the pro-spanking position. No where else, and especially no where in the New Testament, are we told to spank children.

Proverbs should be read through a couple of lenses. One, it's original relationship to The Law Moses, the reigning law of the time and then through the higher teachings of Jesus found in the New Testament.

There are two main views among the non-spanking christian crowds and they often overlap:

1.Proverbs, a book of wisdom written in correlation to the law of Moses that contains poetry, metaphors, similes, and hyperbole, renders the infamous "rod" verses as symbolic imagery, not meant to be taken literally. The "rod" is not meant to advocate corporal punishment, but represents a symbol of authority, guidance, training, protection and teaching. Thus, a parent is not required to dish out physical retribution for bad behavior in order to be faithful to meaning of rod imagery portrayed in Proverbs.

2. Proverbs, though inspired by God, is still part of the Old Testament which has been fulfilled and Christians are now called to a higher standard reflected in the Way of Jesus Christ. Thus, physical retribution is now superseded much like the "eye for an eye" mentality and stoning prescriptions for sinful behavior were superseded by the higher standards of Christ.

Both of these camps like to point out that so-called "literalists" do not even apply these verses literally (more on that later.).

Those are the alternate understandings of these scriptures. The next posts will examine the evidence for these views.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

We're Coming Out of the Closet...

And it may be the second hardest closet to come out of amidst conservative christian culture. My husband and I have made a commitment NOT to spank our child. This decision has come off the heels of much research, experience, prayer, and conviction.

I considered keeping this information private, as I do with much of a my personal life, but child rearing is uncharted territory for us, and I know I need the support of my friends, family, and faith community. I don't care if Hillary Clinton said it or not, I *do* believe it takes a village to raise a child well. I am a new mother and I do not have all the answers to parenting--and I doubt anyone, new or seasoned, really does.

So while we are confident and settled on our decision for our family, we openly acknowledge that we have no idea what we are in for, that we will make tons of mistakes along the way, and will not always live up to the disciplinary ideals we have chosen.

Like sailors embarking upon unknown waters, we have prepared for the trip with patient sails, directed rudders, gentle oars, and a firm steering wheel, but choose to forgo the use of jet propellers that promise to get us farther faster because they also happen to make everyone on board seasick.

So, this is not an anti-spanking tirade to condemn parents who do choose to spank their children (I have many dear friends who spank, and I admire most of them very much as parents for their love and commitment to the well being and healthy development of their children).

But, growing up in the evangelical church, spanking is not only presented as *a* disciplinary tool, but THE disciplinary tool, mandated by God. Some teach that parents who do not spank are in sin, that they hate their children, and are committing a grave disservice against their children. In such circles, spanking as become synonymous with discipline--therefore, if one does not spank, one also does not discipline. This reality makes choosing not to spank a very fearful decision. It creates an environment where parents become inclined to hide the fact that they do not spank lest they endure the barrage of concerned lectures, passionate rebukes, and head-shaking "I told you so's," every time their child misbehaves.

Unlike most of my posts, this is not me on a soapbox trying to convince others to take a certain position, but sharing our journey in coming to this decision in hopes that my friends, even the ones who will vehemently disagree, will grant us their support. And to encourage others wrestling with the same issue.

The next few posts will elaborate on how and why we have come to this decision.

Our reasons for not spanking can be divided into three main categories :

1. Biblical Understanding
2. Personal Conviction/Personal Goals
3.Personal Weakness

More to come soon!