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Why I Don’t Spank My Children Anymore

“If you don’t stop picking on your brother, I’m going to… Uh…. You’re going to lose… something.”

A few months ago, I would not have fumbled that line. I would have threatened the child with a spanking. The words flew from my mouth like a reflex:“If you don’t stop that, I’ll spank you.” “Do what I said or you’ll get a spanking.”

"you've got to be cruel to be kind"

The Problem with Short Cuts

It had become my parenting short-cut to desired behavior. Rather than work with my children to understand how their disrespect or treatment of others damaged relationships, rather than walk through the ways defying me can endanger their lives, rather than show them the real-life fruit of selfishness and revenge in the loss of privileges and broken trust, I too often opted for a short cut. I used my kids’ desire to avoid discomfort to short-circuit their bad behavior instead of doing the time-consuming, complicated, but constructive work of training and teaching.

In the last year or so, I started hearing the words I was saying, and I began to sense the cognitive dissonance in spanking as the foundation of raising children. When one of the kids struck another, I would send the offender to my room. But how could I spank a child for striking their sibling? That doesn’t make any sense. I couldn’t do it. I began choosing other approaches to these choices, and I began to reconsider when and how I used spanking.

Fear This

I have always tried to teach my kids new skills instead of just demanding them. I expect childishness from children, at least on good days. I work hard to differentiate ignorance and immaturity from rebellion and defiance. We talk about how to treat people and about being considerate of others, about how everyone has bosses and teachers who will expect certain things from you. We talk about the amazing truth that God forgives us, and how God expects us also to forgive those who offend or hurt us. I hug my children close and repeat often, “I will always love you. You can’t do anything to change that.”

But here’s the problem. I thought that in order to respect authority and understand right and wrong, my children needed to experience the smart of a spank. And on days when I was worn down or short-fused, I defaulted to spanking to keep control. I used negative motivation and the threat of physical pain to bolster a position of power. I was trying to impose external conformity from above and from fear, the very thing I hate about controlling churches and the very thing Jesus spoke against throughout the gospels.

When I defaulted to authoritarian control, enforced via spanking, I couldn’t come alongside my children as their partner and equal before God. I couldn’t help them examine their hearts, face their fears, and identify their desires. They were afraid of me! They would hide, and they would say what they thought I wanted to hear instead of what was really true. I began to see how using the fear of a spanking to change my children’s behavior failed to actually change their hearts or teach how and why to make better choices. Their fear of spankings became fear of me and was destroying the honesty and trust in our relationship.

Positive Parenting Takes Time

That changed a month ago when I told my children that I would not spank them any more. I explained that when they defy me, hurt a sibling, or lie, we will deal with it differently. We will take all the time we need to identify what’s going on, talk out the conflict, and restore the broken relationships. Sometimes, we will need consequences that reflect the damage caused by their actions, words, or inaction. If I can’t trust a child to tell the truth, that changes what I’m willing to allow them to do unsupervised, for example.

We have discussed natural consequences for childishness such as wasting time, missing the bus, turning in homework late, and failing to clean up after themselves. The goal is for all of us to see and appreciate the real harm of mistreating people, cultivating bad habits, and breaking trust, and to work hard at repairing that harm, building relationships, and cultivating good habits.

It takes effort and it takes a willingness to give up what I want to do to really understand my children, address the issues in their hearts, and teach and train them to address those issues themselves. It’s messy and complicated, and often feels like we’ve just plunged down a rabbit hole, especially when everyone is angry and hurt, everyone is at fault, and everyone has misunderstood and been misunderstood. But that’s life, isn’t it? Part of raising children is equipping them to handle these situations themselves as adults.

It isn’t lost on me how my parenting short-cuts have mistreated the people I love, cultivated bad habits, and broken trust. I have bad habits to break, new habits to make, and relationships to repair. Instead of barking “If you don’t obey me right now, you’re going to get a spanking” when my children argue with me or contradict me, I’m trying to get into the habit of quietly asking, “Are you showing your mother respect right now?”

How do you help your children learn to respect authority, use time well, and treat people with dignity and respect? When do you dole out consequences and how do you decide what those consequences are? 

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  1. Hubs and I have been working through this as well over the past several months. Not always possible to reason with a 2 year old, but I don’t want her to be scared of me or to think that hitting is okay. We’re trying to communicate/educate as best we can.

    A book I read (can’t remember which) posed the question – are you spanking because they truly need/deserve it? Or are you spanking because you’re having a temper tantrum of your own? Ouch. Guilty.

    Our daughter hits when she’s angry/tired/frustrated/etc., so it’s tough to say “hitting is not okay!” while spanking her. So it’s a challenge, but it’s one we’re working through.

  2. i appreciate this. we don’t spank either, for many of these reasons. the hardest thing for us is trying to figure out how to teach kids to *want* to serve, help, be respectful/responsible. i was raised with fear (and had a more naturally compliant personality), and this is unfamiliar territory. i don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but if ever i speak about parenting, i get a barrage of horrible, super-judgey advice (and bad theology).

    it is hard, but like you, we don’t want short-cuts and know that discipline is firstly about teaching, not punishment. glad for the conversation.

  3. Wow, Joy! You just keep bringing it – writing out all the hard and difficult things, one post after another. If it is exhausting, may it provide some comfort to know it is inspiring.

    We don’t spank either, and it’s amazing to me how much thought it takes to teach instead of dole out a quick punishment. If you haven’t already found Dr Laura Markham’s blog (www.ahaparenting.com), you may find it a helpful resource.

  4. This is wonderful, Joy! I wish you the best in this new phase of parenting for you. I assume it won’t be without struggles, but I think your relationships will be healthier.

    One of my biggest regrets as a parent is that I spanked my boys when they were young (now 19, 22 and 24) so I’m always happy to hear of parents who recognize the danger of spanking when their children are still young enough for it to make a difference.

  5. Thanks for sharing your new parenting style! With ‘strong-willed’ kids (like my middle child), gentler parenting helps defuse his tendency to resist simply for the sake of resisting. He’s 10 now, and the same thing is still true for him: questions and more thoughtful, behavior-related consequences are much more effective.

  6. Positive parenting DOES take more time and energy, for sure. And, oddly, is often not supported by the church. You don’t want to know how many times people have pointed me to the proverb that says children won’t die if you hit them with a rod.

  7. This is so well said! Coming alongside our children as their “partner and equal before God” is seeing them as the image bearers of God that they are (admittedly not particularly easy to see during a 3-year-old’s tantrum). If you aren’t familiar with it, you might also appreciate a book by Danny Silk called “Loving Our Kids On Purpose.”

  8. Joy I loved this, i too am putting a stop to spanking in our house, for many of the same reasons you mentioned. I have found being more intentional and positive around the kids, while exhausting, it has helped the most with kids behavior. I also have tried to see and understand what their poor behavior is really telling me. Do they need quiet time, or one on one time, did something happen at school. It seems there is always a reason, taking the time to find out what it is, is the answer.

  9. Appreciating this post today because we are having a struggle deciding what to do in our home with our almost 3-year old. It’s helpful to hear what worked and didn’t work for others!

  10. We decided in my first child’s infancy that we didn’t want to spank our kids, and I’m so glad we did. What surprises others is when we say “well, we don’t just not spank….we try to stay away from meaningless punitive consequences all-together.” Respecting your kids really is a whole change in philosophy.

    I’m so grateful that you wrote about this, because Christian non-spankers need desperately to build each other up in a church culture where many still believe that spanking is a mandate from God.

  11. Wow, that woman has ginormous hands.

  12. Great post, Joy. Very similar journey in this household.

  13. Joe and I decided before we had kids that we wouldn’t spank our children, in part based on our experiences growing up and much of what you said here. It doesn’t make it easy though. There are so many times (like today in particular) where I can feel it swell on the edge of my tongue, “If you don’t…, I’m going to spank you” or some other threat (I may have mentioned taking away all of their toys a couple of times this morning…very realistic).

    But I know for me it’s definitely an easy way out…a way where I don’t really have to deal with their sin or guide them in the right way. So many times I just want the episode over and done with and don’t think about addressing the heart issues. When I’m calm and in a happy place that’s easier to do, but when I’m throwing a tantrum right alongside them not so much.

  14. We started out spanking but then our sweet girl turned around and started hitting herself immediately after. It ended all ideas of parenting-by-spanking right there. Spanking was one of many things I did automatically as a parent because it was how I was parented. I’ve learned more than a few times repeating mistakes my family made isn’t a great way to go about parenting, so we’ve had to evaluate each “thing” as it fits our family, our kids and their needs. Spanking was one of those things to get tossed out quickly. I think you said it all really well here!

  15. I really appreciate this post, Joy. We are among the minority in our friendship circles in our decision not to spank, so it is always refreshing for me to hear thoughts from other Christians that reflect a similar leading.

    It’s always helped me to consider the difference between discipline and punishment. The Bible teaches parents to discipline their children, which to me involves teaching and instructing them in the ways of Christ-like living and relating to others. When my kids display inappropriate behavior, in the heat of the moment it’s easy to fall into the “I need to punish this kid!” mentality, but I try my very best to see those times as opportunities to teach.

    As far as the respect issue, I often think of a quote years ago from my friend, Corey. She was talking about the insistence from some that spanking begets respect, and at one point said, “You know what? I respect lots of people who have never laid a hand on me.” It really stuck with me. I want my kids to have a respect for me because of who I am, not because of what I might do to them if they cross me. Which is exactly the kind of respect I want them to have for God and his Word. Because that kind of respect joins easily with love.

  16. I love the way that when you talk about discipline you are honest about the tricky aspects of it, and that your commitment to knowing your kids well and responding appropriately to their situation, and talking to them deeply, rather than just going on ‘automatic pilot’. We do time outs in our house, rather than spanking, but I am aware that there will come a point (maybe it already has) where it is easier to dole out the punishment because we know it ‘works’ rather than thinking a bit about the situation leading up to it. For example, my toddler was playing up much more than usual when his friend came round to play. I had to give him two time outs in one afternoon for his behaviour, which is v unusual. Then a couple of days later he was chatting and made reference to his friend being naughty. I realised that he may well have been so badly behaved because he saw his friend being naughty (his friend is much younger) and was frustrated that his friend wasn’t being punished. So he started playing up too. It is important to be consistent, but I also want to help him understand about other people and them having different boundaries – and that’s tricky to get your head around. These things aren’t simple, and I appreciate the fact that you didn’t approach this in a simplistic or dismissive fashion, as can often be the case in these kinds of debates.

    I don’t spank because I didn’t have a great experience of physical discipline as a child, and I fear that I would spank in anger. I often start off a time out in anger, but the time out is for me and not just my boy – we can cool down and think things through.

    I seem to have rambled on longer than I meant to! I found the book ‘no cry discipline solution’ really helpful. It sounds very hippy and wishy-washy but what it actually is is lots of different ideas of different ways of disciplining kids without spanking, so you can change them up if one isn’t working particualrly. I think it’s mainly for the younger age group, but there are transferable principles for older ones. I felt really empowered after reading it.

  17. So what do you do with a verse like “He who spares the rod hates his son; he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (Prov 13:24)? Do you just ignore it? Spanking is one option in the discipline toolbox; it is not to be used completely separately from all the explanation and discussion you are talking about. Spanking is not a “short cut.” Spanking correctly “takes time.” Spanking is a concrete consequence for wrong decisions and behavior and attitudes; it is given after discussing why it must happen in this particular instance, because of how the sin has affected relationships not only with the one(s) offended but also with God. As far as spanking a child for striking another child, there is a huge difference between the child’s striking in anger and the parent’s spanking in love with discussion and prayer. The child can differentiate between the two. The child’s conscience is cleansed and they understand consequences and also forgiveness. I’m sorry you feel judged by “spankers,” but I don’t understand how one can choose not to spank at all when Scripture is so clear about it.

    • The “rod” the bible refers to is a shepherd’s rod. It is used to guide, not to beat. It is not “clear” that spanking is acceptable. I used swats with our first child and you are right, used correctly it indeed can be an effective tool to mold behavior. The problem we had was that it didn’t help guide her heart. That is where true discipline takes place.
      When we fostered, we were not allowed to use corporal punishment. We had to be more creative and find better ways than spanking. Not only did we find better ways, we found that when we focus on the heart, we were a lot less strict about things that didn’t matter.
      Looking at it from this side, not only would I not spank again, I am relieved that my daughter plans to avoid spanking.

      • No, the word “rod” in the Bible does not always refer to a shepherd’s rod, and it is not always used just “to guide.” Psalm 89:32: “Then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes.” Prov 10:13 “…but the rod is for the back of him who lacks understanding.” Prov 23:14: “You shall strike him with the rod and rescue his soul from Sheol.” These verses are not just talking about guidance. Again, spanking is not to be used in and of itself, the molding of the heart comes from both the spanking and the discussion, prayer, instruction, etc. I fully see the need for creative discipline that focuses on the heart; but I do not see how spanking is to be completely thrown out–I don’t understand how these verses and others are not clear enough. I am not trying to start an argument; but I am concerned about Scripture being ignored or being interpreted to mean something other than it says.

        • YOu said “These verses are not just talking about guidance.” Then what are they talking about. Are these verses all in context with disciplining our children? Then you said “but I am concerned about Scripture being ignored or being interpreted to mean something other than it says.” Yes, me too. I, like you, used to say “If you use it properly”. Sadly, that is open to interpretation as well.
          Take this from a parent who has already walked through it. You don’t HAVE to use spanking to guide a child’s heart. Concentrate on leading them to a deeper faith where they make choices according to their solid relationship with a loving God and you will find that those lessons last long past the pain on the buttocks. I want my children to follow Jesus out of devotion, not fear. My youngest daughter was born with multiple medical and developmental issues. She has been a game changer for us. There are no spanking scriptures that cover her needs. I guess that’s why I’m not so sure about blanket statements when it comes to “training up a child”.

          • The verses are talking about using the rod in a way other than guidance, which I thought you claimed was the only way of using a rod. To be more clear, they refer to the rod as an instrument of corporal punishment. I was not citing them as a complete discussion on discipline, but to show that limiting the rod only to the use of guidance is incorrect. I have “walked through it” myself; I have five children ages 9-18. Of course, all children are different; of course, there are many other options for use to discipline a child. I just don’t agree with absolutely refusing to spank ever. Of course, Suzannah (great name, by the way, my youngest’s is the same), a huge part of the Bible is grace and love, but we cannot ignore justice and judgment and consequence for sin. We don’t like to think about God as a God to be feared–but He is! “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov 9:10); of course not abject, cringing fear–but our kids would not view us with that kind of fear, either. Yes, He “crowns me with lovingkindness and compassion” (Psalm 103), but He also “scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12). And Luke, I respect your point about picking and choosing Scripture, but I have not seen something in the New Testament which would obviate these verses on the rod, as there is about Mosaic Law. I’m glad, Hope, that you clarified that you are not “against” spanking. That is all I am trying to say–that I don’t think we have the right to choose to be against it or throw it out altogether, that it is a Biblical means of discipline and as such should not be decried. I am truly not trying to cause division or anger; I just think a plea for the “spanking is not anathema” side of the issue needs to be made here. And it certainly is proving to be an interesting discussion! 🙂

            • Ann, I think one main difference in interpretation stems from the fact that all of the “rod” verses are only found in Proverbs. You cite Proverbs 23:14 above. Well, the beginning of that Proverb says that if one is given to gluttony (as we all probably are at times), they should “take a knife” to their throat! Now, if you do not take that verse literally (do you?), then it is probably an inconsistent hermeneutic to take the “rod” verses literally. Proverbs is full of figurative hyperbole used to make a point; I believe that the point in Proverbs 23:14 is that parents must be intentional in disciplining (root: disciple) their children, NOT that parents should beat their little children. To me, that is almost as ludicrous as cutting one’s throat after overeating.

              • No, Rachel, they weren’t all from Proverbs..my second comment has one from the Psalms, and of course there are many other verses in the Bible that refer to a rod as a rod of correction. My point was that it is erroneous to claim, as Hope did, that the rod is only referred to in the Bible as being used for guidance, as a shepherd guides sheep with a rod. The Hebrew root of the word translated as “discipline” in Prov. 13:24 and Prov. 23:13 (Prov. 23:14 does not have this word, so I’m assuming you misquoted the reference?) is in fact a word that means “to chastise, lit. (with blows) or fig. (with words)” [Strong’s Concordance]. It is true that Proverbs often uses figurative hyperbole, but does that mean it ALWAYS is? And just because we don’t like what it says, then it must be figurative and ludicrous and horrible? All I’m saying is that it is NOT horrible. No, I don’t think spanking should be the ONLY form of discipline–obviously discipling our children with verbal reproof and discussion is EXTREMELY important–but it IS another tool that we are given to use. Your argument, Rachel, is one of the reasons why I included Hebrews 12:6 in my previous post. Physical correction is NOT just an Old Testament idea. Hebrews 12:7-11 uses a word meaning “discipline (by punishment)”; it is the same word Herod used in Luke 23:16 when he said, “I will punish Him (Jesus) and release Him” and by Paul in 2 Cor 6:9: “as punished yet not put to death.” Are you going to tell me that in both those cases what was meant was solely verbal reproof or some sort of deprivation and not actual physical punishment? I know I’m not going to convince y’all; but I feel it is important for the record to show the other side of this discussion. Physical correction from a parent to a child is NOT an irresponsible or short-sighted or ludicrous thing; it is a Biblical tool that we need to use with wisdom and love, along with the many other tools for discipline that the Bible illustrates to us. (Wow, y’all are sure making me work for this; but the study has been good for me, so thank you for that.) 🙂

            • “The verses are talking about using the rod in a way other than guidance, which I thought you claimed was the only way of using a rod.”
              1. I didn’t claim that was only way of using a rod. I “claimed” that when you are using the term “rod” it doesn’t mean to “beat” . I am using the context of God’s character.
              2. If you aren’t spanking your children to “guide” them, why are you spanking them? You stated more than once that the rod is not for guidance.

              • I think the verses I cited show that the rod IS used for physical correction. And yes, I believe physical correction IS guidance. You seemed to imply that guidance and physical correction were opposites, so I was just trying to use your terminology. I thought you meant “guidance” as “gently prodding into a certain direction.” I am claiming that the rod is often used in Scripture in a way more physical than that. “Beating” is a strong word; it amazes me how everyone equates spanking with beating, as if spanking is equivalent to abuse, as if a child is being flailed all over the body in an uncontrolled manner. But if that’s the word you want to use, and if we can define it in a more reasonable way (controlled strikes on the posterior) then yes, I believe the Scriptures I’ve cited show that the rod is used for beating as well as gentle guidance. Did you read my comments at all? Was I that unclear?? And if you’re using the context of God’s character, isn’t what is spoken in the Word what we should think about His character? Since when does His character of grace override His character of justice? Can we ignore verses that show the side we don’t feel as comfortable with? Do we decide that some aspect of His character is of more importance than the Word itself?

                • It is obvious that this is a very emotional topic for you. When you use terms like “always” and “everyone” it tells me that the emotions surrounding this topic run deep. You say on one hand it doesn’t mean beating and later in the paragraph you admit say that you have shown it means beating.
                  Taking the WHOLE counsel of God into consideration is much better than pulling out a few verses here and there.
                  I will no longer respond. I hope it is obvious to you that you will not change my mind, I wouldn’t try to change yours. I just couldn’t let your comments go without commenting on them from a “voice of experience” point of view.

                  • Hmmm, I really thought it was a fun and invigorating discussion, and that I had communicated that–and that I didn’t expect to convince anyone but was enjoying the study–until I got accused of emotionalism. I thought I had elucidated from the beginning that I believed the rod was used for physical correction, and that in the most recent comment I was just trying to come to agreement on a definition for the word “beating,” until I got accused of being contradictory. I thought I had cited many verses from all over the Bible, until I got accused of not using the whole counsel of God. I thought raising five children would mean that I was not without sufficient experience…but your continuing to pick on these things means either a) you didn’t really read all of my comments, or b) I am absolutely incapable of making a logical point. In the interests of giving you the benefit of the doubt and in the fear that b might be true, I’ll let it go. I’m just thankful for the opportunity to be challenged in the Word today. Thanks, y’all! Have a great evening! 🙂

        • I realize I wasn’t clear on something. I am not “against” spanking. I’m just not convinced that it is a commandment or that it works better than the alternatives. I hope that makes more sense.

        • there is the whole of scripture to consider, not just a proverb here or there. what about the gospel of grace? gentleness? (context?) i have an extraordinarily difficult time imagining Jesus (who spoke explicitly of turning the other cheek and was put to violent death by an oppressive authority) hitting children. it’s folly to believe that our disagreement means we value scripture any less than you.

          discipline is firstly about teaching, not punishment. the disciples followed the way of Jesus, and we aim for the same as parents. God doesn’t parent me with fear or coercion, and we choose not to either.

    • Speaking to the “clarity of scripture,” I can’t speak for Joy here, but my wife and I tend to put “spare the rod and spoil the child” in the same category as the laws of retribution in Exodus. For example, if one child hit the other, would we then encourage the child being victimized to retalliate in kind against the aggressor child, as Mosaic law prescribes? Most folks I know would say “no.” So in this case, what makes Prov 13:24 absolutely normative and not this particular piece of Mosaic law? The point is, we all ALL ALL ALL pick and choose which bits of scripture we emphasize, and which ones we rationalize (and “scriptural clarity” is often simply a weapon wielded for the sole purpose of shutting down debate).

  18. This cuts to the heart of the issue, Joy, which is: Do we want outward conformity or change of the heart? So often, spanking is about outward conformity – as is any easy parenting method. Shepherding little hearts, pointing them toward real change and God’s grace is a HARD, messy business.

    Have you heard Tim Kimmel’s book Grace-Based Parenting? He is after so much of what you say here.

  19. Proud of you for trying something new! Short cuts might be the hardest to change because they are the easiest to do. Nobody likes to take the long route!

  20. Thank you Joy! I can so relate! It is so much “easier” (but harder, too, because it feels so crappy) to just give the spanking.
    I love how you talk about teaching your kids real relational resolution by working through it, instead of just saying “I’m in charge!” That is SO true.

  21. Sandra Shelton says:

    I am now past the spanking years, but I too started out using spanking as a discipline tool. I had been taught that it was un-Biblical not to spank. One study I attended went so far as to encourage moms to drive around with a wooden spoon on the dashboard as a reminder of consequences for misbehavior. As a young mom, I followed along with the teaching, but as my children grew up I became increasingly uncomfortable with physical punishment. I didn’t realize I had a tendency toward anger and retaliation until I saw it played out on my children’s skin. I’ll admit my kids were compliant but there was fear and withdrawal, as well. I began to only spank when I was certain I was not angry. My spanking decreased dramatically. I also found by the time I had calmed down I had thought of a better, more effective consequence. Secondly, we followed the stop- spanking-at-age-8 guideline and found that there were many years of discipline remaining but our primary means of punishment had been removed. As we explored new parenting techniques, we began to find much godlier ways to discipline. Ones that included relational and emotional development as well as correction. By the time we had our third child we had pretty much eliminated spanking from our discipline and found that he was just as compliant but not nearly as withdrawn and self-protective. Finally , we saw as I oldest aged, he had a high pain tolerance and began to prefer spanking because it was over quickly and he could get back to what he wanted to do. In essence, it wasn’t painful. (This was never true for our other two children). Not long after we permanently retired spanking and feel completely certain that it was a godly choice. However, we don’t bring it up unless someone asks to avoid conflict. Thank you for the opportunity to share our experience.

  22. I remember the empty threats for those first couple months, I felt completely lost over what to do when I first made the commitment to stop spanking my kids. It has been an incredible journey since then though. Congratulations on a life changing choice!

  23. Spanking children is one of the most misunderstood teachings in the Holy Scriptures.

    I used to believe it myself, until I began to study the whole matter more carefully.

    I have written a book which has been widely reviewed by scholars and lay people and many have found it a positive contribution to this ongoing discussion.

    Anyone who is interested to get this free book is welcomed to write me at: info@biblechild.com and request the book “Thy Rod and Thy Staff, They Comfort Me: Chrsitians and the Spanking Controversy.”

    Best wishes from Jerusalem

    Samuel Martin


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  4. […] “It isn’t lost on me how my parenting short-cuts have mistreated the people I love, cultivated bad habits, and broken trust. I have bad habits to break, new habits to make, and relationships to repair.” […]