The D Word.

I don’t know about you, but whenever the topic of discipline comes up with friends, family, or acquaintances, things tend to get heated. I have found that people tend to have two instinctive reactions when discipline is brought up:

a.) They become defensive.

and

b) They assume discipline equals spanking, therefore, if you don’t spank, you allow complete permissiveness when it comes to your children.

Just the other day I came across a Facebook discussion thread about spanking. It was one of those stasuses where someone had asked a question about people spanking, and hundreds of people piped up to give their two cents. The debates taking place were purely ridiculous, from people calling each other child abusers to people misquoting Bible verses to try to prove a point. Mostly it was amusing, but it also makes me sad that so many people are so misinformed about things like what the Bible says about spanking. I also hate that so many children are being hit by their parents, all while their parents truly believe they are doing what’s best for them.

If you haven’t gathered this yet, we don’t spank our kids. I am firmly against spanking, and (gasp!) would even go so far as to call it child abuse. If my husband were hitting me because I spent too much money or lost my temper and shouted at someone, you wouldn’t be okay with it. It would be called abuse, plain and simple. Hitting by any other name is still hitting, whether you agree with my spanking views or not.

Did you know that the quote “Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child” is not actually even in the Bible? The phrase actually comes from a 17th century poem. And did you know that the rod verses in the book of Proverbs are usually taken completely out of context? That’s right. I’m not going to go into depth with this, because I would have to do an entire series on that topic, but I will give a few highlights. First of all, have you ever considered the rod discussed in Proverbs? It’s talking about a shepherd’s staff in a few of the verses. Does a shepherd beat his sheep with a rod? Or does he use his rod to guide his sheep in the direction in which he wants them to go? When Proverbs refers to a “young man,” the literal translation is a man in his late teens to early adulthood. It is not referring to a child. In the Old Testament, young men could be beaten for wayward behavior. While I am thankful that that is no longer practiced in modern day cultures (at least here in the US), I wish more parents knew that they are not being instructed in Proverbs to beat their child with a rod. Since I don’t want to delve any deeper with this aspect of spanking, I just want to add that I believe that, Biblically speaking, spanking is not mandated. Many, many parents believe that they are instructed by the Bible to spank their children, and I very passionately believe that this is not the case. I do believe that we have freedom in this area, meaning that, if you choose to spank your child, I cannot say with certainty that there are going to be consequences from God. But I also won’t say that there won’t be, if that makes sense. I tend to think that Jesus would have mentioned something about spanking children if it were as critical to a child’s growth as so many Christians believe.

Moving beyond the Biblical views on spanking, do you know that children that are spanked lean toward violent tendencies? The phrase “violent tendencies” doesn’t have to mean that your child ends up a convict (although that may be the case). Violent tendencies can simply mean that they go on to spank, slap, or hit their own children. It can mean that they have problems with anger or rage. I don’t know about you, but those are definitely not qualities that are on my list of my hopes for my children. And for me, that makes sense. If you are spanked or slapped by a parent, most kids grow up believing that those are acceptable behaviors. While a child does not enjoy them at the time, they become desensitized to the act of violence and then use the same methods of discipline with their own children. How often have you heard an advocate of spanking say “I was spanked, and I turned out fine, didn’t I?”. Just because you “turned out fine” does not mean that continuing the cycle of spanking is what is best for your child.

When you spank a child, what you are teaching them is that they shouldn’t repeat an offense because there will be punishment. I feel very strongly about children not fearing punishment, but desiring good. I don’t want my kids to obey me because they are scared they will get hit, I want them to obey because their hearts desire to do what they know is right. Fearing punishment is not going to result in a heart that desires good, but a heart that is afraid of the consequence of bad behavior. Long term, obedience is going to be produced by reaching a child’s heart, and I just know that there are better ways to do so.

I think that one key to discipline is recognizing your wish for control. As parents, most of our frustrations with our little ones come from the inability to control a set of circumstances. When your baby won’t sleep through the night or stop crying or let you set him/her down for a little while, why are you frustrated? Because you want them to do what you want them to do, and THEY WON’T DO IT. And as much as I can relate to that frustration, that, friends, is part of being a parent. No matter how much you can control a child’s behavior by physical punishment, you are not controlling their heart, which is what drives them. Face it, we want what we want when we want it, and children and their behaviors don’t fall into that line of thinking.

Growing obedient children takes time. Little by little, day by day, they learn. Instead of disobeying every single time you ask them to pick up their toys, they will surprise you by calling you in to see a spotless room. You’ll start to notice that when a friend tells them to say something mean to a sibling, they stop to think about it, and then let their friend know that that’s not a kind way to speak. You will see a more loving heart towards their brothers and sisters, and a willingness to help.

But what about the other times? The times when the are intentionally defiant, disobeying your directions? Just because we don’t spank our kids doesn’t mean we allow permissive parenting. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I believe in consistency  and prompt consequences to behavior. When you are inconsistent, you child always hopes that this time will be one of the times you let his or her behavior slip. He or she has to know that each time he/she misbehaves, there will be consequences for poor behavior.

We do use time-outs at our house, and there are plenty of times where this is quite effective. We typically give the child a time-out as long in minutes as they are old: five minutes for a five year old and six minutes for a six year old and so on. If they go into time-out crying/screaming/whining, then their time-out doesn’t start until they are quiet. Sometimes, they end up sitting (or standing) in the corner for quite some time. But they usually leave a little more deflated than when they were first put there, and with a repentant heart.

My favorite form of discipline is to keep the kids busy. If they don’t handle free time responsibly, playing nicely with each other, speaking kindly, and being considerate to one another, then they get to spend their free time doing chores. I read once that while some believe they should leave children who are arguing/fighting alone so that they can “learn to work it out themselves,” this is not a wise way to handle sibling disagreements. While kids will probably figure out a way to work it out, it probably won’t be in a way that you would choose. If you want your children to learn to treat others a certain way, they will need nearly constant direction and plenty of instruction. When I hear my kids speaking unkindly to one another, I let them know that since they aren’t handling their free time well, they were going to clean up the living room, their bedroom, or somewhere that I know needs tidying. If there happens to be nowhere that needs tidying, then they get to vacuum or scrub the fronts of cabinets. (We have only had to resort to those two a couple of times.) They do NOT like the idea that they are doing chores while the other kids are having fun in another room, so this one has been extremely effective lately. If that doesn’t work, then the are kept by my side. If I am cooking, cleaning, or working on a project, they sit by me so that I can keep an eye on them. If their offense wasn’t overly serious, than I allow them a book to read quietly, but they aren’t allowed out of my sight, since they are obviously needing extra guidance/overseeing that day.

The biggest contributing factor that I see in discipline is children having a good example in front of them to see on a daily basis. And unfortunately, I know that this is where I fail the most. I am an imperfect, flawed human being and I mess up daily (hourly, even). But if I am telling my kids one thing (speak kindly), and then doing another (yelling), my guidance probably isn’t going to stick. The best way for your children to pick up on the type of character you want them to have is by modeling it for them. This is exactly why parenting is by FAR the hardest, most challenging job you will ever have. Well, at least that I will ever have. Being entrusted with the raising of little humans is a huge responsibility, and not one to be taken lightly. Being distracted by things on the Internet doesn’t help us parents these days, and our kids know it. Being present is so very important, and putting them high on the priority list is a must. You can’t birth babies, enjoy their sweet cuddles, and then resent them when they start defying you. I mean, you can, but is that really how you want to spend the next 18 years?

I want to end this post by saying that while I strongly disagree with spanking as a discipline, I am not claiming to be a perfect parent. I know my own shortcomings more than anyone, and they are many. I am just trying my best (and failing a lot) on a daily basis to raise my four little ones. I actually love to share some of these views on spanking with others, because I honestly think that many parents don’t know that it’s not the only way to discipline a child. If you have any questions at all, please leave a comment. If you want to discuss this further, feel free to email me at kelli@themommydialogues.com and we can hash it out over e-mail. It’s hard to discipline yourself enough to not lash out against a defiant child, but I think you’ll always be happy in the long run that you chose gentleness over violence.

Recommended Parenting Books: 
(I don’t agree with EVERYthing in each of these books, but have found much wisdom among them.)

The Discipline Book

Raising Godly Tomatoes

Heartfelt Discipline

The Mission of Motherhood

No Comments

  1. Heidi Prucker -  August 18, 2012 - 6:32 pm

    I really enjoyed this post. I agree that most parents don’t know another ways, I was one of them. We uses to spank the big kids but That only lasted a short while, when we all agreed it was best to find another way. I still remember once my son said “well it didnt even hurt anyway” after I spanked him. I was shocked! It’s not supposed to hurt, I’m not supposed to hurt you. But that’s all he understood. Was when he hits someone he’s hurting them and do that must be what we’re trying to do. Thank you for sharing ways to discipline without physical contact

  2. Risa -  August 19, 2012 - 6:41 am

    Thank you so much for this post Kelli. I really love it. It made me as a parent really take a step back and re-evaluate my goals in disciplining my children. I have given my girls little “swats” and I know most times it really doesn’t work and it never comes from a good place.

  3. Amy Kenerson -  August 19, 2012 - 8:45 am

    Great article.. Very well thought out and written .. Gave me something to really think about ..

  4. Chelsea FitzGibbon -  August 20, 2012 - 2:44 pm

    I have no children but very informative to myself as well. I see this struggle with family members, friends, and even strangers. I work at a children’s hospital, and just today I was reading our daily report about an issue that occurred in our emergency department . One of the topics it covers from day to day is any calls or responses made from protective services. A woman who was 22 weeks pregnant came in with her toddler of no older than 2. The report than goes on to explain that the toddler became restless and began to run around screaming and disturbing the other patients in the room. The Mother’s first reaction was to grab her child and smack the child across the face with a belt hard enough it caused a small cut and the kid had to be tended to. Protective services were called and the issue that was brought up was how far can you judge someone’s disciplinary actions? Was it more of the shock it was done in public and the Mother was allowed to see punishment any way that she saw fit. Or was she in any way harming her child. Needless to say the woman won her argument but was still not allowed to take her child home due to the fact at how irate she became that they were questioning her decisions on how to discipline. I hope that this piece you have written can fall into the lap to someone that needs it whether they realize or not. Even though I’m not a parent I know that there is always a better way to handle a situation. You can’t always be defensive of your own beliefs especially when a child is involved, they evolve just like our methods should. Thank you for this.

  5. Allison -  August 20, 2012 - 3:53 pm

    With our 7 and 8 year olds we use pushups and jumping jacks. They’re both involved in sports where they do these things as discipline or conditioning (karate and gymnastics), so we know they’re capable of it. After constant reminders of not running in the hall and slamming the gate outside we say 10 and 10 and they get down, do their excersises and are off. They’re down to only about once a week of 10 and 10. If they act up in karate they’re given similar “punishments” so it stays pretty consistant.

  6. Suzanne L -  August 20, 2012 - 3:55 pm

    Great post! I’ll have to check out those books. I recently checked out from the library these ones on recommendations from a few other mamas…
    -Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn
    -Parenting with Love & Logic
    My LO just turned 2 and I’m finding myself out of tools when it comes to discipline, since I don’t believe in hitting or any negative form of “punishment.” Someone told me this once, and it has become my philosophy – Discipline comes from the word Disciple, which is essentially to learn or to teach. I try to remember that when I “discipline” my child – what can she learn from this and what can I teach her. Also, a good friend suggested instead of using “time-outs” call them “time-ins” and use them to teach, explain, learn, etc.

    • Allison -  August 23, 2012 - 5:52 pm

      That’s similar to what I explained to my stepdaughters. They live with us and visit their bio mom every other weekend. They were telling me how “bad” their little brother is at Mom’s house (we don’t use the “bad” or “good” words when describing behavior in our house). So we had a discussion about discipline vs punishment. Bio mom leans toward hitting for almost any sort of misbehaving, hence why he’s “bad”. I explained to them discipline is meant to teach a child how to behave while punishment doesn’t teach anything.

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