Does discipline have a place in child-rearing?

Spanking and Responsible Parenting

By "spanking" we do not mean "punching", "hitting", "abusing", "battering", "pounding" or "whipping". By "spanking" is usually meant "one or a few slaps with the palm of the hand across the clothed buttocks."
"The love of some is a mockery. Here are parents who profess love for their children, yet are too cowardly, or too lazy, to reprove their children or punish them. Many a boy or girl lives to curse the memory of parents who were too weak, too sentimental to reprove them and pull them up when dangers beset their pathway."
C. Ensor Walters, Secretary of the London Wesleyan Methodist Mission, 1925

It's no longer fashionable to "force" children to do anything. In some countries it is against the law! Yet the Bible insists that parents have a responsibility to discipline their children. Here's why ... and how.

Children, according to the Bible, are a heritage from God - a special treasure in whom lie the future hope of mankind. Yet all is not well in our families. Children are all too often seen as a problem rather than an asset!

Children can be a delight. They are an extension of our being. They bring joy and excitement and challenge to a home. To watch them grow and mature and succeed fulfills the dreams of every parent.

Yet "children should be seen and not heard" is an ancient adage which almost every adult exposed to children will, at some time, heartily applaud. The little darlings are responsible for an incredible mountain of destroyed personal property. They disrupt the peace and tranquillity of their homes. They wreck the enjoyment of family parties and social gatherings. Their behavior results in many "accidents" - both in the home and in the street. Sadly, child abuse often results from such disruptive behavior.

But is this just something we must learn to live with? Isn't it just a part of growing up? Won't any attempt to restrict them simply cause deep psychological trauma that will damage delicate adult relationships? Isn't discipline bad?

The blanket answer is "no"! In fact, your child's life, certainly his or her welfare, could be in jeopardy - unless proper discipline is exercised. And your personal growth as a Christian will be stifled if this area of life isn't properly developed.

Here we focus on just one aspect - discipline. But it must not be isolated from other vital aspects of child rearing. For example:

Read and reread these points until they are firmly embedded in your memory - and especially in your daily practice!

Let's now examine child discipline from the view of common sense. And let's also see what the source of Christian behavior - the Bible - has to say.

Common Sense
It's fashionable in some religious circles to deride "human reasoning" as a source of guidance. But often the ideas that are almost universally used by you and me and most others are simply based on just that. We call it common sense. And usually it works!

Is it common sense to allow children to destroy our property or a neighbor's? It is often costly, often embarrassing - and always very annoying to us and to our neighbor. Is it common sense to tolerate uncontrolled play? It is disruptive. It has often led to serious injury - even fatalities - in the home or under a vehicle or in a lake. It engenders habits that grow into massive adolescent and adult behavior problems. Is it common sense to allow a child to dominate the home? It is at best an irritation. It leads to frustration. It instills a concept in the child of gross self-importance. And it frequently ends in a breakdown of adult behavior - child abuse and family disharmony.

Notice the words used - "permit", "tolerate," "allow." That implies parental authority over the situation. We parents are largely responsible for what our young children do and say, and the habits they develop!

No, it is common sense that we find some means whereby our children are gently persuaded towards civilized behavior; that we teach them the limits to self - expression; that we teach them others also have equal rights; that we teach respect for constituted authority; that we teach the values of civilized society - concern for others, live and let live, cooperation, team-work, hard work; that we teach our children such personal values as self-discipline, perseverance, good manners and courtesy, discernment of right and wrong.

What happens if you simply stand all year and look at your garden? The weeds grow - right up to your knees! And what happens if a young sapling is left to grow unattended - without staking, without pruning, without training? It becomes unshapely, unfruitful, and wild. So, too, poor habits grow in us and in our children unless there is active cultivation!

The burden, then, is fairly and squarely on the shoulders of those of us who are parents. Our children's destiny is to a large extent in our hands!

Let's turn now to hear what the Bible has to say about child discipline.

To Be A King
At first glance there's not a lot in the Scriptures about "child-rearing." There isn't a "child chapter" which spells it out for us. But here's a gold mine of information if we dig deeply!

The foundation of knowledge about children is wrapped in the great mystery of the Bible - that man is destined to become a part of God's own family. This awesome fact illuminates everything we can say about a right training for our children!

Consider the British Royal Family. A prime "duty" is to provide an heir of the royal line who is deliberately trained for the highest office. The infant Prince Charles was prepared over a long span of years for the highest office in the land. The Queen and her Consort, the Duke of Edinburgh, from the child's birth, had their eyes firmly fixed on the ultimate goal - kingship, and all that entails. He was nurtured in an atmosphere of royal majesty. He was carefully schooled in the trappings of office - even to how to smile and wave in public! He absorbed the niceties of the Court, learned national history and politics, was instilled with aspirations of national destiny. He was trained for Kingship.

How closely this parallels the offspring of true Christians.

Our children are born into a royal dynasty of the spirit. Or they are adopted into it at our baptism. And we can have every expectation that they all will be "kings and priests unto God" (Rev. 5:10). This is the goal that we as parents must constantly bear in mind for them. This is the goal we ought to have as we muse over that seven pound newborn bundle of squalling flesh and blood! This is what we consider as we read the Bible injunction to "train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6). Our children are to be trained for kingship!

We might here ask ourselves the question: Do my children represent Jesus Christ? That means, are they typical of what He would desire. As our "fruit," they must be on the way to becoming so!

In listing the qualities needed in any mature leader in the church of God, the apostle Paul wrote: "He must have a well-behaved family, with children who obey quickly and quietly. For if a man can't make his own little family behave, how can he help the whole church?" (I Timothy 3:4-5, The Living Bible). Your response to child-rearing determines and limits your qualification to serve your brethren!

A reader suggests:
Hello, I appreciate your article on spanking. I truly believe it is backed by the Word of God. I just wanted to bring out one point. We should discipline through spanking, but I don't believe we should use our hands. Just think about it. Our hands speak of affection. When we use our hands to spank, and then offer our hands out to love, the children may draw back at seeing our hands coming toward them. Even experts say, when training a dog, use a newspaper to swat them, because when you use your hands to correct them, they are scared of you when you put your hands back out to them. I just believe there needs to be something in your hand, to bridge the gap between your affection and their behinds!! I'm not saying beat them with a rod, but there are other things that work, such as, paddles, switches etc. Wooden spoons are favorites at my house! And of course, you don't beat and bruise, just swatting their little backsides a time or two and that usually does the trick!!!

In practical terms, this means you can take your children anywhere without embarrassment. They will sit quietly in a restaurant. When you visit they won't rampage through the host's home like marauding vandals. Nor will they even touch ornaments or curtains or tableware. In church services they will sit quietly - listening, or playing in silence; they will learn to exercise restraint in confined areas. When shopping they will not be demanding or rude. They will speak respectfully, won't pull faces and won't interrupt adult conversation.

Suppose you were talking with Jesus, and your child was playing a little way away. If Jesus were to call your child to Him and try to lift him or her in His arms - what sort of response would He get? Exactly the response your child now gives to you, to friends, to relations! All too often your child would wriggle, squirm, squeal! But for your child to become one whom Jesus Christ would delight to take up into His arms means hard work, persistent effort, failures - and successes.

Child rearing is a tall order, a heavy responsibility. But it can be done!

University of the Home
The million dollar question is - how do we achieve these goals? Let's be clear that there is no easy or simple solution. Nor is there an instant solution. But there are many success stories to witness that it can be done!

Let me repeat here that all aspects of child-rearing are essential. It's a complete package. And the essence is that it's our responsibility as parents to move steadily towards these goals. They are not just "pie in the sky", but definite achievable ends! You can do it!

However, it requires self-discipline by you and discipline for your child.

It requires the parents to discipline themselves. If you want a tranquil home and all the other benefits listed - plus our heavenly Father's commendation - then the training of the family must be top of our agenda. As Christians, the "nurture and admonition" (Eph. 6:4) of our children must be a prime consideration. Our homes must become a "university of kingship." And we parents must become skilled teachers. Here are some suggested training goals - for parents:

This "Foundation Course" of our University of the Home can be quite demanding and time-consuming. Success in child-rearing is greatly enhanced, however, if we parents first look in the mirror, and take the necessary basic steps to success.

Discipline Your Child
If all these steps were adequately followed, would we then avoid any necessity for child discipline? Most unlikely!

As children grow up, they need to find their boundaries. They need "safe zones" - physically, mentally and emotionally - later also spiritually.

It's an essential part of growing up that parents or guardians must correct and indeed punish their children. In fact, let's be quite clear that correctly exercising discipline is an act of loving concern for our children!

Too often we feel that to take a disciplinary measure represents a failure on our part. This is part of our misconception about failure. Failure is only bad if it remains failure. Failure is an opportunity to learn, to improve, to develop, to grow. Correct discipline guides your child along this path. Well-considered and properly administered discipline is first choice. It's the best course! A neglected garden reverts to the wild!

Notice God's attitude to it:

"Have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you, His child? He said, My son, don't be angry when the Lord punishes you. Don't be discouraged when He has to show you where you are wrong. For when He punishes you, it proves that He loves you. When He whips you it proves you are really His child. Let God train you, for He is doing what any loving father does for his children. Whoever heard of a son who was never corrected? .... Our earthly fathers trained us for a few brief years, doing the best for us that they knew how .... Being punished isn't enjoyable while it is happening - it hurts! But afterwards we can see the result, a quiet growth in grace and character" (Hebrews 12:5-11 The Living Bible).

Let's not fear, then, to properly discipline our own children.

Finally, a few guidelines on how to set about it:

Effective Correction
How you discipline is a matter you must determine for yourself. Some nations have become so devoid of wisdom that they have legislated against any form of corporal punishment - not only in school, but also in the home! You must take account of your national situation. There are, however, varied forms of effective correction which stop short of physical punishment. Sufficient to say that in the Bible God urges a variety of methods - not the least of which is "spanking" an appropriate area of abundant flesh, followed by a hug and a kiss. It's not the child who is "bad", it is the behavior!

If you have any doubts about your ability to correct without abusing your precious little ones, then seek professional counsel. Our children are a precious gift from God, and heirs to a divine destiny.

Let's not neglect such a treasure!

The subject is by no means exhausted. However, if each of us can apply these simple principles in our own family, there will be a dramatic improvement in relationships. The "generation gap" should shrink to a mere crack - or disappear. And the world will be a more stable place!

To comment on this article or request more information, please contact James McBride by e-mail at the comment form below.

For PDF or mailed copy, see CGOM. Excerpt from New Horizons Issue 17, September/October 1999. Edited by James McBride of the Churches of God, United Kingdom.

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