For years, I have resisted the label of “Christian” therapist or parent coach. Even though my degree is from a Christian Seminary, the connotation never felt right to me. I felt lumped in with other “Christian” authors and experts who encouraged parents to spank, ignore, ground, and punish their kids.
Until now, it was easier to drop the “Christian” label than to try to explain my perspective.
As I’ve shared connection-based parenting strategies, I’ve received plenty of criticisms. Surprisingly, many are from Christians. Reminding me that God “commanded” parents not to “spare the rod” when disciplining their children. And that I should be ashamed for teaching otherwise.
I know I am not alone.
As I talk to parents, I realize many of you hear these messages too.
Your pastors, your teachers, your friends all tell you that spanking is the “biblical” way of parenting. That kids need to “fear” their parents and “obey” at all costs.
This doesn’t feel right to you, but going against tradition is difficult, scary, and isolating.
I’m glad you’re wrestling with this advice. I believe sparing the rod is extremely biblical.
Spare the Rod
First, let’s look at a translation of two popular “spare the rod” verses. Author L.R. Knost breaks it down by crossing out the words and inserting the Hebrew definitions for “rod,” “discipline,” “punish,” and “child”:
“He who spares his
rodwisdom, leadership, protection hatesdoes not love, does not choose or show a preference for his son, but he who loves him disciplinesoffers verbal instruction and teaching to him promptly.” Proverbs 13:24
“Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge. Do not withhold
disciplineverbal instruction and teaching, reasoning together from a childyoung man; if you punishguide, trigger his conscience, favorably impress, entice/entrance them with the rodwisdom, leadership, protection, they will not diefollow a path of destruction.” Proverbs 23:12-14
(Jesus the Gentle Parent, pg. 58)
When you read the passages this way, you don’t get a picture of a father getting ready to spank a small child. Instead, you see a father who is lovingly engaged with his older child, talking and leading him. Spending time guiding and teaching him.
Reminds me of how God loves us.
Five Alternatives to Spanking for Christian Parents
Thankfully, there are many respectful alternatives for parents who are not willing to spank or punish their children.
When your child makes a mistake, look for ways to extend grace.
You cannot read the Bible without feeling flooded with grace. This is the foundation of God’s gift to us – we did not deserve to be forgiven, and yet, here we are, sins erased. Daily. Hourly. It really is amazing.
Offering your child grace is not a sign of passive parenting, but a sign that you have received grace and are willing to offer grace in return. Grace doesn’t ignore or excuse wrongdoing but acknowledges that making mistakes is part of the human experience. And that as imperfect people, we are still learning how to live with and love one another. Being loved unconditionally – even in the midsts of big feelings and mistakes – speaks volumes to your child. It eliminates shame, sending the message, “you are loved because you’re you, not because you’re perfect.”
When your child acts out, look for ways to build or repair the connection.
Recent scientific discoveries have confirmed what we, as Christians, have known all along – we are made to be in community with one another. Look at Adam and Eve in the garden and the commandments to the early churches in the New Testament. Relationships are important.
Just as we are created to be in communion with God and others, children are wired to be connected to their caregivers. When this connection is threatened, children feel insecure, unsafe, and unsure – leading to challenging behavior, meltdowns, and arguments. Prioritizing a strong, healthy relationship over punishment creates an environment where your children feel safe, secure, and loved.
When your child is upset, calm yourself first.
There is a lot of whining and complaining in the Bible. Selfish, self-righteous people wanting to know “why” and “when” and “are we there yet?” And in all of these situations, God hears. He listens. He is patient. Rather than blowing up or telling people to “settle down,” he is empathetic to their cries.
Sounds very similar to parenting children today. The meltdowns, the tantrums, the arguments. (And, it’s not just our children, we have these moments too!) While we will never have a perfect, God-sized self-control, we can attempt to model our responses after God. Rather than reacting out of anger, we can focus on listening, being slow to anger, and pausing to think before we respond.
When your child is struggling, look for ways to teach and guide.
The root of the word means “disciple” or teach. The “rod” is not discipline. When people use the rod the goal is to inflict pain, not guidance. It’s human nature to avoid things that are painful. Avoiding a spanking does not mean your child has “learned their lesson,” but learned to fear the pain (and possibly fear you as well).
God encourages parents to be active participants in this teaching process. We see examples of His guidance to people throughout the Bible. You don’t have to sit back and allow your child to make the same mistake time and again. Instead, you can look for opportunities to talk, teach, model, practice, and guide your children through difficult situations.
When your child experiences big feelings, join them with empathy rather than consequences.
As parents, we want a quick fix to our child’s challenging behavior. Many parents have been told that an extra spanking, an extended grounding, or another parent-created consequence will solve the problem. Unfortunately, the behavior usually returns (sometimes the same day!) and you feel stuck – believing that additional punishments are the only solution.
The Bible shows countless examples of God’s sorrow for naturally occurring consequences while continuing to provide mercy, generosity, unconditional love, and forgiveness to the people in their lowest moments. Not only that, he often identifies and meets their most basic, heartfelt needs. Joining your child in the hurt and the heartache of challenging situations, rather than adding more pain, gives you the opportunity to be curious about their behavior, meet their underlying needs, and work together to find a solution.
I realize some of you reading this are still shaking your heads. Believing that I have missed the boat and are leading Christian parents astray. Some of you have your fingers ready to fire back a quick-witted response.
You are welcome to your opinions, of course.
Here’s the thing: This is not between you and me. It’s between you and God.
I have wrestled with this for years. I am confident in my position and I am standing firmly behind it. (Especially now, as research about the brain, relationships, shame, vulnerability, and connection seem to align so clearly with biblical teachings.)
My goal in writing this is simply to encourage you to explore your resistance, your hesitation, your fears. To challenge long-held beliefs and compare them to other passages in the bible.
To be curious.
To know that you are not alone in your discomfort about spanking your children.
And, to be open to the idea that Christian parents can raise godly children without using a “rod.”
If you’d like to talk about this in more detail, schedule an online parent coaching session today. We can sift through your thoughts and beliefs together until you come to a place of peace and confidence in your parenting.