Spankings: When, and Why?

       I was eleven or twelve years old. I had been at baseball practice for about an hour and a half at a local Jr. High’s field, and practice was over. As I waited for my mom and dad to pull up in the blue Astro-Van to pick me up, I can remember getting a little bored. All my friends’ parents had picked them up already – all except one or two… If you have sons, like I do, you know that the most opportune time for young boys to endanger their lives is when there is no one around but a couple of friends their age. Oh yes – it was a formula for disaster. So, I did what every bored little boy trying to impress his friends would do. I climbed on the school’s roof.

       It was a pretty neat little world up there. I found all kinds of fun stuff – some tennis balls and frisbees… a couple of plastic bottles and pens. Not to mention the extreme rush of being 25 feet up in the air where I KNEW I was not supposed to be. I was so cool. Well, until my parents drove up. Somehow I missed the big blue house-van coming down the road. Fatal mistake. My mom jumped out of that van and some how, even though I was 25 feet off the ground, she made me feel like I was about 2 feet tall. She was yelling at me all the way across the roof, the slide down the support poles to the ground, and every mile of the way home. I was busted. And I was in trouble… …So my dad came in my room, gave me a good talkin’ and then, a good spankin’. And if I told you that was the first time OR the last time I ever got a spanking, I would be lying. But I’ll tell you this: that WAS the last time I climbed on a school’s roof.

I don’t beat my kids. I don’t hit them, and I don’t abuse them. But I do spank them.
When? Two specific times:

1.) Direct disobedience. When I have told them not to do something and they do it anyway, it’s a spanking, and they know it. Likewise, when I tell them TO do something and they choose not to do it, you guessed it. Spanking.

        – WHY, Tony? It’s not about a power trip, it’s about safety. Children very rarely see the dangers around them. They need to know that when Mommy and Daddy say something, it is to be obeyed immediately. Where we go wrong is by separating the “little” offenses from the “big” ones. We say, “No, you can’t have a cookie right now, but you can in 10 minutes.” They go grab a cookie immediately and start to eat it – (direct disobedience)… “BUT, I was going to give him one in a few minutes anyway. That’s really not worth a spanking.” Wrong.
       Vanessa and I often observe interactions between parents and their children. One day not too long ago, a couple’s daughter was running out into the road, and cars were coming. The parents said “Sarah (not her real name), stop!” And you guessed it… Sarah turned and acknowledged her parent’s order, but did not stop. Thanks be to God, the driver of the approaching vehicle saw Sarah and stopped while the indignant parents ran to her rescue in the middle of the road. Why didn’t Sarah stop? Because she did not associate direct disobedience with immediate repercussion. She has gotten away with disobedience all her life, so why should this time be any different?
       I have a great friend who is an excellent woodworker. One day we were in the shop together and his little boy was in there. Something happened, and a dense cloud of sawdust shot down from the roof around the boy. My friend immediately said, “Tommy (again, not his real name), close your eyes!” Tommy immediately shut his eyes because he knew that his dad’s commands were to be obeyed without question. That saved him a lot of pain.

2.) Disrespect. The second reason I spank my children is for disrespect. Disrespecting me, my wife, their teachers, other peers, and other figures of authority in their lives. And we don’t play around with this one either. My youngest was yelling at me earlier today. I had already told him once today that if he talked to me like that again, I was going to spank him. There aren’t three strikes in our house. Only two. Aaron got a spanking today. You can only imagine… when he did it the second time, he knew it was coming. After he realized what he had done, he immediately said, “I don’t want a spanking, Daddy.” As touching as that was, I followed through with my promise.

       – WHY, Tony? two reasons. [REASON A] Aaron wasn’t sorry for what he had done. He was sorry that he got caught, and the only reason he was sorry was because he knew that a spanking was coming. Take away the spanking, and the remorse would be gone. [REASON B] I believe our world today is absent of respect for authority. Just ask any school teacher or police officer you know. They’ll tell you very quickly that kids (and even adults) today are much less respectful than they were 10 or 20 years ago.
       God institutes authority in our lives for a reason, He is the God of order and institution. We see numerous times in scripture analogies of Christ as the “head” of the church, the husband as the “head” of the family, governmental officials as being empowered and instituted by God Himself, and infrastructural organization such as heads of clans, tribes, cities, and peoples. It is a fact that children in early developmental years perform and develop best when they are in a structured environment. Children need authoritative parents who stand by their word and teach them to submit to instituted authority over them.        
       These skills will shape the rest of their lives. One day, your son will be employed, and he will have to follow orders from his boss. He will need to respect his boss as authority over him. Also – it promotes the character trait of humility. The bible tells us that if we will humble ourselves before the Lord, He will lift us up (James 4:7-10). Kids don’t learn that from the culture. They need to learn it from their parents.

That’s It! Those are the only two times I spank my children. And believe me – that’s enough!!! We were in the movie theatre about a year ago and a “bad word” was said in the picture. Ethan (my oldest) repeated that word loudly and proudly, so everyone around us could hear – including the 70-80 year old woman who stared right through my bone and marrow to my very soul in utter condemnation. Did I spank Ethan then and there? Nope. He had never used or even heard that word before. So I made sure to explain to him that was not a word we used. We came up with the solution, “If you’ve never heard Mommy or Daddy say a word before, ask us before you use it.” That seems to work pretty well. He’s never used that word again – but if he does… now he knows it will constitute a spanking.

Then what about when spanking doesn’t work???!!! That is a VERY relevant question. I believe authoritative spanking is an excellent way to instill respect in and foster discipline in our children’s lives (Proverbs 13:24). But for some couples, spanking just doesn’t seem to be working… and that is very frustrating. Let me first ask a couple of questions:

1.) Are you consistent? If you say, “Do that again and you will get a spanking,” then you MUST follow through with it. If you don’t you’re teaching your child that you are inconsistent, and then they never know whether they can expect a spanking or not. NEVER threaten with a disciplinary action if you are not willing to follow through with it.
       Also in this category is the degree of the spanking. A quick pat on the butt one time, and a full-fledged “take-em to the room and wear-em out” at others is NOT consistency. Spankings are meant to be consistent disciplinary action. If it is deserving of a spanking, it is deserving of a spanking, there are not degrees of spanking. Let your child know that each offense is a serious one, no matter how “little.”

2.) Are you angry? I make it a point NEVER to spank my children when I’m angry. After all, it’s not their fault that I’m angry – it’s mine. I can’t control their actions, but their actions also can’t control my emotions. I can choose to respond in a number of different ways – and my anger is MY problem, not theirs.
       When parents spank their children in anger (especially dads), the intensity of the spanking is usually compromised. If you need to cool down a bit, then send him to his room while you chill out.

3.) Where do you spank? Seems like a silly question – but it’s a good one. We never spank in public. The goal is never to humiliate the child – only to be consistent with the disciplinary action. If the offense is done in public, we go to a bathroom.
       At home, we spank in the kids’ bedroom. It provides a private atmosphere where our children are not put on public display (even amongst each other or the other parent), and where, after calming down a bit, we can talk to him briefly about the offense and reassure him of our love.

4.) Have you clearly defined offenses after which spankings will come? Aaron (our youngest) doesn’t know the terminology yet, but he knows when he’s done something that constitutes a spanking. I don’t have to tell him. He just knows. Ethan, on the other hand… he can tell you that he will get a spanking if he is disobedient or if he is disrespectful. Clear as day to him.
       This is part of the disciplinary structure your child needs to develop emotions properly. If spankings are dependent on your mood or your physical stamina, the child will learn two things: (1) He can get away with certain things when you are acting a certain way. Later in life, this can develop into usery or manipulation. (2) Sometimes it is right to do a certain action, while at other times it is wrong. It is confusing for the child, and can seriously interrupt the process of learning moral and ethical standards.

5.) Are you being concise? We had friends at one time that had incredible difficulty with their children. They spanked, but before the spanking and after the spanking, there was a monologue on how the action was bad, who all it affected, why it should not be repeated, and how it was going to affect the child for the rest of his life. Notice the word “monologue.” It’s one thing to dialogue with your kids – that keeps interest and promotes meaningful understanding. It’s something completely different to monologue.
       In our college education classes, the teachers and books told us that children between 2 and 8 have about a 30 second attention span. 30 SECONDS!!! If you don’t change the inflection of your voice, solicit a response, or make some physical motion to keep/regain their attention, you’ll lose them faster than you can sing the alphabet song.
       Be concise. Tell your child everything he needs to know in as few words as possible. It was wrong. Do it again, and there will be another spanking. I love you so much. The end.

BUT – what if I’m doing it all right, and it’s still not working???!!! Stop. Try something else. But use the same principles. Be consistent, be communicative, and be concise.

I know how frustrating it is to raise a stubborn child – and my Mom tells me that I was pretty stubborn myself. Keep in mind that this child you are raising is an amazing creation of God. He or she has infinitely more going on physically/emotionally/spiritually/biochemically than you or I could even imagine. But as I’m finding out very quickly, they grow up so fast. Your child will learn more between the ages of 2 and 6 than he or she will the rest of his or her life. Capitalize on that, and instill Godly morality and biblical principles within now.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget… to ENJOY him. They’re so much fun. And most of the time they want nothing more than to spend a little time with you. So here’s your chance. Get off the computer, and go play a silly game with him. That’s what I’m about to do.

Grace and Peace,
Tony