This is part of a series about Bible principles for raising children. This article should be studied in context of the whole series of articles. To start at the beginning of the series, please click here: Raising_Godly Children
Parents would prefer that their children simply obey them without chastisement. But in practice this does not always happen. Often the child's will conflicts with that of the parent. Then, if the child is to learn respect for authority and do what we believe to be best for him, we must still get them to obey us. How can we lead a child to obey when he would rather not?
The answer is that parents must motivate the child to obey. Whatever reasons they have for not obeying, we must give them stronger reasons to obey! This is done by rewards and punishments. When the child obeys, we make him glad by giving him a pleasant experience. When he disobeys, we make him sorry by giving an unpleasant experience. He eventually learns it is to his advantage to obey.
Psychologists call this "reinforcement." It is used in training animals. Obedience leads to a pleasant result; disobedience leads to an unpleasant result. We are dealing, not with animals, but with children who have intelligence and emotional needs. Above all they have a spirit in the image of God and will eventually receive an eternal destiny based on their conduct before God. This is why we already emphasized love and instruction. Nevertheless, the principles of rewards and punishments are useful and Scriptural.
Consider how these principles can be used in training children.
Many child-rearing "authorities" oppose the use of spanking. Psychologist Linda Budd wrote that, if you spank your child, you should, "Apologize. Own up to your mistake" (via Greg Gwin, Good News, 5/28/95).
Proverbs 22:15 - Foolishness is bound in a child's heart, but the rod drives it from him. Children naturally tend to do bad things at times. Parents must exercise authority and give their children rules. But all children, at times, will test those limits. Then punishment is needed to "restrain" them.
Proverbs 19:18 - Chasten the son while there is still hope. This is for his good. Children must be taught obedience while they are young, even before their reasoning ability matures. If you wait till later, they may be past "hope." [See also Prov. 29:15; 23:13.]
Proverbs 13:24 - One who does not spank his son, when it is needed, hates his son. One who loves his son will chasten him. God says spanking is not an act of hatred. On the contrary, properly done, spanking is an act of love, and those who deny the value of spanking are the ones who God says hate children.
The issue of spanking boils down to an issue of the authority of God and the inspiration of the Bible. A psychologist may question my intelligence. But when he challenges spanking, he is disagreeing, not with me, but with God. And God is smarter than all the psychologists put together!
God Himself compares His chastisement of people to earthly fathers who chasten their sons. God says that all fathers will chasten their children; otherwise it indicates that the child is illegitimate (vv 6-8)!
Further, this chastening is an act of love, not hatred (v6), because it results in good for the child (vv 10,11). Some claim that punishing children produces resentment and misunderstanding, causing them to hate and disrespect their parents. But God says that discipline leads the child to respect the father (v9).
It follows that, if parents should not punish children, then God should not punish evil men. But He does punish evil men, and no one is wiser than He is. He is our perfect example of a good Father.
Finally, note that this is a New Testament Scripture. Some people question our use of Old Testament Scripture on this subject; but here is a New Testament Scripture that teaches the same thing. In fact, vv 5,6 quote Proverbs 3:11f. God's teaching on this matter is the same today as it was in the Old Testament!
People who deny the value of spanking, therefore, are denying the wisdom and authority of God Himself. Some don't know this; others do it knowingly. But regardless, to oppose spanking is to directly attack the inspiration of the Bible and the infallibility of God. Parents must understand and appreciate the value of spanking, regardless of what any human "authority" may claim.
[Cf. Rev. 3:19; Deut. 8:5; 28:15; Ex. 7-12; 2 Thess. 1:8-10; etc.]
People who deny the value of spanking, offer no workable alternatives.
"Intelligent parents rarely resort to corporal punishment ... An intelligent disciplinary method is the use of reasoning at the child's level of understanding..." - Growing Superior Children, pp. 452 (via Plain Truth about Child Rearing, p. 26). My translation: "Spanking proves you lack intelligence. If you were smart enough, you could talk them into obeying!"
This statement flatly denies Bible teaching. Reasoning with children is important and should not be neglected, but it has limits. Often immediate obedience is needed, as when a child is playing in the street and a car is coming! Some children are too young and inexperienced to understand the wisdom of the parents' reasons. And often the child is just too stubborn and self-willed to listen. In such cases, no amount of reasoning will change him.
Dr. Dobson (DTD, pp. 18ff) tells of a young mother who had been taught to reason her child into obedience. When she put her three-year-old son in his crib, he spat in her face. When she tried to reason with him, he repeated it. She finally fled the room as he spat on the back of the door! She said she could never control him after that; as a teenager he rebelled against every request she made.
We need to reason with our children as part of our instruction. But there are times when every child determines to have his own way, and no amount of reasoning will convince him. The result becomes a war of attrition, in which the child will continue arguing till he wears you down. He must be taught that "crime does not pay." Pain works wonders.
We are told to not make demands and children won't rebel. Just remove all temptation and give the children recreation and interesting toys; then they will never want to do bad things. My translation: "Just let the kid have his own way, and there will be no conflicts."
Again, there is value in keeping temptation out of the child's way. But to deny the value of spanking simply contradicts the Bible, and experience shows that it simply does not work.
Matthew 16:24 - To be a follower of Jesus we must learn to deny and control ourselves. The child who is given everything he wants never learns self-sacrifice and self-denial. He becomes self-centered and thinks the world must always adapt to him and give him what he wants. As he grows up, his demands become bigger and bigger, till finally his parents cannot satisfy his demands. His environment cannot always be controlled, so sooner or later he must face temptation and learn to control himself. Otherwise, he is destined for major trouble in life, because he thinks the world owes him a living; but the world will not always give him what he wants. The result is unhappy, miserable delinquents, rebels, and criminals such as flood our land.
Dr. Dobson (DTD, pp. 14f) tells of another family where the parents always gave their daughter whatever she wanted, never crossed her, and never made demands. She became a selfish and disrespectful teenager, throwing terrible tantrums if she did not get her way. They tried to give a party to please her, but she brought in disrespectful, rebellious friends who proceeded to tear things up. When the mother said something that angered her, the daughter "struck her down and left her helpless" lying in a pool of blood on the floor. The daughter then went out unconcerned to dance with her friends in the backyard.
This is an extreme example. But the point is that without spanking and physical punishment child rearing is doomed to failure. Spanking inflicts a relatively mild and temporary pain by means of which the child learns lessons that will teach him to avoid much greater hardships and trouble later in life and in eternity. In this way, spanking benefits the child and is therefore an act of love.
The high-school parenting text Child Growth and Development, p315, says physical punishment is "unsatisfactory" because, "All physical punishment has the danger of turning into child abuse or causing injury when the adult is really angry. For this reason alone, it should be avoided."
Sweden has outlawed spanking on the grounds that it is child abuse. In this country, schoolteachers are generally forbidden to spank, and some people have tried to pass laws forbidding parents to spank their own children. Often overly zealous social workers harass parents and call them into court, simply because parents exercise Scriptural discipline.
We do not deny that child abuse exists. We deplore it as much or more than others do. But we affirm that scriptural spanking, rather than constituting child abuse, in fact helps to prevent it.
We have shown by the Scriptures that exercise of Scriptural discipline is an expression of love for children. It is done for the child's wellbeing. In contrast, the child abuser loses sight of the child's wellbeing and acts from selfishness and anger. Such conduct flatly contradicts the Bible and is not what we are defending.
Actually, proper spanking helps avoids child abuse. People abuse children because they do not know how to properly control them. As we have illustrated, the children's conduct frustrates and angers the parent, till finally he loses control and, in a fit of anger and frustration, does lasting harm to the child. If parents would instead learn to discipline their children when the need first becomes evident, the matter would never get so out of hand.
"The chief danger of punishment is that it makes the child feel guilty - that he is bad, naughty" - The Complete Book of Mothercraft, p391 (via Plain Truth about Child Rearing, p21).
But wait! What if the child has been bad and naughty? What if he is guilty, but doesn't feel guilty? What if he has been disrespectful or has done what could lead him into sin? It sounds like punishment is just what he needs!
A fundamental error of modern psychology is that it often denies evil and guilt. It fails to hold people accountable for their misdeeds. It teaches them to have a high self-image by whitewashing and denying their guilt. But people remain unhappy and maladjusted, because sub-consciously they still know something is wrong. Worse yet, this approach leaves people with no real solution for their problem. The truth often is they are guilty; but by leading them to deny guilt, psychology leaves them with no way to remedy it.
The Bible teaches us to recognize that, when people do wrong, they are guilty and should be told so. If they stubbornly refuse to admit guilt, they should be punished so they suffer for their wrong till they admit it. This is true of children and adults.
Proverbs 20:30 - Blows and stripes cleanse away guilt and reach the inner depths of the heart. Spanking is not just an external act. It reaches the heart and teaches the child to become an upright, righteous person. It molds godly character.
But the Bible also has a solution for the guilt. When one is sorry, repents, apologizes, and corrects his conduct, he receives forgiveness from God and others who follow the Bible (Matt. 6:12-15; Luke 17:3,4). One reason many people do not appreciate the value of spanking, is that they do not understand God's concept of guilt and forgiveness.
Sociology Professor Murray Strauss wrote: "Spanking teaches kids that when someone is doing something you don't like and they won't stop doing it, you hit them" (via Greg Gwin, Good News, 5/28/95). So supposedly spanking teaches children that "might makes right," and if we are bigger and stronger than others we can get our way by violence.
That may sound reasonable on the surface, but the truth is just the opposite. An undisciplined child is the one who tends to use violence. He throws fits in rebellion against his parents' authority, but he never suffers for such conduct. As he gets older, he learns to throw bigger fits, including physical violence against those who don't let him have his way, just as in the examples we have mentioned. But if instead, when he is small, he is punished for his fits and is not allowed to get his way by such conduct, then he learns that violence does not pay.
Spanking, coupled with love and instruction, teaches children the vital principle that only people in positions of proper authority have the right to punish others. Parents spank, not just to "get their own way," but because they have the God-given authority to train a child for the child's good. Children have no right to punish others, because they do not have authority. Children can learn to see the difference.
This demonstrates other authority roles, such as God Himself, civil rulers, etc. (Rom. 12:19; 13:1-7). Those who say that spanking teaches children to be violent are, perhaps unknowingly, denying the right of God, civil rulers, and all authority figures to require a penalty of those who flaunt authority.
"The best that can be said for spanking is that it sometimes clears the air. But it isn't worth the price, and it usually doesn't work" - The Complete Book of Mothercraft, p. 367 (via Plain Truth about Child Rearing, p. 26.) Parents often make similar statements: "I tried spanking my child, but it just didn't make any difference."
Spanking sometimes does fail, but only when it has been misused. You are not guaranteed success just because you occasionally spank your child. Spanking must be administered properly (see notes below). And it must be used in connection with love, instruction, and rewards, as we discuss elsewhere.
And spanking must be used diligently and consistently. You cannot overcome months of improper training with just a few spankings. You will not succeed if you get discouraged and quit trying after a few attempts, nor if you occasionally spank a child for some offenses but then just ignore other times when he is naughty.
Proper training must also begin early. It is possible to wait till a child is so mature that his bad habits are thoroughly ingrained. You still should attempt to use right methods, but it may be too late to change his conduct (Prov. 19:18).
Those who object to spanking fall into one or more of the following categories: (1) they are ignorant of the Bible, or (2) they simply reject the Bible teaching, or (3) they have observed parents who misuse the Biblical concept of discipline. Anything good can be misused; Satan consistently leads people to pervert what is good. Like fire, electricity, atomic energy, and other powerful forces, spanking can be misused and cause great damage. But the fact there are dangers in these areas does not keep us from using them for the good they can accomplish.
Some parents act as though controlling children is entirely a matter of punishment. They never give rewards and sometimes speak as though they think it is wrong to do so. But consider a Biblical defense of using rewards in raising children.
Luke 10:7 - The laborer is worthy of his wage, but lazy, negligent workers do not deserve to be rewarded. (See also Matt. 25:14-30; 20:1-15; James 5:4; 1 Cor. 9:6-14; 1 Tim. 5:17,18; Eph. 4:28; 2 Thess. 3:10).
Men do not work on a job simply for the fun of it. We rightly expect to be paid, and we rightly hope that the people who benefit from our labors will express appreciation.
Parents ought to prepare children to live on their own in the "real world," but when they are on their own they will expect rewards for their labor. Why should we not teach them this by rewarding them as they grow up?
Proverbs 27:2 - Let another man praise you and not your own lips. Children who are not praised may grow up bragging and showing off to get attention. When parents give proper praise, their children learn not to brag on themselves.
Hebrews 11:6 - God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. He often rewarded Israel for their faithfulness (Deut. 28:1,2ff). The New Testament promises those who are faithful will receive all spiritual blessings in this life (Eph. 1:3) and eternal life at the Judgment (Rom. 8:14,17; 2:6-11).
God does not just punish evil, but He also rewards good. This has always been a fundamental part of the Divine nature. If we use the fact that God chastises us as proof we should chastise our children, then shouldn't we also imitate His example of rewarding good? Remember that God is our perfect example of a father. By using rewards as well as punishments, we help children understand the true nature of their Heavenly Father.
Luke 15:20-24 - When the prodigal son repented and returned from sin, the father kissed him, rejoiced, and gave a feast in his honor.
One way to reward a child is by letting him work for physical things he wants: money or some item he wants. But this does not mean the child should be paid for everything he does. His parents are already providing him with food, clothes, shelter, etc. If the laborer is worthy of his reward, then the child already owes it to the parents to work in return for all that the parents do for the child! And especially in spiritual matters, children need to learn the value of deferring their reward till judgment day, not necessarily expecting immediate rewards for serving God.
Romans 13:7 - Give honor to whom honor is due. Another form of reward parents ought to emphasize is expressing appreciation and giving praise. This is simply a matter of showing gratitude. (Matt. 25:21)
The nature of the rewards should be a matter of the parents' good judgment. Use your ingenuity. Learn to watch for things your children want. When they ask, "May we do this or go there...," try responding, "If you'll do this work first, then you may." You may promise to read a book to the child after he picks up his toys. As children grow older, perhaps you can pay an allowance for special jobs he does.
The point is to give pleasant results to reward the child for doing good as well as giving unpleasant consequences for failing to do good.
I cannot give a complete list of good methods parents can use to motivate children, but I can suggest some possibilities as illustrations. Parents should use their ingenuity.
If a child has been corrected for some wrong or has been forbidden to do something unacceptable, you may offer him an acceptable alternative rather than leave him disappointed or tempted to do wrong despite your instructions.
If he cannot ride his tricycle because it is raining, suggest some inside game or activity.
If you teach him not to go to the prom, offer him some alternative: a night out with the family or a banquet with other Christian friends.
God uses this method with us. He does not just forbid sin, but tells us the good we should replace it with (Eph. 4:22-32). This approach leaves the child with much less temptation to do wrong, and also teaches him to have a positive outlook and be content even when he cannot get his way.
Rewards are given only to those who deserve them. When a child misbehaves, withholding a privilege or reward may be an appropriate punishment. Usually such punishments are most effective if the connection between the punishment and the crime is fairly obvious.
If he doesn't finish his homework (or other job), he can't go out to play but has to finish the homework.
If he misbehaves with his friends, then he cannot visit with them for a period of time. If he does not come when he was supposed to, he is "grounded" and can't go anywhere for pleasure for a while.
An older teen who uses the car improperly (as by not caring for the car responsibly) may have use of the car withdrawn for a period of time.
Matt. 5:23,24; Luke 17:3,4 - When we wrong other people, the Bible teaches us to go to those people and apologize. Parents should teach children to practice this principle. When the child wrongs another child, an adult, or the parents themselves, the child should be made to apologize.
This also constitutes a good form of discipline because it is not easy to face one we have wronged and admit we were wrong. The child is not likely to soon repeat the act that led to this consequence.
Some acts naturally lead to unpleasant consequences that teach the child a lesson without the parents' having to punish them.
If a child torments a cat and the parent warns him to quit, he may continue till the cat scratches him.
If the consequences are very severe and if the child would learn the lesson from a lesser punishment, we should prefer a lesser punishment (for example, spank the child instead of letting him burn himself on a hot stove). But sometimes a child simply won't learn from the parents' teaching.
Luke 15:14-17 - The father of the Prodigal Son allowed his son to suffer the consequences of doing wrong. The boy reached the bottom, but nobody bailed him out (including his father). The result is he "came to himself" and repented. Modern parents need to learn this lesson. [Cf. also 1 Sam. 8:9ff.]
Sometimes this method is the only one children will listen to. They may have to learn some lessons the hard way. If they won't listen to us, we should not protect them from the consequences of their wrong.
If a child makes a foolish debt, make him pay it off.
If he misbehaves at school, don't take his part against the teacher or school authorities. Let them punish him.
If he misbehaves toward a neighbor (as by damaging their property), make him go face the angry neighbor and fix what he broke.
If he breaks a law and the judge fines him, make him work to pay of the fine.
Many parents "bail out" their children when they get in trouble, and the children never learn to be responsible and avoid the foolish conduct. Sometimes the best punishment is to let the child suffer for his error and don't protect him from the consequences.
Sometimes we can think of a punishment that is logically associated with the wrong deed. It "fits the crime."
When a child accidentally spills or breaks something, spanking usually is not appropriate. Instead, have him clean up what he spilled or pay for a new one to replace what he broke.
If he misbehaves in how he uses a toy or equipment (bicycle), put the toy away where he can't use it for a specified time.
If he mistreats other family members, then he may be isolated from the family as by sitting on a chair in the corner. If children squabble and can't get along, they may be separated from one another so they can't play together.
When the child's conduct is sinful, we should use the same methods for correcting him that we should with others. This includes:
2 Timothy 3:16,17 [4:2-4] - Use the Bible to show them where they are wrong and warn them of the eternal consequences of such conduct.
Make clear that you are acting for the child's good. Don't lead the child to think the Bible is a weapon God provided for parents to get their own way. Show them that this is God's will and they must obey God.
Galatians 6:1 - Sometimes Christians know our children has sinned, so they try to talk to them about it. Parents in such cases may become defensive and try to protect their children. Instead we should realize that this is good for the children, and we should appreciate people who care enough to help. Remember the father of the prodigal, who allowed his son to suffer the consequences of his sin till the son repented.
2 Thessalonians 3:6,14,15 - If the child is a Christian who sins and the church exercises Scriptural discipline, we cooperate with the church and respect its decision. The Old Law taught parents to actively participate in congregational punishment of erring children (Deut. 21:18-21; 13:6-11; Zech. 13:3). New Testament discipline takes a different form, but the principle is the same. If the child sins, and we defend them in opposition to those who Scripturally reprove him, we become a partaker of his evil deed - 2 John 10,11.
James 5:16 - Confess your faults to one another and pray for one another. When the child acknowledges he has done wrong, pray to God and ask God to help him do right. If he is old enough to be a Christian, then his disobedience to you was also a sin against God. Have him confess the sin to God and pray for forgiveness. (Acts 8:22; Matthew 6:12; 21:28-32; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 1 John 1:8-10; Proverbs 28:13)
Parents may find other means of motivating children, in addition to those mentioned here. But the principle always is: give pleasant consequences for good behavior, unpleasant consequences for bad behavior.
To be effective and Scriptural, punishments and rewards must be administered according to certain rules. The mere fact you use spanking (or other punishments) and rewards, does not of itself guarantee parental success.
Remember that your purpose is to punish the child for his good, not for his harm. We seek only temporary pain to change the child's conduct. To inflict lasting harm is not an act of love, does not accomplish the purpose of punishment, and violates the principle that we are not to discourage our children (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21).
Yet many parents do harm their children. Child abuse is a very definite problem in our society. Literally thousands of children every year are beaten to death by their parents, left abandoned, or otherwise inflicted with lasting harm. All such conduct neglects parental responsibility and violates Scripture.
Some parents try to control children by words. Dr. Dobson (DTD, pp 9,10) gives an example of a woman whose children would run completely unrestrained throughout the neighborhood. Her form of "discipline" was to run out her door from time to time and scream, "I have had it with you; I have had it with you children!" Then she would turn and go back into the house, while her children continued to terrorize the neighborhood!
All of us know such methods are ineffective. But many make the same mistake in other ways. They may nag and harp, threaten and scold: "What's the matter with you, Son. You never do what I say. What am I going to do with you? It seems like you're always getting into something. Why can't you do what you're told? Other children obey their parents, why can't you? Etc., etc., etc." "This is the last time I'm going to tell you that this is the last time I'm going to tell you!"
Others try to control children by getting loud or by long lectures. We made mistakes in this area. One of us would get loud and gruff with the kids; the other would repeatedly give long lectures. This may not be sinful, but the point is that it is not effective.
In church meetings we see children misbehave, so parents repeatedly whisper to them, tug at them, shake them, grab them and sit them down. But the problem continues.
The problem is that the child gets used to talk and simply turns it off. It may work at first, but then he learns to gauge how loud, how angry, how long you threaten and scold before you do anything. Then he will push you to the limit. He will pay no attention until you reach the fever pitch where he thinks you are about to take action. The parent gets louder and angrier until finally he ends up having to punish the child anyway.
Further, the parent's verbal barrage often results in a return barrage. We scold; he argues and fusses. We scold louder and longer; he argues and fusses louder and longer. Other family members overhear. The result is that everyone becomes angry, frustrated, and upset.
Proverbs 13:24 - He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly (NKJV; cf. Heb. 12:5-11). We think we are showing love for the child by not punishing him, but we would show more love and have a better relationship if we would just punish and get it over with.
The solution is to use action to motivate. We should talk to the child once enough to make sure he understands what is expected. If he is old enough to understand and if circumstances are appropriate, we should explain our reasons. If he disobeys, we may explain a second time to be sure he understands. But if he understands what we want and he just does not want to obey, then it is time for action, not words.
If you discipline "promptly," soon you won't have to argue with him. He will obey "promptly," because he now knows that you will back up your words with action. The result of disciplining "promptly" is that eventually you end up disciplining less, and meanwhile you have a much more peaceful home.
Arguing begets arguing; action begets action.
Ephesians 4:26 - Be angry and do not sin. Being angry with our children is not necessarily sinful, but if we are not careful it can lead to sin.
When we become extremely angry and agitated, there is danger that we may make decisions that are bad for the child. We may even lose control and cause serious violence and harm. So we really should keep ourselves under control, and administer discipline calmly. But how do we accomplish this?
Interestingly enough, the answer is the same as the last point: Take action early, before the situation gets out of hand. Obtain action from the child by taking action yourself. He is not likely to do what you say until he thinks you will take action if he does not. So don't keep postponing the action. When the child does something that you will eventually punish him for if he does not change, warn him calmly once or twice. If he does not obey, calmly punish him.
Consistent application of this approach will lead to less arguing, less anger, less upset, and less threatening. But the result will also be less punishment, in the long run. Why? Because when the child learns that you mean what you say, he will act when you tell him to, instead of agitating till you have to punish him. By punishing more promptly, you end up punishing less frequently. Greater commitment to action leads to decreased need for action. More is less.
Yes, you can and should learn to punish children calmly. Remember it: Arguing begets arguing; action begets action.
Ephesians 6:1 - Children obey your parents. Obedience is the goal of our training!
Some parents spank hard enough to cause crying, but not hard enough to cause obedience! They give little smacks that wouldn't hurt anybody. The child fusses so the parents think they've done the job and stop punishing. And the child continues to do as he wants.
Once when my mother spanked me, I told my sister, "It didn't hurt. I just cried so she'd quit." My sister told Mother, and Mother did the job again to make sure it hurt!
The fact a child cries does not prove he is sorry for his wrong and won't do it any more. Some crying is a form of rebellion, protest, or expression of anger. Some children hope their crying will get on their parents' nerves, make them feel guilty, or embarrass them if others hear it. Or maybe the parents will just get tired of all the fuss and trouble, and decide to drop the matter. But if the child isn't doing what you told him to do, your job isn't done yet, no matter how much he cries. Punish him some more till he obeys you!
Do not automatically resort to spanking. Maybe with a certain child in a certain situation, just a good discussion will solve the matter. Or maybe you can give a lesser punishment or take away a privilege. Different children react differently to different approaches. Learn what works best with each child under various circumstances. But use what produces the desired obedience.
Be sure your rewards are really something the child likes, and your punishments are something he dislikes. In Uncle Remus' tales, Br'er Fox caught Br'er Rabbit and wanted to make him suffer. Br'er Rabbit convinced Br'er Fox that he would suffer terribly, if Br'er Fox would fling him into the briar patch. But when it happened, Br'er Rabbit was happy as could be, because the briar patch was his home!
Some punishments are simply inadequate. Some parents spank on a diaper or on an older child's blue jeans. It makes a loud noise, but the child may feel little or nothing. I always pulled my children's clothing up or down and spanked on their bare thigh. It's a punishment. Make sure it hurts!
Sometimes we may think we are punishing our children; but if they don't change their behavior, then apparently they don't consider the punishment to be severe enough.
Never let the child win a battle of wills. With many children there will come a time - perhaps several or even many times - when he will stubbornly set his will against yours and dare you to make him obey. The Bible calls it "stiff-necked." When that happens, you cannot afford to lose that battle.
If you must spank the child a dozen times, he must learn that, when the parent "puts his foot down," then the child is not going to win. This is not a matter of stubbornness and egotism by the parent. It is a principle of authority for everyone's good.
If the child finds out that, if he is stubborn long enough, he can get his way, then he will be ten times more stubborn next time. But if you can prove without question, while the child is a pre-schooler, that what you say is the way it will be, then there will be far fewer challenges to your authority in later years, including the rebellious teen years.
This is not to say we should refuse to listen to reason. If the child can give good reasons for us to change our minds, that is one matter. But we are discussing a conflict of wills in which the child just doesn't want to do what we told him to do. In that case, you must keep on punishing until the child submits. You must not let him have his way! The goal is obedience.
Ephesians 6:4 - Do not provoke children to anger.
You might demand too much because a child is simply too young to understand or be able to do what you asked. Maybe you did not explain clearly enough what you wanted. Maybe he just honestly forgot due to time lapse, tiredness, excitement of circumstances, etc. Maybe he has an unfilled emotional need, and acts as he does out of fear or insecurity or a desire for love and attention. These situations should be handled differently from outright rebellion.
But when the child knows what you want (or ought to know), but he is just rebellious, self-willed, stubborn, and does not want to do what you want, this child must be punished to motivate him to obey.
This is not always easy. It requires thought, experience, and knowledge of the child. Perhaps parents should discuss these matters together. Here are some thoughts to help.
Put yourself in the child's place. When you were his age, how would you have acted and felt in his place? How should you have been handled to produce desired conduct? "Do unto others..." (Matt. 7:12).
Consider how the child would act if he WANTED to do a thing.
Suppose you tell little Johnny to do something, but he fusses and squirms and cries and makes everybody miserable. You may think maybe Johnny is too tired or maybe he's sick. But five minutes later he is doing something he likes, so now he is all smiles and happiness. That proves little Johnny can be pleasant if he wants to - it's your job to see to it that he wants to!
Maybe Johnny says he is too sick to go to school. But then he wants to stay up and play with his toys or go outside and play. When I said I was too sick to go to school, my mother made me stay in bed all day to get better!
So consider whether he is capable of understanding, remembering, and accomplishing the thing you asked of him if it were something he wanted to do. If the answer is "yes," then your job is to give him sufficient reason to want to!
Sometimes a child misbehaves in public places, other people's homes, or in the presence of company. Disciplining him around other people may embarrass him, you, and the other people. And in today's society so-called child advocates may harass you. But if you don't discipline the child, he soon learns he can misbehave around other people without consequences.
One solution is to call the child to you and inform him as privately as possible what you want (whisper, etc.). If firmer measures are needed, find or ask for a private room. (This could be a rest room, a bedroom, a car, etc.). Take the child there and proceed to discipline as you would at home. If he is old enough to understand, you may tell him you will discipline him when you get home.
Suppose a child is being noisy or otherwise disruptive during a church meeting. Some people think, if they take the child out, it will be embarrassing or will disturb others. But by not disciplining the child, they make matters worse because the child continues to disrupt other people.
When your child is distracting other people in worship assemblies, take him out and solve his problem. Then bring him back when he is under control so he will not distract others.
If he is already doing wrong, and you offer a reward to quit, then you have really rewarded and reinforced his misbehavior. Next time he wants that reward, he will misbehave hoping to receive the reward again.
Suppose you call Billy to come and he says, "No, I won't!" So you offer him candy if he'll come. What will happen next time you call him? He'll remember that, if he says "No," he may get some candy!
The time to offer a reward is before the child has done anything wrong, while you are asking him to do something good. Or just give him the reward after he did the good deed, but don't wait till he's already doing something wrong and then offer him a reward to quit.
Discuss the incident. Explain why it was wrong and what the child should have done. After the punishment, make sure the child is sorry: make him say he's sorry and make him promise to do right next time. If he has refused to do something you told him to do, take him back and make him do it. Then be sure to tell the child you love him and you expect him to do better next time, etc. There are many advantages to this.
(1) It helps you keep calm.
(2) It makes sure the child understands why he is being punished and what you expect in the future.
(3) It helps him remember the lesson. You certainly have his attention, so it is an excellent time to instruct him.
(4) It enables you to assure him of your love and concern for what's best for him. You make sure he understands that you care about him, but you must not allow that kind of conduct.
(5) Often your talk will cause the child to feel bad just by the fact he knows he has disappointed you.
Gwendolyn Webb says to "make a spanking an event" (TUAC, pp. 168-170). She means don't just keep scolding a child and smacking him so the situation gets drug out repeatedly. Take him out, talk to him, give him a spanking, make him apologize and do what you told him, etc. Make it an event he will remember, so he is not likely to make the same error again.
Romans 11:22 - Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness.
God is a God of both rewards and punishments. He is our example of a good father. We should consider the principles He uses to motivate obedience and apply those principles in our homes according to the Scriptures.
here to study Key #7: Consistency
Click here to return to Raising Children: Introduction
Copyright 2004, David E. Pratte
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