SPANKING – WHY AND HOW IN A COUNTRY IN WHICH IT IS ILLEGAL
By Riaan Strydom, 21 September 2019
The Constitutional Court has ruled in this week that it is unconstitutional to use any form of physical means to discipline your child.
Some think that physical discipline, even when done with love and moderation, is the same as abusing your child.
One such a mother said this in the article posted by Parent24,
"How anyone in 2019 can motivate for physically harming children, when there is so much evidence to demonstrate the long-term negative effects it has on children as they grow up, is astonishing." (Mamacos 2019).
What makes this issue so difficult is that there is much physical discipline which is done in the name of 'the Bible says so' which, in reality, is far removed from the true spirit and intention of godly discipline.
1. Ungodly Discipline
Before I state what I believe the Bible clearly teaches on spanking, let me first clarify what I strongly condemn.
Prov 19:18, "Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death."
Eph 4:26, "Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger."
Jas 1:20, "…The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God."
As these verses indicate, there is a clearly sinful way to use spanking or other forms of physical discipline. And that is when it is done in anger. The intent is everything in discipline.
If the heart is motivated by anger, the discipline is sinful in God's sight. I'm willing to go so far as to say that all discipline done in anger is child abuse, even if the method is correct.
Thus, this form of discipline will often look like the following:
1. Publicly hitting/ smacking/ spanking your child (which is humiliating and shameful).
2. Smacking your child on any part of the body where you find space.
3. Using anything in your hand (like burning with cigarettes or objects not normally used for spanking) to hit the child on any place on his/ her body.
All of these ways of disciplining a child is sinful. I can't stress enough that we should abandon these methods as quickly as possible for the sake of God's Name and the child's good.
2. Godly discipline
Yet, the Bible remains clear that parents should use the rod.
Prov 13:24, "Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him."
Prov 22:15, "Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him."
Prov 23:13-14, "Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol."
Prov 29:15, "The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother."
We see here that, in God's wisdom, He intends children to be raised with the rod to drive folly far from the child and to give wisdom. In fact, to spare the rod is to hate your child according to Proverbs! As in all of God's commands, we must 'trust in the LORD with all our heart, and not lean on our own understanding' (Prov 3:5). I'm deeply thankful that God has not just told us how to think in order to please Him, but also how to live.
So what does 'the rod' refer to?
Tripp (1995:104) gives a helpful definition in his book, “Shepherding a Child’s Heart”,
“The rod is a parent, in faith toward God and faithfulness toward his or her children, undertaking the responsibility of careful, timely, measured, and controlled use of physical punishment to underscore the importance of obeying God, thus rescuing the child from continuing in his foolishness until death.”
I will only add to this definition that the rod must always be on the bottom.
For the sake of brevity, I will only highlight a few things based on this definition. There are three key things necessary for a spanking to qualify as biblical spanking:
1. Spanking only when the child has clearly disobeyed an understandable command within his/her ability to obey
2. Spanking with the motive of love for your child with his/her best interest at heart, because God commanded you to do it.
3. Spanking only after good communication with the child to bring the child to the same conclusion as you that spanking is deserved.
1. First requirement - Spanking only for clear disobedience.
Eph 6:1-3, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother' (this is the first commandment with a promise), 'that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land."
Every child of a Christian parent should know this first. They are responsible to obey, but parents are responsible to teach this foundational verse for their lives.
God has established that a child will be blessed when he/she is and remains submissive under the parent's authority. Whenever a child decides to disobey, he/she has effectively removed themselves from the promise that it will go well with the child (generally speaking).
So when a child disobeys, the parent is on a rescue mission. The discipline they give is for the child's good - to bring them back under the God-given authority He has placed over them. And God's method for doing so is the rod and communication.
Note, we do not spank our child:
1. For being a child (like accidentally breaking something or doing something child-like).
2. For being irritating.
3. For being humiliating in public for their childish behaviour.
4. For pent up anger or frustration.
5. With the intent to harm them.
The only time a parent has any right to spank a child is when they disobeyed their authority and when they have their emotions under control.
2. Second requirement - With the intent of love
The only biblical motive for spanking is to bring a child back under your authority, because God commanded you to do so. This is an act of faith towards God and an act of love to your child as Prov 13:24 says.
Love implies being self-controlled. I recommend telling your child how many swats they will receive as a way to keep you accountable. This also will help your child know that you are in control of your emotions and that there will be a clear end to the spanking.
So ultimately, you as a parent must be more concerned with their souls than your ego. If you need to, take a few minutes before you give a spanking to calm down and pray to ensure that you are really doing it in obedience and love toward God and the child.
3. Third requirement - Only after good communication
Spontaneously spanking your child is wrong. It sees spanking as a quick fix, instead of addressing the heart.
This perhaps is the most difficult part of true biblical discipline. A child should not only be spanked for clear disobedience, but the parent should help the child understand why he/she deserves the spanking!
For example, a conversation between parent and child might look like this:
Parent: What did Daddy say you must not do?
Child: Daddy told me not to play on the computer without permission.
Parent: What did you do instead?
Child: I played on the computer without asking.
Parent: You understand what Daddy must do? Remember, God commanded me to love you and help you respect my authority. I cannot sin against God and you by not doing what He said. So I must give you a hiding…
Only when accompanied by this sort of communication will spanking be honouring to God and good for the child.
After a spanking, the parent should seek reconciliation with the child. Hugging, praying together, and forgetting about the offence should be the end-goal of all spanking.
Benefits of Using the Rod
The benefits of using this method of discipline is numerous:
1. It helps children know that there are real and painful consequences to their sin.
2. It helps children to submit under authority.
3. The punishment is over quickly and not drawn out.
4. A parent never has to scream or raise their voice to require obedience, which brings peace and harmony to the home.
5. God is glorified in our trust and acting on His Word.
When the government says we must not use the rod, we must reply like Peter in Acts 5:29, "We must obey God rather than men."
But, because it is illegal, we must be wise with how we discipline. Tripp (1995:111) gives helpful advice,
“Spanking should be done in the privacy of the home. It should not be a public matter. I might add here that public spanking may add the idea of ‘shaming’ to a spanking that should be a private three-way event – God, parent, and child.”
My prayer is that God will clarify and help all parents to not spare the rod and so love their children and reveal to them the character of God our Father, who also disciplines us for our good and His glory (Heb 12:5-11).
Mamacos, E. 2019. Smacking kids is still illegal: ConCourt maintains ruling on parental chastisement of children.
[Accessed on 19 September 2019].
Tripp, T. 1995. 2nd ed. Shepherding a Child’s Heart. 2nd ed. Wapwallopen: Shepherd Press.