Discipline Your Child Without Spanking?

February 02, 2023

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Is it okay to discipline children without spanking? To answer this question, Elizabeth Urbanowicz explores the goals in disciplining our children according to what we find in scripture and then discusses the positives and negatives of spanking itself. Plus, she'll talk about why it's important to consider alternate methods of discipline and the individual personality of your child when trying to accomplish the goal of discipline.


Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.

Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the children God has placed in your care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz, and we're going to dive right into our question for today. Our question today says, "Is it okay to discipline your child without spanking?" And when this question came in, I found it to be such an interesting question because usually the question is just the opposite. Usually the question is, "Is it okay to discipline your child by spanking?" Because usually when we think about child development and what is recommended in our culture, it's usually only within some Christian circles that spanking is still encouraged as a form of discipline for a child.

Now, as with any question that we're thinking through, any action that we're asking, is this okay? Is this not okay? Or any situation just in which we find ourselves? I think one of the first questions that we should always ask ourself is... what is the goal? So when we're thinking about disciplining our children, what is the goal in disciplining? And I think if we actually think through this question ahead of time, so many things become clear. Because what I find with so many parents that I observe, and even what I found with myself in the classroom is if we don't think about discipline ahead of time, usually what we tend to do is very reactionary, and usually our goal is simply to change our children's behavior. Now, obviously, some behavioral change is part of the goal, but I would argue that it is not the entire goal. So if we're thinking about raising children from a biblical worldview according to what we find in scripture, I would argue that the goal in disciplining our children is threefold.

That first, the goal in disciplining is to correct sinful behavior. Scripture is clear that parents love their children when they discipline them. We're told in the New Testament that we are disciplined by God, our Father, and that discipline actually proves our sonship, that if we're not disciplined by God, we are to question... are we actually children of God? Because God disciplines those he loves. God disciplines his sons and daughters because he a faithful parent. And then in Proverbs, there are so many different passages that talk about, "Those who do not discipline their children don't actually love them," because we need to correct the sinful behavior. Because what does sin lead to? Sin leads to destruction. Sin leads to death. And so we want to correct this sinful behavior in our children because we do not want them to continue down the path of destruction. So that's the first thing I would say.

That is the goal and discipline to correct sinful behavior. Then the second thing that I would argue is to point our children to Jesus. Because anytime we're disciplining our children, we should only be disciplining our children when they sin. If our children haven't sinned, we should not be disciplining them. For example, if our child gets a B on a test, if they didn't study for that test and they just stayed up late watching a show on Disney Plus and they directly disobeyed us when we told them to study for that test, then okay, we can discipline them for that. But if they just came home from school with a B on a test, they haven't sinned. Did they get a perfect score on the test? No, but there was no sin involved. So we shouldn't discipline them for getting a B if there's no sin involved.

And so discipline should always involve when our children have sinned. And so therefore, we want to point them to Jesus. Yes, we need to work our hardest to live in a way that honors God, but we can never do that on our own apart from the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. So we want our discipline to point our children to Jesus, to show them that on their own, their hearts are deceitful, their hearts are sinful, that we are sinful. We constantly miss the mark, and that is why we need Jesus. And the purpose isn't to shame our children because guess what? We're sinners too. We miss the mark as well. We need Jesus as well. So the first goal and discipline is to correct the sinful behavior. The second goal is to point our children to Jesus, to show them their need for a savior because of their sin.

And then the third goal would be to reconcile the relationship with our child, that their relationship with God would be reconciled and their relationship with us would be reconciled because sin causes separation. Sin always causes separation. Think about in the garden, Adam and Eve sinned. Immediately, they were separated from one another. Immediately they realized they were naked and they hid themselves by clothing themselves. They were separated from one another. Then their sin has separated them from God. When God came walking in the garden, they ran and they hid from God, and then their sin even separated them from a correct understanding of themselves. Because when God questioned them about what happened, rather than being honest and confessing of what they had done and repenting before the Holy God, they shifted the blame. They weren't even honest with themselves about what had taken place. And so sin always tears down relationship.

So when our child has sinned against us, it's not enough for us to just dole out some punishment, but there actually has to be repentance and reconciliation that our child has to repent, confess of what they have done, apologize, ask for forgiveness, and then we offer and extend that forgiveness to reconcile that relationship. So this threefold goal... first, correcting the sinful behavior... second, pointing our children to Jesus... third, reconciling our relationship with them. So the question was about spanking. So first I'm going to look at the positive side. Is it okay to spank our children? So the question that we're going to look at is... can spanking do these three things? Well, can spanking correct sinful behavior? Well, it can provide correction if it's not done in anger that we're not just so enraged at what our child did that we hit them out of anger.

That spanking should never be done out of anger. No discipline should be done out of anger. So if the spanking is not done in anger, if it's controlled, meaning the goal is not to hurt the child, the goal is to give them a small physical reminder that what they did was wrong so that it's controlled. It's limited. It's not actually hurting them physically, it's just providing this small physical reminder that what they did was wrong and it's age appropriate. Because usually the purpose of spanking is so that the child has this physical reminder that what they did was wrong. So usually spanking is most appropriate for children who are ages five and younger because they're too young to reason. They're too young to talk through what they did and to have another punishment doled out. So spanking potentially could correct the sinful behavior if it's not done out of anger, it's controlled, it's limited, and it's appropriate for their age.

However, can spanking do the other two things? Can spanking point children to Jesus and reconcile our relationship with them? No. Spanking alone doesn't point them to Jesus. It doesn't reconcile the relationship. So that means that spanking as a form of discipline, while it can help with the first goal in discipline, it's not sufficient that if we choose to spank our children as a method of discipline, when we're not angry with them and it's very controlled and it's age appropriate, it's not harming them, then we need to make sure that we have these follow up discussions with them about why they did what they did. What was going on in their hearts at the time? What were they trying to accomplish? What did it lead to? And to talk about how that was a sin against God and to point them to their need for Jesus, that yes, what you did was wrong.

What you did was a sin against God. But you know what? There's some good news. There's some good news that even though you just sinned against God, God made a way to forgive you. God sent his only son Jesus to pay the price for that sin so that you don't have to pay the price for that sin, pointing them to Jesus and then reconciling their relationship with us. When you hit Mommy, or when you said mean words to Mommy, or when you colored on Daddy's wall, or when you ran away from Daddy when he was in the store, that was the wrong thing to do. And you know what? You need to apologize for that. And actually walking our kids through how to apologize... that it's not just saying, I'm sorry. And then the other person says, it's fine. Actual repentance involves saying, "When I did this, it was wrong."

So if your child colored on the wall, walking them through, when I colored on the wall, it was wrong. And with little kids, you actually have to walk them through this. When I colored on the wall, it was wrong. You might have to have them repeat after you. I'm sorry. Will you forgive me? So having them when they're little, repeat that script, and then once they're seven on up, they should know that formula. What did you do? You need to explain what you did. Apologize for that and ask for forgiveness. I'm sorry, I rolled my eyes at you. That was disrespectful and wrong. I'm sorry. Will you forgive me? And then offering that forgiveness to our child. So now, diving into the actual question that was asked... can discipline be done without spanking? Yes, we can discipline our children without spanking them.

There are other means of punishment that can correct a sinful behavior. With little ones, you can give them a timeout. When I was growing up, and my brother and I... we got into lots of physical fights. My brother and I have very opposite personalities. We argued all the time. We got into lots of physical fights. As a reminder that we were not supposed to use our hands to harm one another, my mom would have us go and sit in the kitchen on the floor, and we'd have to sit on our hands for a certain amount of time so that the sitting there on our hands was actually a physical reminder that I just used my hands in the wrong way. Taking away privileges from our children, whether it's making them go to bed 15 minutes or a half hour early, if they get to watch a 20 minute show after their quiet time or their nap time, or after they get home from school, taking away that privilege of watching the show when they're older, if they've really disobeyed in a big way, it might be making them sit out from a soccer game, not going to a special event, not going to a birthday party....

There can be other ways of correcting that sinful behavior so that they're actually thinking through what they're doing. And then the second and third parts... pointing them to Jesus... always involves that we talk with them, that we ask them questions about what they did, why they did it, what their goal was, what they were seeking to accomplish, what actually happened so that we can help highlight for them their sinfulness and their need for Jesus, God's goodness. We want them to understand God's goodness. I have a friend who recently, her child used God's name in vain, and she actually had a conversation with her son about how that was sinning against God. And I mean, praise God. Her son was so sensitive to this, and he was actually crying that he had just sinned against God. And she said, but remember, what do we have in Jesus?

In Jesus we have forgiveness. And he stopped crying and was like, God forgives me. And he was so relieved that he can have forgiveness in Jesus, and then making sure we go through that step of reconciling our relationship with one another. And this is something if you and your spouse don't practice this, this is an important thing for you to model before your children and even with your children when you sin against your children. So when you and your spouse sin against one another, that you actually model walking through that repentance. When I yelled at you and you didn't respond to me right away, that was wrong. I was not respecting you as my husband, or I was not loving you as my wife. Will you forgive me? And then modeling that reconciliation.

And the same thing with our children when we sin against them, that we go to them and say, "You know what? When Mommy yelled at you when we were in the grocery store, I was feeling very frustrated because you weren't listening to me. And should you have been listening to me? Yeah, you should have. But should Mommy have yelled at you in that way? No, Mommy wasn't treating you like an image bearer of God. I'm so sorry for yelling at you. That was wrong. Will you forgive me? So modeling this confession and repentance of sin. Another thing I would encourage you, whether you are someone who has chosen to use spanking as a model of discipline, or someone who has chosen not to use spanking as a model of discipline, that you really consider who your child is and what his her needs are. If you're working in a classroom with children, again, that you consider what each individual child's needs are, because what one child needs for discipline is not the same as what another child needs for discipline.

I told you earlier that my brother and I are very different. And when growing up, my mom would discipline us in different ways because one of my sinful tendencies is I'm very much driven towards people pleasing and perfectionism. So with me, to get me to stop a behavior, all my mom would need to do would be to say my name in a certain tone of voice and look at me, and I would start to cry. There were punishments that were given out. But just by speaking to me and looking at me in a certain way, I would know that what I had done was wrong... where my brother is very much extroverted, and he would tend to need more of a spanking in order to have his behavior corrected. So just encourage you to really seek out who is this child and what does he or she need to be corrected... to have the sinful behavior corrected?

Then to be pointed to Jesus, and then to be reconciled in their relationship with you. Pray. Pray for wisdom. Pray that God would give you wisdom in how to disciple each child that he has placed in your care because what works for one child is not going to work for another one. When it comes to discipline, we need to have real wisdom. And the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, that Jesus is the embodiment of wisdom. So we need to seek the Lord for that. And we're promised in James that when any of us needs wisdom, we should ask God, and God will give generously the wisdom that we need. Also, I would encourage you to seek Godly counsel from those in the body of Christ near you. Look for moms, dads, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, other teachers that model this well... that have disciplined children in a way that really aligns with the biblical worldview.

Ask them for help. Ask them what worked for them. Really glean council from those who are ahead of you on the journey. And also I would encourage you just to look for resources of others who have developed sound methods of disciplining children and making sure that these methods align with the biblical worldview, that they're not just straight up behavior modification, because things that go against the biblical worldview are ultimately going to fail because they're ultimately not in line with reality. So just two resources that I would recommend... a teaching series by Paul David Tripp called Getting to the Heart of Parenting. Even if you're not a parent, it's a great one. I went to a Getting to the Heart of Parenting conference when I was a teacher, and simply going to that conference completely transformed the way that I managed and disciplined in my classroom. And for my last several years of teaching, I disciplined and managed my classroom in a completely different way and in a much more effective and gospel-centered way.

So getting to the Heart of Parenting series by Paul David Tripp... also I would recommend the series for parents put out by the center for Parenting with Love and Logic. So they have a couple different courses that are available, and then some books. Parenting With Love and Logic really gets into some things that we can do with kids that actually aligns with their brain chemistry. How did God design their minds to work, and what are some of the things that we need to do as we're disciplining them with both love and logic? So those are two resources that I would just highly recommend.

Well, that's a wrap for our episode today. If you found the content in this podcast helpful, I would just really encourage you to hit the like button and the subscribe button. Doing so helps more people discover this content so that we can equip more adults to get their kids to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. As we leave our time together today, my prayer is that God would richly bless you as you continue to faithfully disciple the children he's placed in your care. I'll see you next time.

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