The issue of spanking as a form of child discipline sparks debates among various sectors. The point of the argument is that there is a very thin line between this form of physical correction and beating. But the Christian Bible points to spanking as an acceptable form of correction in shaping a child’s behaviour.

To spank or not to spank?

This is an issue that sparks serious arguments among many sectors. Some parents, and even psychologists and clinical counselors, abhor spanking as a form of child discipline. But there are also many more parents who admit that they employ this form of physical correction in shaping their children's behaviour.

Points of argument

Non-advocates argue that spanking is a violent, dangerous, and ineffective means to curb a child’s behaviour. In fairness, though, we cannot blame them for such a stance. Many of these people may, in one way or another, have witnessed or experienced physical violence at home during their childhood. They may have had an abusive parent that caused them to live a not-so-good life experience. And perhaps, it’s for this very reason that they don’t want their own children to suffer the same ordeal as they did. They stand on the ground that spanking plants the seeds for violent behaviour. After all, there’s a very thin line between spanking and beating. If not done correctly, spanking may actually lead to physical abuse. But parents who have had a well-balanced childhood know the boundaries between the two.

Spanking versus beating

Spanking should be done in a manner that does not injure the child, violates his right, or cause him humiliation. It should not leave bruises or serious marks, other than the temporary reddening of the smacked part of the body. And most importantly, it should be preceded by a warning.

Speaking from experience, I grew up receiving a lot of spanking during my childhood. I repeat, I got spanked, NOT beat! My parents were not lax in setting the rules. And they always made it clear that for every mischief I made there’s a price. But, then again, I got spanked only after we “reviewed” the specific rule and in which part I made a mistake.

Looking back to the way my parents disciplined me, I am proud to say that they have moulded me well. I became the person that I am today. Otherwise, my life would have gone awry had they allowed me to grow up a spoiled brat.

Beating, on the other hand, inflicts injury on the child. It is often unpredictable. A child does not know what will set his parent or guardian off. The rules and consequences are not clearly set. And so, it leaves the child constantly fearful.

It’s true that parents sometimes discipline their children when they are angry. An abusive parent can easily lash out and employ physical force to assert his power over the child. Sadly, the angrier the parent, the more intense the pain he inflicts. And here is where the danger comes in. Unpredictable episodes of beating for no clear reason inculcate in the child a sense of violent behaviour when he grows older. He will likely think that it’s acceptable to develop antisocial behaviour and hit someone to get his own way.

Biblical basis of spanking

A child left to himself will grow up and do just like what the rest do in a fallen world. He runs the risk of making bad decisions, producing pain and turmoil in his own life and those of others. His relationships with other people would either be difficult or would not work right. It is also likely that he would mismanage his finances, resulting in debt piling up. And conflicts within and outside his home would be a common occurrence.

But because the God of all is a loving Creator, He clearly sets the rules on how we should live our lives. He wants the best for us. Through the Bible, God clearly demands that parents should be responsible and diligent in applying discipline on their children. But He strongly forbids physical abuse of any kind.

The Bible repeatedly admonishes parents to employ spanking as a form of discipline. Let’s take a look at a few of the verses:

Whoever spares the rod hates the child,
but whoever loves will apply discipline
. (Proverbs 13:24)

Do not withhold discipline from youths;
If you beat them with the rod, they will not die
. (Proverbs 23:13)

Beat them with the rod, And you will save them from Sheol. (Proverbs 23:14)

You can also find similar admonitions in Proverbs 19, 22, and 29. In the New Testament, Paul speaks to the Hebrews, saying:

For whom the Lord loves, he disciplines;
He scourges every son he acknowledges
. (Hebrews 12:6)

Endure your trials as “discipline”;
God treats you as sons. For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline
. (Hebrews 12:7)

I know many people, especially those who do not advocate spanking, will not like these verses. These may seem difficult and “harsh” for them. But the Bible does not provide us with any option to choose only our favourite teachings and ignore those that do not conform to our lifestyle.

Anyway, you don’t need to spank your child often, provided that you have instilled in them consistent rules during their early years. Besides, Scripture emphasizes that spanking is, and should always be, a language of love. When you consistently discipline your child with the right attitude, you are actually letting him know that you love him, just as God expresses His love for all of the humanity.

But how do you act the right attitude in spanking?

When you spank your child, do it with compassion and within the boundaries and the consequences you have set. It should be done under control and centered on the child’s best outcome. This would be the most selfless thing you can do to prepare your child to have a fruitful life later on.

Biblical approach to spanking

Parenting has no specific guidelines. Each parent has her or his own way of bringing up the kids. But regardless of the method a parent uses, the Bible teaches that they should implement a kind of discipline that is reasonable, balanced, and controlled. And it should be applied at certain age levels and in specific circumstances.

Children undergo different phases of rebellious attitudes. They may talk back, lie or steal. And even if they are aware of their limits, they will try to cross the line to test your ability to keep the rules you set. So, it’s very important that you follow through on your word of warning and impose the corresponding consequence. Otherwise, your child may see a loophole which they may use to get away with their mischievous acts.

As a general rule, spanking can be the most effective and compassionate approach to shaping up your children’s behaviour. But never slap or hit your child. It’s not the right kind of discipline. Also, do not shake a baby and toddler younger than 15 - 18 months old. It can only cause brain damage or death.