Monday, July 07, 2008

The Rod of Discipline In My House

Recently, the readership of my homeschool blog has gone up dramatically. I'm not sure if it's readers from White Washed Feminists or if it's readers who've come from Tulip Girl's blog spurred on by Michael and Debi Pearl of No Greater Joy. In any case I thought this would be a good opportunity to discuss our beliefs about discipline and parenting.

In the book of Proverbs we read: "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him." Proverbs 13:24. This verse has been taken to mean that one must spank in order to properly discipline. But I don't believe that Scripture ultimately bears that out. Another Proverb talks about the "rod of correction" meaning that correction itself is a rod. A rod, of course was something used by shepherds to care for their sheep (for more on the rod and why it's not an instrument for spanking, see my post here). I think it's important to remember also, that Proverbs should never be applied as law. They are called proverbs for a reason.

"A stitch in time, saves nine" is an old secular proverb. It reminds us that doing a little work now can save us more work later. That's a sage piece of wisdom, but not a promise or a law. The book of Proverbs discusses the importance of disciplining children, not spanking.

Parenting is a tough gig. It's one of those jobs that you don't really get graded on until your child is grown. We do a lot of guessing and second guessing of our choices. And parents that don't, probably should. This is way too important a job to breeze through like you have all the answers. Parenting a child is being given stewardship of one of God's precious children. That's a huge job, and a humbling one.

So, what exactly do kids need? Well, manners are awfully nice. So is a good attitude, cooperation, and (yes I'm going to say it) obedience. Now, with obedience, I don't mean that they should be mindless followers. I want my children to obey because I have authority over them and because they trust me to make the right choices even if they don't understand them.

I teach manners through example. "May I have that please?" for a toy, and "thank you" when it's given or "you're welcome" for a thank you. In my experience there's been no better way to teach my children the importance of opening doors for people, giving up a seat to an elderly person, and all the other manners that I'd like my children to display, then by modeling it for them, and by play acting it out at home.

Attitude is always a struggle. Proverbs 17:22 says "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." It's one of those verses I use to remind my kids of how important a good attitude is. In the end, emotions don't matter so much as actions. And I tell my kids that they'll be happier if they have a good attitude. But if they can't be happy about something that's okay. But they are not allowed to mope around or spread that attitude to others. They are allowed to have whatever feelings they'd like. But they can not act any way they'd like.

Our kids have to cooperate, and they have to obey. They're allowed not to like it, and they're allowed to want to know why. That doesn't mean that they can get out of doing it, or that they're going to be given long explanations. Sometimes the answer is "because I said so" and because they have to trust us. Still, that's not always the case, and when we can explain, we do. We want our children to understand that we don't ask them to do things arbitrarily, but because there's a real reason.

So, what happens when they don't do it, or when they misbehave? Well, we work hard to make sure that the boundaries are clear. We try to give direction at face level with them and make it clear what expectations are as well as consequences. We also try to teach the behavior we want to see rather than the behavior we don't want to see. For example, "You must remember to use gentle touch with your sister" rather than "no hitting!"

We do use time outs as one way to enforce boundaries. A child gets a warning and then time out if the behavior continues. Our ten year old may use his time out as a time to reflect on his behavior and write down what was wrong with it. Also, after the time out they may have to clean up if they made a mess, or in some other way, correct their action. Time outs can be used very effectively, and I encourage parents to learn about them. I would also say that children do test us from time to time with their behavior. They have to know that we can slay monsters for them, and if they know we can't even stand up to them, they won't be able to trust us to slay monsters.

Mostly, we know that we can't force our children's hearts or their respect. We don't want to break their spirits, we simply want to mold their passions toward positive things. We strive to earn our children's respect by showing them what it means to be respected as human beings. We show our authority by creating strong boundaries and holding to them. And we seek to foster the strong bond that will allow us the insight to be able to parent each of them distinctly, in the way they need to be parented.

Like I said, parenting is a tough gig. I'm not going to sit in judgment of those who do it differently than I do. But I draw the line at being told that the only way to discipline is with spanking, or that they know how to parent "God's Way". God parents us with mercy and grace, and I will strive to do the same knowing that even when I fail, God will forgive me. Hopefully my children will see that, too.


  1. I know this is an old post but I came across it accidentally.
    Although I agree with you in many areas I don't agree that spanking isn't sometimes necessary.
    My kids are grown now and I also homeschooled and raised my kids with biblical principles but I did not hesitate to spank when needed. I rarely had to "discipline" my kids after a few spankings when they were young. They would always get compliments when we went to the store. People ALWAYS noticed how well behaved they were and they would even get "little rewards" like from a bank employee who saw how well they sat and read books while I did my banking. She gave them a toy ball or something, but it was enough to re-enforce their good behavior.
    They loved the idea that they would be noticed and some times get rewards.

    One time my son put a ball into his pocket at a toy store and also walked outside with it. He wasn't "afraid" he'd be in trouble at home, because I didn't even know about it. Instead, he took a chance, turned and handed it to a worker that turned out to be the manager. The manager was so impressed he let him keep the ball.

    I think the "anti-spanking" is over blown because of some poor parenting by parents who can't control themselves. And it seems to be a stronger belief with the younger Christian parents. I do believe God allows for spanking as long as it's done in love not anger. As they get older punishment works better. I'm around a lot of Christian families and I see the results of the "anti-spanking" generation even within the church.
    There's still a lack of respect and an attitude even when the parents are solid believers.

    Many parents get frustrated when the "time outs" don't work and the kids don't stay put and THEN resort to spanking. I think that's a wrong approach. We taught our kids to obey from the youngest age. After a few lessons we didn't give warnings or count to "3". I'm appalled when I see kids throwing tempter tantrums in the store and then the parent buys them something just to quiet them down.

    The first tempter tantrum was the last in our home. They never did it again. And that's the truth.

    Now your kids are 3 years older than this post. So hopefully the time out has worked for you. Just know that doesn't work for everyone.
    God Bless.

  2. I thought about not allowing this comment since I disagree with it so totally. But I decided to just respond instead.

    Spanking is NEVER necessary for the child. The only person it's any good for is the parent. Well, guess what? It aint all about us.

    That your kids turned out okay I believe is despite their spankings, not because of it. When there are other methods of discipline that are totally effective, I'll never understand the desire of parents to justify using violence instead.

    God "allows" people to do all kinds of things to their children. Some of them do those things with the best of intentions. I don't think it makes it right. If it's not okay for a husband to hit his wife because he's bigger, stronger, or the "Authority", then what makes it okay for parents? I find no justification for it, but hey, I don't have the direct line to the divine.

    That you see kids who aren't well behaved, says nothing about not spanking, and everything about parents who haven't been taught how to set boundaries and make consequences. See, the parents before us took the easy way out with spanking, instead of using tools that would serve their children for a lifetime. Not exactly what I want to do with mine, thanks so much.

    Yes, the last 3 years have taught me much, as I assume they will continue to. But still, I doubt I'll ever find reason to think that violence against my children, taking the easy way out in parenting, and simply punishing my kids instead of teaching them, is the right thing to do. And that others think it is, and that it's Godly? Makes me sick.


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