Spare the rod and spoil the child?
What to do? Your child insists on touching a dangerous appliance, despite repeated warnings. How will you respond? Move her to another room? Distract him with another activity? Slap her hand? Spank him?
Parenting children is a challenging, yet blessed task. How can we nurture our children and help them grow into cooperative, responsible adults? How can we discipline them in a way that is not abusive but constructive and effective?
Many Christians think spanking is necessary in order to raise children who are respectful and well-trained. In the most recent profile of Mennonite Church USA, for example, only 7% of members indicated that spanking children is always wrong.1
One verse used frequently to support this is Proverbs 13:24: “Those who spare the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them.” Often, people link the rod to corporal punishment, or using the rod to punish a child. Yet, in Psalm 23:4 the rod is viewed as a reassuring presence: “…your rod and your staff - they comfort me.”
These examples provide several guidelines for parents. Just as sheep need a shepherd’s care, children need to be loved and counted, guided away from danger, protected from those who would harm them and given attention when they are in pain or need help. The rod can therefore be a symbol of guidance, nurture, protection and security.
This does not mean avoiding discipline. Rather, discipline is absolutely essential and involves helping children learn how to be responsible and understand the consequences of their actions. Much more than punishment, it is about helping children internalize the values and boundaries needed to live healthy lives that are faithful to the way of Jesus.
In the situation mentioned above, for example, discipline would first mean removing the child from danger. If he or she is old enough, one can also explain the consequences of touching a hot stove or sharp tool. It may also be necessary to create a logical consequence, such as a time-out in a safe place, or giving up a planned fun activity with the child, especially if the child’s behavior has resulted in not being able to finish a necessary task.
In any case, discipline should not be done with anger or violence, but with humility, gentleness and patience. As I Corinthians 13: 4-5 counsels, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude...”3 It is also important to remember how Jesus honored children and warned of dreadful consequences for those who put stumbling blocks before them. (See especially Mark 9:33-37, 10:13-16 and Matthew 18:1-10.)
Therefore, as the letter to the Ephesians urges, let us put away “…all bitterness and wrath and anger…and be kind to one another…” (Ephesians 4: 31-32) As we discipline our children, let us not use violence of any kind but the love of Christ which is strong and firm and gentle.
1 Kanagy, Conrad, Road Signs for the Journey, A Profile of Mennonite Church USA, Herald Press, 2007, 169.
3 See also Ephesians 4:1-3, 6:4 and James 1:19-20.
Note: Congregations and small groups may borrow the curriculum, Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP) from the MCC office in Akron, PA. Available in English and Spanish, this curriculum encourages parents to use positive, nonviolent strategies (such as giving choices, active listening and logical consequences) to raise confident, cooperative children. A Bible study guide can also be downloaded at: http://mcc.org/us/womensadvocacy/resources.html. In addition, STEP materials can be ordered from www.steppublishers.com, 800-720-1286, STEP Publishers, P.O. Box 51722, Bowling Green, KY 42102-6722.