The idea of punishment implies repaying someone with what he or she deserves. That's the antithesis of the gospel. Punishment produces a child laden with guilt and determined to get out from under it, and Christlikeness is never the result. An effective parent has to learn the difference between punishment and discipline.
The Gospel of Grace
If Jesus took all the punishment for you and me, He also took all of it for our children. I don't want to teach my children that I need to pay them back for the bad things they've done. I want them to understand that the only way to make right what they did is to trust that when Jesus died on the cross, He paid for their sins. It makes no sense for me to fellowship with God on the basis of mercy and with my children on the basis of judgment. Since Jesus took the punishment, my role as a parent is not to punish them. My role is to provide appropriate consequences and instruction to help them see how their behaviour displeases God and to teach them how to cooperate with God's work in their lives. The Bible calls this discipline.
Punishment produces some very negative characteristics in your children: guilt, shame, bitterness, resentment, regret, self-pity, fear, and more. Because it's focused on the past, children feel helpless. They can't undo what they've already done, and they can't change the circumstances that their behaviour has produced. Punishment doesn't give them a means to right their wrongs; the tools they need to understand redemption aren't included in the punishment package. It is simply retribution that leads to a lot of negative emotions
Discipline, on the other hand, is future-focused, always pointing toward future acts. It has nothing to do with retribution and everything to do with redemption. Whereas the purpose of punishment is to inflict a penalty for an offense, the purpose of discipline is to train for correction and maturity. Whereas the origin of punishment is the frustration of the parent, the origin of discipline is a high motivation for the welfare of the child. And whereas the result of punishment is fear and shame, the result of discipline is security. Discipline always holds the child's best interests, not the parent's anger, in the forefront. It is never out of control.
Now that we've talked about the "why" behind disciplining our children, let's look in the next article at what Scripture says about the "how."
Regardless of the method, the Bible's word on discipline clearly demands that parents be responsible and diligent in spanking, but strongly prohibits physical abuse of any kind. Obviously, the biblical approach is balanced, reasonable, and controlled. So let's get very practical. What does it look like to spank in a way that obeys Scripture, modifies attitudes and behaviour, and actually strengthens the bond between parent and child?
1. Clear warning. Your first interaction with your child about a situation should be verbal. A child should never be blindsided by the discipline you hand down to her. It should always be preceded by a clear warning, both for her sake and for yours. You want to know whether your child deliberately crossed a line or made an honest mistake. A clear warning will help her steer clear of danger and will help you know you're correcting intentional disobedience.
The enforcement of discipline comes only after words have not done the job. Physical means of correction are only appropriate in cases of clear disobedience, and then only at certain ages.
2. Establish responsibility. It's important for your child to own up to his misbehaviour. Many parents make the mistake of asking, "Why did you do that?" That's not a good question; "why" doesn't help him admit his responsibility in the situation. Besides being a theological no-brainer — your child is a sinner with a predisposition to disobedience, which he inherited from you and every other generation all the way back to the first parents in the Garden — that question gives him room to inject shades of gray into his understanding and explanations. He'll begin to rationalize, and you'll lose sight of the real issue.
Remember to always keep your focus on the child's behaviour, not his identity.
3. Avoid embarrassment. Never embarrass your children in front of their friends, siblings, or even strangers. Don't yank them out of a booth at a restaurant, don't yell where everyone around can hear you, or do anything else that will make your children feel as if all eyes are on them. All that accomplishes is shame. Instead, go to a private place. At home, that can be the bedroom. In public, it can be a trip to the restroom for a young child or a firm statement that "we need to talk later" to an older child. However you do it, don't damage your children' esteem among their peers or even among strangers. Embarrassment can do a lot of damage that you'll have a hard time undoing later on
4. Communicate grief. Let your children know that more than being angry, you are disappointed and heartbroken when they disobey. Early on in their lives, let them know how you trust them. And when that trust has been violated, they need to know that the relationship is wounded. When children see the grief of their parents, they'll better understand how their sin affects God. They'll understand that God isn't shaking His fist at us every time we make a mistake, but He grieves just as a loving parent does when witnessing the destructive nature of disobedience.
5. Flick your wrist. This is an extremely practical method that will save you a lot of second-guessing. Remember the point of a spanking: It's to sting, to provide a painful deterrent to misbehaviour, not to injure.
The Bible never implies that the rod of discipline should be violent. It offers no specifics about how hard a spanking should be, and there's no reason to assume that it's talking about a brutal form of punishment. Just the opposite, in fact. A parent who reaches back and swings hard is acting out of anger and frustration, not out of love and desire for the child's welfare. That's unbiblical by anyone's definition.
When you spank, use an appropriately sized cane and flick your wrist. That's all the force you need. It ought to hurt — an especially difficult goal for mothers to accept. It's okay if it produces a few tears and sniffles. If it doesn't hurt, it isn't really discipline, and ultimately it isn't very loving because it will not be effective in modifying the child's behaviour. A firm, grace-controlled hand of discipline in early years, combined with a loving attitude, will usually prevent or soften the rebellion of later years.
6. Sincere repentance. A parent once told his story; “When my children were small, I'd let them sit in my lap after a spanking and cry for a while. That was a great time to model for them the love behind the discipline. Then after a few minutes, I'd ask, "Are you ready to talk about this with Daddy and with God?" When I received a nod and could tell repentance and genuine sorrow had occurred, I revisited the issue and asked them, "What did you do wrong?" I wanted to help them clearly relate the discipline to the behaviour, not to them as a person.
Then I would ask, "With whom do you need to make things right?" Often they would realize they needed to make things right not just with me and with God, but also to apologize to a brother or sister. Then I'd take the opportunity to coach them in how to approach God, what to say, how to confess their sin, and how to receive forgiveness. When they said something like, "I'm sorry, God, for ________. Please forgive me," I would tell them how special they were, both to me and to God, and that they'd been disciplined to correct misbehaviour, not because they were a bad person.
Those dialogues trained them for a life of relating to God humbly and honestly as no other experience could. And in later years those children told their dad that some of the times they'd felt closest to him were during those periods of forgiveness and reconciliation.
7. Unconditional love. After disciplining your child, let me encourage you to take him in your arms and pray, "Thank you, Lord, for my precious boy, for the wonderful way You've made him, for the amazing guy he is, and for all the gifts You've given him. Please help him remember what's right and give him the strength to do it. Thank You that he has taken responsibility for what he did. We know You've taken a big eraser and wiped it off the board. You've forgiven him and made him absolutely clean, and I forgive him too." Then give him a big hug and go do something fun. He'll know he's still accepted and that there's absolutely no barrier between the two of you.
The picture and the process I've just described don't fit the portrayal of spanking that our culture tries to give us. A parent who disciplines his child this way is not an angry, insensitive person with a big club and a vicious agenda. Instead, this is a picture of using the rod God's way to bring about actions that will keep a child from destruction. That's about as loving and compassionate as a parent can get.
If you're consistent with the actions of discipline for a few weeks, you'll find that your children have clear boundaries, and they're likely to have a clearer conscience and changed behaviour. You'll probably sense much less destructive stress in your home environment as well. Your children will feel a lot more loved, and they'll have the privilege and blessing of being in a home that's at peace.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beat him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shall beat him with the rod, and shall deliver his soul from hell.
Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.