On Spanking

Pilgrim Dad and I were latecomers to the school of spanking. We were both squeamish, hadn’t sat down to establish what the rules of engagement were, and were not particularly consistent.

Then one day, I heard a pastor expound on Proverbs 22:15; and 23:13-14. The same day, we had dinner with family friends, comprising mostly couples who were a generation older, and their grown-up children. I asked the elders if they had spanked their children, and they all looked at me as if that was an exceedingly naive question.

“Of course!” exclaimed one. The cane seemed to be the preferred implement. One person shared that for severe infringements the wrongdoer had the privilege of fetching the cane. Someone else said that there was one period where the children figured out how to hide the cane and she had to keep buying new ones.

I couldn’t help but wonder. Within this (statistically-not-very-representative) council of elders, there was a 100% incidence of caning. All their kids are now in their 20s and 30s, and as far as I can tell have good relationships with their parents, and seemed none the worse for wear. Of course, I don’t know what might have happened if their parents hadn’t caned them. Still, this group’s example, and the biblical admonition, seemed too sensible to ignore. (And this is Singapore after all, well-known in the international community for its position on corporal punishment as embodied in the famous case of Michael Fay.)

Pilgrim Dad and I have since invoked the Power of the Rod on a number of occasions. We are still learning what works and what doesn’t. For instance, one Chinese New Year when Porthos was just a little over 3 years old, he created a huge scene whenever we tried to leave one place to go to the next. We thought this was quite unacceptable, threatened with spanking, and eventually spanked him.

It didn’t work. The next place we went to, the same thing happened, threats or not.

We realised that we may have been partly to blame. A typical Singapore Chinese New Year visitation schedule can wear down even the most robust adult, and Porthos takes longer to settle in and detach from his situation. We should probably also have been more consistent about giving the kids a 10-min and 5-min warning before leaving.

On another occasion, Porthos was caught throwing his toys. We warned him once, then the second time we told him a spanking was next. He stomped off but didn’t throw his toys anymore.

Here’s what we’ve been able to figure out about the “best practices” of spanking:

1. Don’t do it in anger. You are likely to spank harder than you ought, and less likely to be coherent in explaining why the child is being spanked. This is absolutely the most important first rule. Make sure you count to 10 or whatever it takes to calm yourself down.

2. Give fair warning. Spanking should not be the punishment of first resort but reserved for grave situations. You should explain why the behaviour is wrong. The child should be warned and have the opportunity to cease and desist, failing which (and here it depends on how long you will let disobedience go on) s/he is then spanked.

3. Follow through. If you say you will spank at the next infringement, you must. Otherwise your words will cease to carry weight with your children. Spank as soon after the infringement as possible.

We had an interesting quandary earlier this year when Aramis, who is not yet three, was throwing his toys around in a dangerous way. Porthos reminded us that he had been spanked before for that ‘crime’, so shouldn’t Aramis too? Pilgrim Dad thought about it and decided that in the name of fairness, we should uphold the same rules. We also concluded from Aramis’ behaviour that he knew what he was doing was wrong. Pilgrim Dad went really easy on him and gave a mere tap. Like clockwork, Aramis let forth an avalanche of tears (he is quite the dramatic one), and it was interesting to see Porthos nod in satisfaction, not out of schadenfreude but more in a “justice-has-been-served” way.

4. Be firm. Evidently, your objective is not out to brutalise or abuse your child. But if a lesson is to be learnt, it HAS to hurt. We were told that the buttocks are the best place to spank because they are fleshy so you won’t (unless you are unduly rough) cause permanent hurt.

5. Use an implement. Children should always associate your hands with love and loving gestures. It therefore follows that using your hands to spank is not the best idea. We didn’t much like the traditional cane either – a narrow surface area means more pain, and Pilgrim Dad and I are softies at heart. So we settled for a wooden spatula.

6. Explain and reassure. We don’t do this immediately – it doesn’t seem to make much sense to go from spanking to hugging. We let the child cry/fuss/pout, then when the time seems right, we pull the child close and explain once again why he was punished, and reassure him that we still love him very much.

OK, this post has gone on for much longer than I intended. Please know that I am no parenting expert nor paediatric specialist, so take it for what it is, the sharing of a fellow parent who is trying by the grace of God to raise her children right. I realise not everyone agrees that spanking has a useful role in the parenting toolbox.

I’d love to know what you think of spanking. Do you spank? What infringements justify a spanking? What do you use to spank? Has spanking worked for you?

Some other articles on the subject:

Telegraph: Bring back the cane to restore order

US News: A Spanking Might Beat Ritalin

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4 responses to “On Spanking

  1. Mustard Seed Mum introduced me to this website http://www.raisinggodlytomatoes.com/ where the lady and her husband have 10 kids and they believe in spanking. it’s a good read to just see how it works for them. it seems to hv worked for all their kids. underlying principle really is say what you mean and mean what you say. we have tried it, and it has worked quite well for No.1 tho slightly not as effective with No.2. But we have kinda adapted it in that while in the past we would spank immediately when there was disobedience, now we give a 1-2-3 warning first and then spank if offender does not heed warning. the man & i try to distinguish between childishness & outright defiance. it’s something we learnt from other parents in our church. So childishness would for instance be the kid acting up because she is too tired or too hungry, or just simple childish accidents like spilling a drink, but not on purpose, and in those cases we try to be more merciful. Defiance would be more an attitude, an issue of the heart, testing boundaries – talking back to me, doing something deliberately when I’ve already told her not to etc. But yes, spanking absolutely works!

  2. Hi, I agree with the importance of spanking – or Chastisement, according to what we learnt in the Growing Kids God’s Way series. Your 6 pointers are great and I think CONSISTENCY actually is of utmost importance. That includes if the offence is committed say, when the child is under the grandparents’ care. They should actually take note of it, and we, the parent should then spank them for it later on. But we all know how impossible it is for grandparents to exact discipline on their darling grandkids. That’s why consistency is the hardest, yet most important point.

  3. *raise hand* : )

    Good news is with my girl, no longer have to spank, she respects our authority enough now and can be reasoned with. Dad thinks the boys might need it longer…

  4. James Dobson’s series on “Daring to Discipline” is a timeless classic. Get the video and have parents to view and discuss. One of the sessions entitled “Breaking the will and not the spirit” is excellent.
    For good measure, this spiritual principle applies to adults as well. Essentially, God disciplines us in a way that breaks our will( to align with His Will), but He does it without breaking our spirit. Remember that we are spiritual-beings as we have been birthed by the spirit. The apostle Paul’s expose in 1 Cor.2:10-16 differentiates between “the natural man”(phykikos) and “the spiritual man”(pneumatikos). Essentially, your child needs to be born again to start him or her on their spiritual journey. If you get the baseline correct, your disciplining process will be in line with God’s, and you will not go wrong. Always get your first principles right, and what follows are just derivatives that every parent can shape according to each child’s temperament and personality. No one approach fits all.

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