What to do when parents disagree about spanking


Whenever I switch one of the kids my wife has a fit. She begs me to use a different punishment. Her crying and shouting make it very difficult to administer a proper whipping to the youngster. Afterwards she is furious with me and may even give me the silent treatment for a few days.

If the wife is against corporal punishment should the husband respect her wishes. Normally she is respectful and obedient but the thought of a switch hitting any of our children, ages 8 to 16, is very upsetting to her.


The problem described is a difficult one as it indicates a greater problem than just a decision on how the children should be punished. In establishing a marriage we are told, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). The idea of becoming one flesh is more than a description of the sexual relationship. A husband and wife are to join together to act as a unit.

Does this mean that there will never be disagreements? Obviously with people involved, this cannot happen. Arguments are bound to happen, but there are proper ways to handle disagreements. Your wife has chosen one of the poorest ways possible to gain resolution. Grownups ought not to act as children when they do not get their way. Throwing a tantrum in front of your own children is begging for trouble. First, it causes confusion was to what standard of right and wrong is to be applied. Second, it gives an opening for children to play one parent off of the other parent. The unfortunate fact is that there is little you can do to encourage your wife to behave properly, except to sit down and reason from the Scriptures during a calm moment. Just keep in mind this warning, "A continual dripping on a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike; whoever restrains her restrains the wind, and grasps oil with his right hand" (Proverbs 27:15-16). In other words, it is next to impossible to stop a woman from being contentious if she is a mind to be so. Your only hope is in changing her mind.

Therefore, we must address why your wife objects so strongly to spankings. Is it because she objects to the concept of spanking? Does she believe you use it too often? Or, does she believe you are too severe in administering it? If she has legitimate cause to believe that her children are not being spanked but being abused, wailing about it will not solve the problem -- she should be going to the authorities for help. However, her behavior seems to indicate that she does not see the punishments as abuse; she just doesn't like it.

Spanking is a legitimate disciplinary action

Though efforts are being made to change the laws, spanking remains a legal option in the United States and in most other countries. There may be restraints as to who is allowed to administer a spanking. For example, many states have specific laws forbidding teachers from spanking children. However, spanking remains legal especially for parents.

Nor has any harm been found for properly administered spankings. In a study presented to the American Psychological Association in 2001, Elizabeth Owens, a co-author of the study, stated, "Occasional, mild spankings of young children are OK and do not cause any lasting harm that carries into adolescence ... Such discipline does not hurt youngsters' social or emotional development ... A lot of people out there advocate that any spanking at all is detrimental, and that's not what we found."

Yet, even if laws were enacted against spanking, the reason spanking is used is because of God's teaching on the matter. The Creator is much wiser that the created.

  • Proverbs 13:24, "He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly."
  • Proverbs 22:15, "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him."
  • Proverbs 23:13-14, "Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell."
  • Proverbs 29:15, "The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother."
  • Proverbs 29:17, "Correct your son, and he will give you rest; yes, he will give delight to your soul."
  • Hebrews 12:7-13, "If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed."

If your spouse disagrees with these passages, you have a much deeper problem than a disagreement over spanking. You are married to someone who believes she knows more about child rearing than God.

Spanking can be overused as a punishment

Mankind has a tendency to find something that works and then use that solution for every problem that comes up thereafter. Yet, anything used frequently will lose its effectiveness, including spankings.

Good discipline uses a balance of constructive encouragement and corrective punishments which act as deterrents to wrongful behavior. "And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). It takes both training (teaching) and admonition (correction) to raise children. Parents should focus on teaching their children what they should do so that the need for corrective punishment is minimized. "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up" (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). "For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, the children who would be born, that they may arise and declare them to their children, that they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments" (Psalm 78:5-7).

The best punishments are those which teach lessons and inhibit wrongful behavior. I remember a newly married couple who both had children from prior marriages. Shortly after the wedding, his son and her daughter were annoying each other and it soon developed into a fight. As punishment, the boy and girl were required to spend several days together. If one had to use the restroom or take a shower, the other had to wait outside the door. They still slept in their own bedrooms, but every waking moment was spent in each others company. Eventually, they figured out how to get along more peacefully.

Timeouts work well if a child is misbehaving for the attention or if the child thrives on social interaction, but it too can be overused. I know a number of parents who use timeouts almost exclusively and invariably the child retains behavioral problems because the child simply learns to tolerate the temporary isolation.

Parents need to spend time outlining when certain punishments should be used. There is a time and place for spankings and these should be discussed. I generally recommend that spankings should be reserved for acts of violence, such as hitting or destruction of property, or defiant behavior. In other cases, find creative ways to fit punishments to the crime. As another example, I once was tutoring a child that had strong behavior problems stemming from a mental disorder. The child was usually sweet, but he started playing "run away" when it was time to do any work. At first it was just inside the house. Then it was around the house, but soon it was down the street as well. I began to worry that he would run across the street without looking or a neighbor might see this adult male carrying off a child, misunderstand the situation, and report it to the police. So I told the child that playing keep away was fun, but not during class time. I explained how people could misunderstand what he and I were doing. Since I knew this boy was in pre-adolescence and was shy about his body, like most kids his age; I told him that the next time he tried to run off, I was taking his pants. The look of shock was hilarious; but you know, he immediately stopping running away. It helped too that I told his mother about the proposed punishment in his presence and she just turned around and told him that it sounded like a good idea to her. It takes more time to find a creative and appropriate punishment, but it is worth the effort and the variety keeps any single punishment from being overused.

Spankings can be improperly administered

A proper spanking ought to sting, but it should not leave behind bruises or cuts. The Scriptures talk about using a rod, though a switch would be a better word for it in today's English. The Hebrew word refers to a small branch. A good switch is stiff enough not to create a whipping action, which might tear the skin; but flexible enough that it won't break or create a bruise. Such a switch delivered in measured strokes gives the greatest sting for the least effort on the bottom of a child. As such, only a few strokes are needed to make the point.

Hopefully, spankings delivered consistently when a child is young will translate into fewer and fewer spankings as the years progress. Each child is different. Some are more willful than others. But consistency in demanding proper behavior and punishing wrongful behavior will eventually pay off.

June 22, 2012