Confession time: I’m not a spanker. I know, I know, in some Christian circles this makes me a lazy, indulgent mom—a concept that Patrick set straight here a few months ago, which I’m still applauding.
Even parents who do choose to spank, though, would likely agree spanking is not the only answer. Just as in court the punishment must fit the crime, different discipline situations call for different actions. Here are four biblical alternatives to spanking that can make a lasting impact on your child’s heart—rather than her bottom.
1. Focus on the wall. When our kids were small and prone to tantrums, we made them stand facing a wall with their nose and toes touching the surface, just for a few minutes or less. This forced them to calm down and focus on something other than their naughty attitude. (Do you know how much concentration it takes to keep your nose and toes against a wall?) Think of it as a lesson in self-control.
“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (I Corinthians 9:25, NIV).
Understand, though, the purpose is to isolate but not humiliate. We never did nose and toes to the wall in front of company, and never in public. It’s a private discipline meant to remove your child from the context of her bad behavior or overwhelming emotions, and to experience a consequence for poor choices.
2. Revoke privileges. Again and again in the Bible, God says if you do this, you will be rewarded. Likewise, he warns that if we do not follow his commands, there will be consequences. Parents can follow this model by rewarding good behavior and revoking privileges for bad behavior. In our house, we take away favorite toys or—gasp!—screen time. Cruel, cruel parents! But it works.
“Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 5:16, NIV).
Every once in a while, however, my husband and I reward the kids when they don’t deserve it, and I encourage you to do the same. Why? Because we’re New Covenant parents, not legalists. It’s important to also model grace, mercy, and unconditional love, which Jesus grants us in abundance.
“Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given” (John 1:16, NIV).
3. Prayer. Now that our girls are older, rather than sending them to the wall, I send them to their room to “talk to Jesus” about the struggle in their hearts. This is not meant to teach them that prayer is a punishment—far from it. My kids know prayer is a privilege, and our response to life’s problems should be to reconnect with the One who loves and empowers our kids to see themselves the way God sees them. They usually come out apologizing, and even smiling.
“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7, NIV).
4. Hug your child. Wait a second—isn’t this a post about discipline? Yep, it sure is. And the key to effective discipline is knowing your child’s heart—how to nurture, train, motivate and heal it. Sometimes the root of a child’s behavior is not rebellion or lack of understanding but rather an underlying emotion such as sadness, discouragement, or fear. And that’s when what your kids need most is not another lecture or punishment, but a big ol’ bear hug from Mom or Dad.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
No matter what approach you choose, or how exhausting your daily efforts may seem, ask God to help you keep the end goal in mind. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11, NIV).