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Four Biblical Alternatives to Spanking

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.

As parents, it is our job to discipline our children- but that can take many different forms. When spanking isn't the best (or preferred) method in a given situation, what are some biblical alternatives? These four ideas are great tools to help you train your child's heart.

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).


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  1. My girls kept sneaking goodies. Spanking did not help. So I put them on “goody restriction” for a week. That was the most effective discipline EVER!

    1. What a perfect example, Andrea! Discipline tailored to your children – what motivates them – takes some creativity on our part, but isn’t it great when we find what works? My kids would crumble on goody restriction, too!

  2. When our two daughters were young and growing up, except for the Bible itself, we only read one book.. ” What the Bible says about child training” It was excellent, Biblical and spoke much to the parents responsibility and accountability to discpline in love, with self control, not in anger. Please consider reading this book, God bless.

  3. Thank you!!! Just yesterday I had a horrible parenting day and felt so defeated. I begged Jesus to show me a better way and this morning I received this email. Answer to prayer. Thank you!

  4. We do spank, but we also use these methods, in one form or another, as a precursor to spanking. We have learned (in four years) that spanking is best used when all other forms of discipline have failed or when outright definance continues to happen, I like this balance we have found and I love that somtimes a hug really does make all thit differnce in the world!!

  5. Agree that there are so many alternatives that our kids remember so much more! Like standing in the back yard required to hold your brothers hand that you had been fighting with. Or sitting squished in the lounge chair with your sister that you stole her doll from and then she bit you. Come on parents, you too can come up with more together time to keep them real.

  6. These are great ideas! And I appreciate not having spanking be the only option – we do not spank, personally.

    Another we do a lot is just “alone time.” It’s not a time out – just a chance to calm down, sit, and think for a minute. My three year old is allowed to just say “I’m ready” whenever she’s ready to come out, apologize, and obey (rather than having a specific time she must sit there, like a time out). It really helps! Then we do apologies and I offer forgiveness.

  7. My husband and I both grew up in households where spanking was used. With my family it was used extensively (I am a twin and we were both very very naughty!), but lovingly. My parents have said if they could do it over they’d do it less and other techniques less but in those days you didn’t necessarily know many other techniques.

    My husband was spanked lovingly too but he grew up in a very legalistic environment where he was sometimes spanked so his parents could look good. (They are very ashamed now).

    When we got married we both spanked our son when naughty (he was a good kid tho so it wasn’t often). But my husband was growing discomforted about it and didn’t even know himself to tell me. He was just getting the feeling that it wasn’t Biblical.

    One day my mum told me that she’d read that the Rod passages had been mistranslated and that it means the shepherds staff, which has a hook on the end and yanks the sheep away from the cliff edge. In other words, it means all discipline forms not just spanking. Not knowing my husband’s views, I told him this. He decided then and there we were not spanking again. He was adamant.

    I prayed for months for God to change his mind if it was His will. I yelled and pouted by terms (I was pregnant with our second so was getting hormonal too). Nothing changed him, he grew more certain if anything.
    God was also not changing his mind. The more I prayed, the more certain he became the opposite way. The more, also, I started reading of respecting your husband even if you don’t agree. In the end, I repented. I’m not against other parents who do but for us, the Bible says for wives to respect their husbands. If he makes an incorrect decision of that magnitude it’s on his head, we need to still respect. But it did open for me other methods, stopped my then 1 year old son from hitting, and ultimately made me a better parent to my children. I am now pregnant with our third.

  8. When done in love–with self-control and followed up by discussion and making sure the child understands why he/she was spanked–spanking can be very effective. The bible does tell us NOT to spare the rod. I agree that spanking is not always the punishment that fits the crime, but often–especially during the toddler stage–it is very effective when reasoning with a child isn’t really possible. All of the above alternatives are very valid and I use them now that my kids are older, but when they were younger, spanking was almost like magic, as it reminded them of their boundaries and gave them security because we always followed up with discussion. Sometimes, it’s almost like they were wanting it after a week when we’d let them get away with things and when we would realize they needed a spanking for the next offense, you could physically see their countenance change afterwards; they were reminded that mom and dad love them too much to let them continue to spiral out of control. I really like all your alternatives, but think that spanking should be at the top of the list, with the others as a plan B if spanking doesn’t fit the crime. Now spanking in anger is NOT what I’m describing; that is abuse.

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