Christian Parents and Spanking Children, Helpful or Harmful?

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Booksie Classic
According to current studies both religious and secular is spanking hurting or helping our Children. This article addresses a Christian and Secular approach to spanking Children in our current times.

Submitted: October 07, 2011

A A A | A A A

Submitted: October 07, 2011



Christian Parents and Spanking Children

‘Helpful or Harmful?’

Rev. Bertheophilus M. Bailey Sr., MHR & Arrica D. Bailey MHR


In the last 15 years there has been a substantial increase in the reported number of domestic physical abuse towards children. A Child Welfare Worker for the Department of Human Services stated that these reported incidents of abuse range from whipping with instruments such as a belt, switch, house shoe, hand, comb, wooden spoon, electric cord, ruler and or paddle to a slap on the wrist, hand or bottom with a bare hand. From the 1990’s to current, the Children Services and government agencies have made joint efforts to retrain the American parent to become liberal in their domestic practices and passive in their domestic punishments.

The fairly new doctrine of passive parenting has been led by current psychologist like Dr. Laurence Steinberg who projects that parents should for no reason use physical punishment, or speak harshly towards children. In his book The 10 Basic Principles of Good Parenting chapter 8 highlights “Avoiding Harsh Discipline” he overemphasizes the notion that a child should never be spanked. He believes regardless of the religious training methods, cultural practice of discipline and strong-will of the child, every parent must use a universal passive practice of correction.

This paper will discuss the unique and dynamic combination of religion, culture and strong-will of the child to determine if spanking will be helpful or harmful. This paper will be written with a personal bias of pro-spanking and will look at the perspective of African American Christians who spank their children as a religious and cultural practice. This paper will lift up the injustice toward pro-spanking parents who are publicized theoretically and judicially as immoral and monstrous.

The Christian family is no stranger to spanking as a form of behavioral guidance and domestic training. Yet with current changes within the judicial system toward protecting the rights of children against abuse, the practice of physical redirection in the home has become culturally problematic. This subject has become a challenge for Christian parents in understanding and deciphering the boundaries of the parental ‘rod of correction’ in discipline from that of child abuse. This perplexed bewilderment has caused many parents to have encountered legal and criminal charges for correcting a child in love coupled with physical punishment. Parents have exhausted countless resources and hours battling juvenile systems that do not seem to consider a families religious belief and cultural practice when deciding upon the physical treatment and mistreatment of children. In an effort to aid Christian parents in avoiding these judicial and economic entrapments parents must determine if it is possible to spank within the boundaries of God’s love and the limits of man’s law.

Sacred vs. Secular approaches to Spanking

There is no question about the reality that children need to be reared in a wholesome healthy and productive direction. The challenge of society is finding the most prolific way to achieve the goal. The Book of Proverbs instructs Christian parents to “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  Proverbs 22:6. In this particular biblical adage king Solomon does not go further into detail about the specifics of discipline. His wisdom does not answer questions such as; what type of training? How often the training is to occur or endure? Is the training universal? Does the temperament of the child matter? At what age does training start? Regardless of the questions that remain unanswered there is no mistaking the fact, children need to be trained.

No child is the same. Children have different temperaments, learning styles, responses to correction, therefore society cannot conclude to use a universal formula or ‘cookie-cut design’ for training all children. Some children are mild tempered and calm in nature. They are not rebellion and seek to please those who have authority over them. On the other end of the spectrum there are children who are strong willed and self-pleasing. This type of behavior in children must be tamed and brought into obedience. The process of taming strong-willed children is the difference of opinion?

Liberal Counselor vs. Conservative Counselors approach to Spanking

Many secular and liberal writers project a universal non-physical system of rearing children is best. And though many of their children are impertinent, insubordinate and impolite they seek to indoctrinate all parents with their system of parenting. Modern parenting books encourage adults not to parent but to rather partner with their child, by compromising; making agreements and treaties to gain the upper hand in assuming control in the home. Liberal family agencies such as Family & Children Services and Parent Child Center’s are staffed with parenting counselors and instructors with no practical parenting experience, provable parenting skills or success as parents. It is appalling have identify some of the parenting instructors of these agencies who were not parents nor have had any experience in raising or training children. In cases where parents who were facing criminal charges or their children were taken out of their temporary custody, the parents must take mandatory classes that are to aid them in gaining answers for better child management and proper discipline techniques. Parents are informed that they are in a safe and educational environment to acquire answers to the difficult questions that comes with parenting. To imagine the parent’s teachers who is only qualified in theory attempting to answer questions that have nothing more than hypothetical ideals and notions. The mind, the motive and the complexity of a child cannot be sufficiently answered in the pages of books of theory and speculations only. However I believe these resources can be extremely helpful when considered with the weight of hands on experience.

Author Dr. Steven J. Bavolek, a leading writer for the anti-spanking campaign, attacks the church and its doctrine toward physical discipline and punishment for children. In his book The Nurturing Parent he leads his readers to believe that the church is misguided in its understanding of doctrine and scriptures. He further declares, “The way to stop violence in America is to stop spanking”. How absurd to attribute all of America’s violence to this act and effort of disciple from caring and compassionate Christian parents. This thought is irrational given all of the violence that children are exposed to on television, violent video games, and contact sports such as; boxing, wrestling, football, soccer and basketball. There are levels of violence in these various engagements of entertainment however only the church is the center of his focus. He believes that negative physical contact cannot teach a child to correct their behavior.

Conversely Christian writer Dr. James Dobson, author of The Strong-Willed Child and Dare to Discipline offer this thought.

“If your child has ever bumped his arm against a hot stove you can bet he’ll never deliberately do it again. He does not become a more violent person because the stove burnt him. In fact he learned a valuable lesson from the pain. Similarly, when he falls out of his high chair or smashes his finger in the door or is bitten by a grumpy dog, he learns about the physical danger in his world. These bumps and bruises throughout childhood are nature’s way of teaching him what to treat with respect. They do not damage self-esteem. They do not make them vicious. They merely acquaint him with reality. In like manner, an appropriate spanking from a loving parent provides the same service. It tells him there are not only physical dangers to be avoided, but he must steer clear of some social traps like (selfishness, defiance, dishonesty, unprovoked aggression, etc.)”


This common sense approach to spanking children provides the Christian parent with the rational support of healthy discipline. Parents are encouraged to answer questions such as; does every child need to be spanked? And is spanking the only method of firm discipline?

Spanking in Biblical Wisdom

The book of Proverbs gives the parent a stiff caution in using physical correction in training and detouring unwanted and ungodly behavior. Proverbs 19:18(AMP): "Discipline your son while there is hope, but do not (indulge your angry resentments by undue chastisements and) set yourself to his ruin." The Christian parent must understand that biblical spanking is not a physical outlet for anger, frustration or resentment. These harmful practices will mentally, physically and emotionally damage the child. The bible further warns the parent “provoke not thy child to wrath” Ephesians 6:3. A parent should always spank in love and with wisdom coupled with self-control.

 Parents must be aware of local, state and federal laws of spanking. A vast majority of state laws do not prohibit the parent to spank on the bottom, and below. Leaving a contusion or bruise of any kind from the spanking is almost certainly against the laws. This can be challenging for parents with lightly pigmented children that bruise easy. Parents must know the limits to their physical force in spanking and assure no marks or discoloration is left on the child. Christian parents are motivated by love when correcting their children; however wisdom must be intertwined in the discipline to protect both the parent from the consequences of ill-treatment of these small gifts from God and the child from undue punishment. 

Training in Children

It is the duty of the Christian parent to instruct and train the child. To train an animal is no easy task, and they are without conscience. Therefore one must understand the challenge in training a child can be quite complicated and complex. Children are trained by instruction, reaction and observation. In a parent’s instruction, the child is enlightened of expectations, duties and restrictions. A parent must clearly communicate what is required of the child. Proverbs 1:8 “my son hear the instruction of thy father…”, unfolds the responsibility of the child to listen to their parents instruction. Moreover the word “hear” in the Greek means to “hear and do”, therefore the child is instructed to listen and to follow the instruction of the parent.

The child is also trained by reaction.  A parent responds to the child’s performance or neglect of action. The child that follows instruction should be commended, extolled and celebrated by the parent. However when a child has detoured from the parent’s teaching there must be corrective discipline. One method of corrective action would be to spank the child in a loving way. The Proverbs 22:15 says, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him." Spanking uses uncomfortable physical contact to mentally recall and trigger a negative consequence for purposefully detouring from the parent’s established rules.

Finally children are trained by observing the parent commitment to the rules of the laws that govern them, whether they are secular, spiritual or domestic.  When a child fails to comprehend verbal instruction it does not eliminate training, a child can still receive a visual pattern of behaving through the example of the parent. Love, faith, patients, obedience, suffering and virtue can all be demonstrated by the child’s most influential teacher, the parent.

Purpose and Logic of Spanking

Discipline is essential to complete the task of training; the type of disciplinary measure may vary depending on the parent, child and situation. Two things are for certain as we mold the child; training is essential and love is mandatory. In our methods of discipline we must answer the question is the practice of spanking helpful or harmful?

We will first analyze the harm in spanking by identifying its purpose. The purpose of spanking is to provide a behavioral exchange for physical pain to detour unwanted, negative and destructive behavior. Simply put, it is the exchange of pain for cooperation. If it sounds familiar, it is because society uses this method daily to encourage or enforce cooperation with citizens who have difficulty abiding within the realms of the law. For example, a male is asked by an officer to “stop moving”, so that the person might be questioned. The person refuses and becomes defiant and begins to run. The officer then is able to uses within the law physical force to restrain the person. This force may be in the form the use of a baton to strike him, handcuffs to restrain him, hands to punch or chock him depending on how defiant the man remains.

As we analyze the two uses of physical force parent toward defiant child and the police towards defiant citizen we will notice some common themes. The parent and police have clearly stated their expectations. There is a purposeful and willful act of deviancy. The parent and police need immediate cooperation. There is a need for future cooperation. There is a behavior that must be corrected. The pain will bring about an immediate discomfort and detour the current pattern of misbehavior. Unwanted behavior will yield. One can find these easily in the parallel of physical force. The deeper thought is if spanking is so effective to bringing about immediate change for that moment and serves as an emotional emblem for purposeful error then what is the harm. Some psychologist would say everything.

There is a cause and effect to every action taken with a child. Children are impressionable. One writer pens, “The main side effect of physical punishment is excessive aggression. Children who are spanked, hit or slapped are more prone to fighting with other children. They are more likely to become bullies and more likely to use aggression to solve disputes with others. Who can blame them? Their parents have taught them that hitting someone is an acceptable way to solve a problem.”

The Flawed Assumptions of Anti-Spanking

There are quite a few assumptions that one must buy into to supports this theory. The first assumption is that parents are the only source of excessive aggression in children. Some children have shown excessive aggression and have not been spanked and come from homes where the discipline is both liberal and passive. What are we to say of these children?

The reason children show aggression is because they learn it from various areas of life. A child could observe animals, watch the news, and participate in physical activities such as sports. Children learn aggression in many different ways therefore parents who choose to spank their child cannot take all the credit for their child’s aggression.

The second assumption is that aggression is unhealthy and cannot be tamed for a positive use. The term itself has been defined as “assertive, bold and enterprising” which expresses that the word is neither negative nor positive. Aggression is a descriptive word of an attitude or motive not the action. Take for example the following statement; ‘The man was aggressive’ or ‘The man showed aggression’ the statement would describe only the motivated effort of the man, but one his action. We would need more information to complete the statement. Likewise children have and display an attitude of boldness and assertiveness as they perform positive actions. We see aggression used positively in the following activities; Children tackling with aggression of the football field, or boxing with aggression in the golden gloves, or wrestling with aggression on the school team. Children think aggressively to resolve complex formulas and debate aggressively on the debate team. Aggression is not only neutral it’s natural and it is the responsibility of the parents to mold the assertiveness in a positive direction. 

Thirdly one must assume that aggression is not innate. Aggression could naturally disclose itself in a child’s temperament. By ignoring these assumptions one could easily become subdued by the tunnel pathology of negative effects of spanking children. None of Steinberg’s claims were followed by empirical research, data or evidence.

Child Abuse is Real

There is no mistaking the fact that child abuse is real and has enduring effects on children even into their adult life. Child Abuse is defined as “physical, mental injury, sexual abuse or negligent treatment of a child under the age of 18 by a person who is responsible for the child’s welfare.” Though research has shown a decrease in the national amount of reported cases of abuse and neglect, no number is adequate for malicious acts of maltreatment toward children. Anti-spanking supporters over exaggerate these reported numbers of child abuse to shame pro-spanking parents from their course. Facts of child abuse report that over 58% of the case reported were for child neglect, 11% for sexual abuse, 5% for emotional abuse, and 21% for physical abuse. Of the domestic child abuse it is anti-spanking supported do not reveal what percent is sibling abuse.

The effects of abuse can range from poor grades to low-self esteem and worse. It should be duly noted that this paper is not an attempted to hide the gross reality of child abuse neither is it an attempt to defend some parents who do abuse children in the name of spanking during punishment and discipline.

Christian Parent’s Right to Spank

This paper highlights the efforts of loving Christian parents who spank their children properly. Parent’s have a spiritual, cultural and a personal right, responsibility and reason to rear their child in a safe and loving way. Christian parents are taught to be obligated to rear their child in a Godly way. The Christian methods are not always agreeable with society and may stir up calm waters with the liberal movements of anti- spanking. This is due to the religio-culture that combines’ both the cultural practices and spiritual religion. They are intertwined; therefore it would be a denial of both to prohibit a natural and nurturing practice. 

Religion has no right to force itself upon society, such as making every parent spank their child; likewise society has no right to force itself upon the religious beliefs and practices. There must be social standards that protect children from abuse, however stating that spanking a child is abuse is absurd. Some children are light pigmented and will bruise with the lightest bump. Therefore the standard must be fair to the parent. Denying the parent their God-given right to discipline and punish a according to their belief is wrong. Christian can respect the belief that some parents would like to punish their child without spanking. Christian do not dehumanize these parents neither make them feel inadequate. However pro-spanking parents have been depredated, dehumanized and demoralized as parents. Books and articles are written that interchange the word spank with words like beat, hit and punch. They paint monstrous verbal portraits of loving parents and publish it for readers around the world.

Children need to be both disciplined and safe under the oversight of their parents in a loving and nurturing environment. Raising children can be challenging in an oversexed, overindulged and over offensive society. With the lines of human morality becoming indistinguishable from those of prideful and purposeful wrongful deeds parents must be a consistent and righteous force of that provides the child with a safe and firm standard.

The parent must train the by using positive words, logical consequence, positive reinforcement, congruent body language, verbal correction, allowing natural consequence, spanking, time-out, rewards and privilege restriction. Spanking in love is a proven method of discipline; it is never the only method of discipline. Spanking as any other practice in life can be abused and when it is, the perpetrator should be prosecuted to the full measure of the law, but loving parents who spank and have been successful in their parental duties should be commended for a job well done.

© Copyright 2020 Dr Bertheophilus M Bailey Sr. All rights reserved.

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