Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child?

I knew when I first read last quarter’s Sabbath School Lesson 8 on parenting, the big “it” was going to become THE TOPIC of the study. The “it” is, of course, the phrase “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” At the time, I must admit I thought “Spare the rod and spoil the child” was in the Bible. It was pointed out to me that it is not. But, there are several verses, alluding to its validity (sort of). Although, Proverbs 23:13 is patently false. Solomon states “If you punish him with the rod he will not die.” There are numerous cases of a parent killing a child through this process. This advice is coming from the “smartest man on earth,” so how dare we question his advice? No intelligent man would have several hundred wives. As for parental advice, I would wager that Solomon didn’t even know half of his children’s names, and I am almost positive that he never disciplined any of them. He had a palace full of people for that purpose. It’s kind of like taking a course in marine navigation from a dirt farmer in Kansas. Just having children does not a parent make.

The SS discussion went as expected. I pointed out that Ellen White was not a big proponent of spanking a child and had much the same advice as Haim G. Ginott, a world-famous parenting expert in the 1960s and 70s who was most effective in non-corporal parenting. Ellen White pointed out that there were other, more effective, ways of restructuring a child. Seldom did it include beatings. One of the class members, a child therapist, told of how one of her patients had used the paddle on their child over a period of several years of the child’s young life, only to now face the fact that the child had developed small fractures in his young spine which had left him in a wheelchair, with his young body unable to support itself. A very hard lesson learned by at least one parent.

Corporal parental discipline has taken its toll on the lives of so many of our young. Much of it at the hands of an angry parent who has lost control. Most of us, unfortunately, have firsthand knowledge of some child that was either badly injured or even killed at the hands of an enraged parent. Probably not what Solomon had in mind? The class was very receptive to the notion that you must never discipline a child when you are angry or out of control.

Ok, there is a line that must not be crossed, even for someone who is a believer in corporal punishment. But, what message does physical punishment send? Even though it is effective, and in many cases stops the bad behavior, what has been instilled in the psyche of the child? Unless I’ve missed some breakthrough in human behavior, it instills fear of painful punishment. Is fear the way to “train the child in the way he should go”? How do you associate the fear with the needed behavioral modification? Isn’t the goal to instill appropriate behavior because the child understands “the right from the wrong,” and not simply because they don’t want to be beaten again? A classic example of this is when you have a child over your knee and are spanking the child because they have physically hurt another child. How do you, in good conscience, tell the child that they must not hit someone while you’re hitting them on the behind? At best, it’s ironic, at worst it is abuse. Just because this is how it’s been done for thousands of years doesn’t make it the best means of discipline.

It was only after I came home from church and tried to digest the various comments that I realized I had let the class down. Although there is little doubt that most minds would never change on the matter, I still had the responsibility of providing another, hopefully better, way. Some in the class pointed out that their parents had used the paddle on them and, of course, they turned out just fine. Why would I question that? What I would question is whether that form of discipline was the reason they became the well-adjusted people sitting before me. We will never know, nor will they. I do feel that we tend to evolve into the adults we are regardless of what method of parenting was practiced in our childhood. This is not to suggest that we are not affected by the methods of childhood structuring, but also, on whether our parents exhibited love and caring for us, regardless of how they chose to punish us. I feel that loving parents are more important than any method of discipline utilized.

I began to focus on how civilized nations deal with those who violate their rules. I find it interesting that in most nations even the worst offenders are not physically punished. It has been said that if you want to examine the morality of a society, the best way is to observe how they treat those whom they have incarcerated. Our society goes to great lengths to see that even those receiving the death penalty do not suffer in the process.

Discipline is not something that is simple. It shouldn’t be a reactionary process. It requires thought. Could it be that spanking is chosen because it is the quickest and easiest method of punishment? Or, perhaps it is an instinctive response. It is much easier to grab the paddle than it is to confine the child who is being antisocial. It is much easier to get out the belt than it is to remove cherished items from the child for a period of time while they are instructed as to why their bad behavior has isolated them and their prized possessions removed. It is much harder to deal with a child isolated in their room because they cannot play nicely with others.

If discipline is to be a teaching tool, then it should be instructional in helping the child understand why the behavior was hurtful, selfish, dangerous, and antisocial or another inappropriate behavior. It is going to take some thought as to what will instruct the child as well as discipline the child in a direction which will cause a mind change, and not simply fear of being beaten again. A parent must not look at any given incident as an end, but rather a part of a process in instilling proper values. This is why Solomon said “Teach a child”…not frighten a child. It might explain why our prison systems are so ineffectual. I live near a prison and I have to chuckle every time I go by the sign pointing to the prison which reads “Correctional Facility.” There is little correction, and most of the education taking place is between the criminals in the institution. It explains why our recidivism is so great.

Most parents have tried the “time out” process. This isn’t the only alternative to corporal discipline. It might entail a trip to a hospital where the child can observe what happens when someone runs in the street. Perhaps, exposing the child to children who have little to eat, might give them a sense of how fortunate they are to have food on the table and help them learn to share. You don’t have to look too hard to find examples of people’s lives that have gone very wrong from bad choices. But, nothing will be more indelible in your child’s mind than hearing from someone who expresses regrets for the bad choices they have made.

The punishment must fit the crime, but the punishment should also instill a desire to change the behavior, and not simply because of retribution. In circumstances where it isn’t a danger to the child, simply allowing the consequences of a poor choice can often be one of the most effective forms of punishment. Most of us learn our most valuable lessons from mistakes.

Leading by example is also essential. No parent has ever been effective in telling their child not to do what they themselves are doing. Where do we differentiate between what is a positive motivator and what primarily instills fear in the child? Is stopping the bad behavior the only reason for discipline, or is this process to be a teaching moment, whose intent is to help them develop an understanding of why that behavior is not acceptable? Shouldn’t our goal be to develop in the child a desire to correct the misbehavior in a positive way? It would seem to me that the correction should bear some resemblance to the misdeed and that the correction should instill not only the fear of repeating that misdeed but also a desire to modify that behavior so that the misdeed is no longer the option they are seeking. That will actually take some parental thought.

This is where parenting must no longer be a reactionary process. If you take nothing else from this, that previous sentence should be the one you retain in your mind. We must take on an intelligent, well thought-out plan, not simply stopping the offense, but helping the child structure a desire to find another way of expression. Effecting an understanding, even in a young child, that the behavior they have exhibited is hurtful, unkind, antisocial, or any one of a number of bad behaviors, is modification that could be built upon to ultimately achieve a well-adjusted adult. We shouldn’t be focused on short-term goals.

We all come ill-equipped at being “good” parents. Just being children, even of very good parents, does not give us the tools to make us parental experts. I doubt that many parents take the time to actually address, in our minds, the process which will most effectively restructure the child’s thinking so that they will develop the skills and understanding to handle the circumstances when the misbehavior rears its ugly head. Will we simply grab the old paddle or will we approach it from a process in order to restructure the thinking of this young gift we’ve been entrusted with? Will we continue to redden the rear of a child while saying “this is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you”? Or, are we going to give the child the skills to find alternative ways of venting their anger, helping them be more thoughtful, more careful, or whatever the bad behavior dictates?

I have not provided much in the way of alternative methods of discipline. It is with some intention. The offenses and the offenders are so varied and responses so different as to the discipline, that I am hesitant to suggest that “you simply do this, or that.” Only you know your children and what they will respond to. And if you don’t, then that is where you need to start. My only suggestion is that you need to put as much thought into it as you do planning your vacation or an addition to your house, or even the meal you will place on the table at Thanksgiving. In a word, parenting takes thought. It takes planning, and most importantly, it takes a great deal of prayer. Solutions will come when we seek them. The process should be dealt with when there isn’t the urgency to solve a present situation that demands immediate attention. Solutions won’t come in the spare of the moment when we are enraged with a childhood offense.

Lynden Williams is a 74-year-old retired broadcast engineer who lives in Tehachapi, California. He has been a Sabbath School teacher for more than 25 years—currently as one of the adult Sabbath School leaders at the Lancaster California Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Photo by Japheth Mast on Unsplash

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I was in the second grade. I did something that required a spanking. I was sent to the woodshed to pick out a suitable paddle. All I could find was a piece of orange crate with a small nail in it. I brought it to dad and in a painful voice… please don’t use the end with the nail in it. Dad gave me a few light taps. Years later he told me he was laughing so hard he couldn’t hardly keep his part of the discipline.


Another golden oldie. The Loma Linda Campus Church had a General lesson study.A mother had the pulpit. She kept emphasizing that neither she nor Ellen White were in favor of capital punishment for young children. Only the ushers in the anteroom were able to laugh.


The intent of discipline is to train a child to behave according to a code of behavior whereas punishment is to inflict suffering to a child for the sole reason of releasing parental anger. Once the parent understands the difference, then it becomes easier to expound on details.


Spare the Rod and Spoil the child is an amazing bit of parenting advice…if you know anything about sheep…which I don’t…I openly admit that almost my entire shepherding knowledge comes from the Bible and the movie Babe…ok…maybe just a little bit from artistic interpretations of what the Good Shepherd was like.

So here goes. Shepherds use that rod for many many things…so far none of them mention hitting the sheep with it.

Shepherds used the rod to root up poisonous plants from the grazing area.
From that I get the idea that God requires that I am proactive about making sure my children don’t eat poison…get those cleaning supplies locked up behind some sort of childproofing. I also think I could come to the conclusions that I should make sure my children eat what they need to grow. If I think about it a little more I could decide that using the rod meant that I need to educate my children about abusing drugs.

According to my old orange My Bible Friends, shepherds used that rod to defend their sheep from wolves. I get the idea that Jesus wants me to protect my children from mental and physical danger with brutal force if necessary.

The same little books give me the idea that the a good shepherd will use that rod/crook to haul a lamb up from a ditch where he/she is stuck in a thorny bush of some kind. I get the impression that although I need to let my children experience some of the pain of natural consequences, I can also extend grace and rescue them from the predicaments they choose to get into.

But what about the “rod of correction” you say? Again my mind imagines a shepherd holding on that rod as a portable guard rail to keep the sheep from falling over a cliff they might not see when they are rounding a turn. There is the possibility that a shepherd might hold it out to prevent a sheep from going a certain way. From that I get the idea that as a parent I need to have boundaries and those need to be firm…for safety reasons.

My sheep hear my voice and they follow…would you follow someone who hit you with a big stick or or would you run away?

I am the good shepherd…then there is something about laying down His life for the sheep…who is portrayed as experiencing the pain?

Anyway, I think that sparing the rod = spoiling the child is some great advice to us to actively parent our children.

Did God let his children experience some very painful natural consequences at times? Yes, absolutely. Even some smiting at times…but God is all knowing and always good and I’ve decided I’ll just trust until I can ask for explanations in person.
I am not all knowing or always good so I better just stick with using the rod to shepherd my little lambs in a proactive fashion.

“Thy Rod and thy staff they comfort me”…children do well with parents that actively parent.

So in short…I’m asserting that God’s word is not wrong at all to have that reference in there. Definitely don’t spare the rod!


Physical “punishment” isn’t necessary for discipline and often has unintended negative consequences. Often it is easier for a parent/guardian to lash out in a physical way rather than understand and work with the child’s personality and needs. Sometimes, this could be because the parent is unaware that there are other methods of “discipline”…other times, it is because they are letting their own emotions rule.


Once again you have nailed it. I do believe that physical punishment is or maybe I should say deminished. Our generation was subject to cultural acceptance of physical violence as a means of punishment. And very conservative churches seemed to expect parents to punish children with belts, spoons, brooms, or what was handy.

My wife and I never discussed physical violence when raising our children and that came from our education majors which required us to take Psychology of Children. Suddenly lights go on in your head and when years later we had our children it just didn’t need to be discussed because it just never happened.

Any call to use the “rod” must come from either no education or from parents who have a boat load of issues elsewhere in their lives.


"Any call to use the “rod” must come from either no education or from parents who have a boat load of issues elsewhere in their lives."

And…once again…you totally get it! Most parents use physical punishment when they are not in control of their own emotions. So, this is exactly what the child learns- emotions first…rational behavior later (if this happens).

I worked for years with DD children and physical “punishment” was never used/allowed. It is amazing what a good behavior program can do…this is being consistent and accentuating the positive behavior. Too many parents/guardians maximize the negative and believe that this is what good religion teaches. It is such an abhorrent thing to believe in/practice.


I don’t recall ever being spanked. But then childhood recollections of events
usually do not begin until around 4 or 5.
However, when I was in 1st grade and it was almost time for lunch, apparently
I had been talking when I should have been quiet. The teacher made me sit
in a front corner for 15 minutes.
That is the only time I got in trouble in school.

We never had to “spank” our two kids. Several times a soft tap on the behind,
but that is all when they were small.


That is amazing Steve. Spankings was a regular occurrence for me in school. It gave so many memories to share since I never had to walk five miles in the snow to school everyday and back home. Up hill both ways.

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I remember the “ruler” that was used by one teacher to “slap” the open palm of some misbehaving children. I haven’t thought of that one in decades…

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I forgot about the ruler to the hands teachers. I think
the teachers got inserviced in their pre school meetings at the conference office on the most effective delivery method to maximize pain. Remember rulers that had that metal strip down one edge? One day the ruler punishment was to be delivered to my good friend for not coming in from recess on time. He put out his hand and as the first blow came he grabbed the ruler and jerked it out of her hand cutting her palm slightly. I really can’t remember her using the ruler the rest of the school year.

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lol…I bet that dampened things for the teacher. :wink:

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I am in full agreement with your presentation of this loving method of discipline that you have given us, however how does one find a biblical consistency with that with such verses as in proverb 23:13?

“Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.”

I am a believer that there is no perfect revelation and that Jesus showed a different way than the ways of Moses and the Old Testament era.

In discordance basically with all posters above, I allow for disciplinary spanking on the butt. As a last resource, of course. How many times have I seen parents, in public, having horrendous confrontations with a child? Too many times. And I always thought, “Just a a couple of not so gentle slaps on the butt would stop this nonsense.”

I am not talking about violence, I am talking about a disciplinary action used as a last resource - only if other techniques failed. I am talking about a disciplinary process (that I won’t comment on here because I charge a fee for that! :laughing: ). However, I have never seen anyone with mental problems due to being spanked for bad behavior as a child. Not one single case! Please note that I am talking about spanking the butt, not the legs, the back, or the head - this would be unacceptable physical violence.

It became a difficult issue nowadays because of the State’s interference giving children the right to put parents in jail if they use disciplinary spanking. Therefore, good luck to the new generation of parents who have now limited disciplinary resources. We can see the results in every mall, and unfortunately on the church pews as well.

Did I open a can of worms with my position on the issue? I believe so… … :roll_eyes: :innocent: :laughing:


G – no! just verbalized what we do see on Sabbaths sometimes.
See at WalMart and the grocery store.
The discipline at WalMart and Grocery store I see a lot is
Parent “yelling”. Kids get used to that and soon tune the
parent out because it becomes so frequent. And keep up
the behavior. AND the Parent keeps on"yelling"!
Quite irritating to on-lookers doing their shopping.


Though I disagree in principle with corporal punishment…I have yet to see a parent who practices “disciplinary spanking” stop with a few “gentle taps”. However, said parents might exist somewhere. :slight_smile:


What I have observed with the “yelling” are many parents who are unwilling to take the child out of the store because it is too inconvenient for them. If the parents would be consistent with the “hauling out” of the store then the child would quickly learn to behave faster.


The more the parents yell the more the kids feel in control. If they can make their parents yell and lose self-control, is there really anything the kids CANNOT make their parents do?
“I want that candy, bua, bua, bua.”
“Her is your candy, don’t cry honey…”

I used to teach parenting classes.


They may be rare, but I know at least one who did it successfully… :wink:

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