To smack or not to smack?

Do you smack your children? Should you? And if you’re a Christian, is that right and proper? I came across this article from Denny Burk where he sets out why smacking your kids is Biblical, and many Christians around the world would agree with that. In Newfrontiers for example PJ Smyth commends it as a form of discipline.

Burk having briefly outlined his case ends with this,

“Despite the pronouncements of the judge in Texas, parents who love their children will make use of non-abusive physical discipline (Prov. 13:24). This is what the Bible teaches, and we should be vigilant not to let the spirit of the age make us think otherwise.”

We don’t and haven’t smacked our children (although the thought has crossed my mind from time to time). But I have a problem with the way Burk frames his case when he says, ‘Parents who love their children will make use of non-abusive physical discipline.’

Here’s part of my problem. In Sweden smacking your children is against the law and has been since 1979, in fact as a crime it falls under assault. So to smack your children is to physically assault them as if I was punching a stranger in the street. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that approach by Sweden, for the last 30 years it has been illegal to smack your child. So, what use then is Burk’s advice to parents and counsel from Scripture? None at all if you want to stay a family.

Would this be a case of obeying God rather than man and smack regardless (Acts 5:29)? It would be an odd hill to die on I think. Instead it would be a case of seeing these instructions not as essential or necessary for obedience, discipline or love or to put it more clearly it’s not a command. The Bible is not commanding that a parent must smack but must discipline. I doubt those that smack use actual rods or staffs, so they interpret.

So we must find other rods and staffs, more creative means of effective discipline and we’re glad to do so. Smacking my children is not an essential for a Christian parent, discipline on the other hand is and the two are not the same.

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11 Thoughts to “To smack or not to smack?”

  1. Thanks Tim – will have a think about making our inadequate efforts public!
    Rob – Good points to remember about all forms of discipline if done cruelly or even thoughtlessly  

  2. Robert Mason

    I must discipline my children because that is loving.
    discipline CAN include a smack, but doesn’t HAVE to.
    If we smack we must not be lacking in ‘self control’
    a smack must also be measured and appropriate, not abuse.

    Many of the non physical punishments imho amount to mental cruelty and are far more damaging to self esteem, relationship and development.  Isolation, witholding physical touches/loving embrace and denial of nourishments for instance can be significantly damaging.
    Words chosen can have a serious effect on childs mental well being.

  3. Great blog. You fancy talking about how you do discipline your kids? 

  4. Just finished reading a book about authority and how it works in the world – author points out the only examples of civil disobedience in Scripture are when the people of God are commanded to do something that God says not to, rather than when they are commanded not to do something that God says is good to do.  (see the Hebrew midwives, Daniel, Shadrach Meshach and Abednego, Esther, etc)

    I’ve previously said to myself that I would go to court on this matter and argue that it is loving parenting to physically discipline – however, I do not believe we are commanded to hit our kids; nor is the government commanding me to do something unbiblical or ungodly.  Therefore, if legislation in the UK strengthens from the current “don’t get caught / don’t leave a mark” (its a grey area!) then I am commanded to submit to the governing authorities and must continue to discipline my children within the law of the country in which I live.

    1. Well put Gareth, and thanks for the insights on civil disobedience. I hadn’t fully considered those patterns

  5. Mark

    ‘Odd hills to die on’ – could there be a series of posts on this??

    I also would like to know what you do in place of physical discipline.

    We changed our policy round about the time we saw the irony of punishing our kids for fighting by slapping them, saying, ‘now, there’s no hitting in our house’!

    Another question does even a single one of the aphorisms in the book of proverbs lend itself to legislation?

    1. Yes I think our legislation would be confused if all we went with was Proverbs!

  6. David Matthias

    I am ever more confused by some of the assertions regarding physical discipline using that verse in Proverbs.

    Whatever happened to aligning things with the new covenant, looking at the life of Jesus and the example of the early Church?

    Seems a bit odd to hinge a whole doctrine on a piece of advice and make it sound like a command.

    If Esther is nagging me I don’t go and sit on the corner of a roof!

    I wonder what the funniest “taking a proverb literally” doctrine could end up being?

    I just don’t think it is meant like that.

    Is there not far more biblical evidence that a child should be swaddled when sleeping: because that after all is the example of Jesus?

  7. Sarah

    Tim and Robert’s comments prompted me to respond (came across this blog because I’m moving to Sweden vv soon too)

    How to discipline without walloping a child?  Mark’s line works really well, if said clearly, calmly and with authority:  “In this house, we do not hit each other.” It works for years, well after smacking has to end (when one’s son is bigger, stronger, faster than one…) – variants include “In this house, nobody smokes.”  “In this house, we treat each other with respect.  We share the housework.  We keep in touch if our plans change.”  Etc.  You get the drift.  Set the rules, state them clearly, mean them, and articulate them when you need to.  And live by them yourself.

    Another thing that worked for me was to appeal to their care for others:  “Grandmama would be hurt to hear you use those words.”

    Techniques for smaller children – distraction (“let’s get out of this aisle and see if we can find some funny shaped potatoes for supper.  Will you stop screaming now so we can do that?”) and displacement (pick them up, walk away from the situation, hug them and tell them calmly but firmly to stop being so ghastly, whatever their misdemeanor was.)  Slapping a child and leaving them there in the situation is obviously perverse, but it happens all the time.  And disappointment – the “naughty step” is rather meaningless if the child feels no guilt.  To get that, you need to be disappointed in their behaviour, not angry with them. 

    If you don’t want to mess them up forever (and don’t forget – you probably will anyway! Poets are never wrong…), use the line “This behaviour is unacceptable”.  Love the sinner, after all.  Don’t say, “You’re a bad, bad boy” a hundred times a day (my little brother thought that was his name for quite a long while…).

    One of the nurseries my son went to, back in the liberal 90s, had a “no no” policy, which I thought was utterly bonkers to start with (I was brought as a missionary kid in Brazil, btw.  I know that spare the rod thing all too well)  But by gum it worked.  Holding back on bellowing and shrieking NOOOO at a child for tiny things means when you need to (like when they start to cross a road without looking), they stop instantly and you get their full attention. 

    One of the best bits of parenting advice I was given was the “just say yes” rule – when your child asks to do something utterly unreasonable, JSY.  As long as they know they will face the consequences, they will usually be wiser than you might think… Discipline, after all, is about learning to live, not learning to be rule bound. 

    1. Hi Sarah, no idea if you’ll get this but thanks for the comment. When and where are you moving to Sweden? 

  8. David

    Interesting…I am glad you came to this conclusion. Smacking your kids in Sweden might result in the kids ending with a foster family. A risk not worth taking…

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