MANY IN IN OUR CULTURE TODAY consider spanking a form of child abuse. But, is spanking, or the failure to spank, child abuse? That is the question that should concern us.
This objection is made because child abuse is accelerating in Western culture. Children are bruised, cut, hit in the head, or struck in inappropriate ways, and this should break our hearts. But the culprit is the breakdown of the family, not loving corporal punishment. In 1960, before the sexual revolution, only 5% of live births were to unwed mothers. Most children grew up with their biological fathers in the home, and the predictable result was that child abuse was rare.
Today over 40% of births are to single mothers. Because some mothers marry the father of their children, about 35% of our children grow up without their biological father, and that is where the vast majority of child abuse occurs. Live-in-boyfriends, step-fathers, and over-stressed single mothers, the latter carrying a load God never intended, perpetrate the vast majority of child abuse. [See Stats at footnote 1] Therefore, the real cause of child abuse is not spanking. It is the breakdown of the nuclear family promoted by the sexual revolution. So before we answer the question, “Is Spanking Child Abuse,” let’s start by examining the options to spanking.
Every parent faces the same question. What is the best way to teach children self-control? It is a skill they must learn. Failure here is not an option. A child that has not learned self-control will, at best, be a moral and social outlier.
The options are not numerous. Some parents use time out. Others remove toys or other special playthings. Often, they get desperate and shame their child with negative speech. “I don’t love you when you act like that.” Or worse, “I hate you.” Or, “You make me so ashamed. You are a disgrace to our family.” This is not how God the Father parents us.
That takes us to our last option, corporal punishment—physical discipline administered with great tenderness by parents who love and care for their children. The Bible is clear. Our loving, gracious heavenly Father endorses this approach. And although it is politically incorrect, it is, and for centuries has been, the most profitable way to teach small children self-control.
“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol” (Proverbs 23:13–14).
“Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts” (Proverbs 20:30).
“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15).
“The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (Proverbs 29:15).
This is the context out of which Paul writes Ephesians 6:4. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
Remember, God loves our children much more than we do, and the Bible positively commands loving corporal punishment. So the question is not “Is spanking child abuse?” The question is the opposite. Is the failure to spank child abuse? Who do we fear—God or man?
Timing is another issue. Those that reject spanking depend upon the ability to reason with their child. But discipline is most effective when started before the first 18 months, and children in this age group have little reasoning capacity. They do, however, intuitively understand the pain of a spanking. This is another practical reason the Bible recommends spanking.
Informed Christian parents, who practice corporal punishment, do so with theological goals in mind. First, Christian parents want the discipline event to preach the gospel to their children.
Second, Christian parents attempt to impress their children with the truth that holiness leads to happiness, but sin always eventually leads to pain. How much better for them to make that connection through the discipline of loving parents than through a failed marriage, a terminated job, college failure, or inability to form and keep lasting friendships.
A third theological goal is to convince the child that God’s love and God’s discipline are like Siamese twins. They are always joined. This conviction will be a massive asset to them in their adult years. Here is one suggested way to accomplish these three ends.
The Discipline Event
I call it a “discipline event” because that is what it is—an event. Don’t just start swinging at your child in the heat of anger. Instead, calm down, take the child aside privately, to a bedroom, bathroom, or some other place where you can be alone. This takes significant parental self-control. It takes restraint.
Next, hold the child in your lap. (Physical touch communicates love, care, and concern). Remind your child of the seriousness of sin. The conversation might go something like this. “When I didn’t give you that cookie you wanted, you began to pout. But pouting is sinful. It displeases God. Gratitude, not pouting, pleases God. It is the proper response. Were it not for the gospel, your pouting would have grave ramifications. For grumbling and pouting, God destroyed the nation of Israel in the wilderness. The cross of Christ makes one thing clear. You don’t deserve a cookie. You deserve judgment. Nevertheless, look at how God has loved you. You have loving parents, three meals a day, and a warm bed to sleep in. In addition, your parents love you enough to discipline you and teach you the gospel.”
“Because I love you, I am going to spank you. I want to convince you that pouting displeases God, that he judges it, and that it always leads to pain.”
Next, spank the child hard enough to cause pain but not injury. Pain is very important. False compassion will not want to make it hurt, but real compassion deliberately makes it sting. We do this because Hebrews 12:11 reads, “For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
Next, rehearse the gospel with your child in an age-appropriate way. They can never hear it enough. For a five or six-year-old it might go something like this, “There is only one reason that you will not come under God’s condemnation for this sin. Jesus died on the cross and took the punishment that you deserve. The pain Jesus endured on the cross is what every sin deserves.”
What are you doing? You are teaching your child the gospel. You are building a bridge in your child’s thinking between God’s discipline and God’s love. You are teaching them that sin is always ultimately painful.
Once the child quits crying and calms down, move to reconciliation. This is very important. Have the child ask God’s forgiveness. It works best when the child humbles him or herself and names the specific sin. “God, please forgive me for pouting.” Next, have them ask your forgiveness. If they have sinned against someone else in the family be sure that they get reconciled to that person as well.
Last, express your love and affection. “I am so proud of you for taking responsibility for your behavior, admitting you were wrong, confessing it, and asking God’s forgiveness. I love you. In fact, it is because I love you so much that I spank you. I am imitating God. He disciplines the children he loves.”
In most cases, your child will leave the room with a cleansed conscience, feeling forgiven, and aware of both your love and God’s. It is not unusual for them to skip through the door, happy, contented, and restored.
What should you do if this is all new? Let’s say you have a five-year-old you have never disciplined this way? Start by asking his or her forgiveness. Explain that you have not obeyed God, that you have not loved him or her as God commands, and that from now on you are only going to ask once. If the child doesn’t respond discipline will follow. Promise change: then follow through.
Many object . They fear that spanking promotes violence. The claim is that children who have been spanked will grow up and act out that violence toward others.
In fact, spanking does the exact opposite. It drives violence from the child’s heart. “Blows that wound cleanse away evil [that includes violence]; strokes make clean the innermost parts.” (Proverbs 20:30).
If you need proof, just look around. Does this objection meet the road test of real life? Hardly! One of the reasons that most incarcerated men commit violent crime is that they were never spanked at an appropriate age by compassionate loving parents. Children that are disciplined as I have described above, will be the most peaceful, self-controlled, cheerful, and respectful in your local church. They will be the last to act out violence toward others.
Another objection is legal. Some fear that spanking is against the law. In fact, it is not against the law. It may be at some time in the future, but as I write in the Summer of 2019, it is still legal to administer loving corporal punishment to your own children in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. You may be surprised to know that nineteen states even allow spanking in public schools.
Every parent faces the same question. What is the best and most effective way to teach children self-control? The ancient spiritual wisdom contained in the pages of the Bible has been battle-tested for at least three millennia. It has proved its effectiveness over many centuries. It would be very foolish to ignore it. Even more importantly, it would be very foolish to offend God.
 In a study done by The Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-4): Report to Congress, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2010), the following facts emerged. Child Abuse is perpetrated by married biological parents at the rate of 6.4/1,000; Single parent with partner 47.4 /1,000; Unmarried parents 37.2/1,000; and Single parent, no partner approx.. 30/1,000. Conclusion? Child abuse is 7.4 times more likely to occur when a single parent and partner co-habitat (as opposed to biological married parents), a single mother living without a partner, about 5 times as likely.