Smacking is one of those topics we avoid at polite dinner parties.
We don’t want to upset the sensibilities of the biblical purists who will start quoting the 'rod' of Proverbs if we mention the latest anti-smacking research.
We also don’t want to unsettle the happy hippies with their child-led parenting ideas, co-sleeping habits and connection theories.
And to be honest, we don’t necessarily know what to think ourselves – because we’re not 100% sure whether smacking is right or wrong.
What the Bible says about discipline
Unlike other areas of parenting – like how to help a baby sleep or what school to choose – the Bible actually does have plenty to say about discipline. Here’s a few examples:
- In the Old Testament law, parents are directed towards strict discipline even to the point of stoning a disobedient youth (Deut 21:18-21)
- There are three separate Proverbs specifically prescribing the use of the rod to make a child wise and even save his life (Prov 13:24; 22:15; 23:13-14)
- In the New Testament, fathers are directed to instruct and discipline their children without provoking anger or discouragement (Eph 6:4, Col 3:21, Heb 12:7-11)
What do we do with this? We have stoning on one hand and a much gentler form of discipline on the other.
As Christians, we know we are not bound by the Old Testament Law, so we can breathe a sigh of relief that there is no need to stone our rebellious teenagers (that is relief you’re breathing isn’t it, parents of teenagers?). But what should our approach be instead?
Why wasn’t the Prodigal Son disciplined?
When you think about stubborn and rebellious youth who disobey parents, you can’t go past the Prodigal Son. He insolently asks for his inheritance early, effectively disowning his family. This kid is a rotter. If anyone falls into Deuteronomy’s stoning category, it’s him.
But his father doesn’t stone him. Instead of a stoning, his father gives him the money he asked for. And when he returns, his father again refrains from stoning him, and instead gives him … a party!!
I can understand why the other son gets upset. There is disobedience without retribution ... it's just not right! It didn’t seem fair because the ledger system was totally disregarded. The Prodigal Son didn’t have to pay the price for his own sin. This is the beginning of grace.
This sweet, beautiful grace can be heard behind the New Testament instructions for fathers in their discipline. Grace doesn’t replace the need for discipline, but it regulates it. In Ephesians 6, children are instructed to obey their parents – obedience isn't done away with. But fathers are warned not to exasperate their children. Harsh, inflexible, graceless discipline is one quick way to exasperate a child.
How grace leads to obedience
As a toddler, one of our children showed strong-willed eagerness to do things for themselves and to explore. While that was sometimes a good thing, at other times it often meant completely ignoring mum and dad.
In an effort to maintain discipline, I thought tighter boundaries would help. Give less options, stand my ground. The child needed to know who’s boss and do what they were told. It sounded biblical … obedience is important! But it led to exasperation. It led to more stand-offs. And heartbreakingly, it gave an inflexible, harsh model to follow.
When I changed my tack and started speaking more gently - giving more options rather than tighter boundaries - what I received in return was calmer, more polite responses and… obedience!! Grace led to obedience! Who would’ve thought.
The beauty of grace-filled discipline
Grace needs to be our guide as Christian parents when it comes to training and disciplining our children. Discipline is not about pay-back and retribution. That is part of the old system.
This approach doesn’t just free our children, it frees us as parents. If we get it wrong as parents, we can ask for forgiveness and change by the power of the Holy Spirit. It also means we have freedom in what method we use to show grace-filled discipline.
I’m not going to tell you whether I think smacking your child is right or wrong. That’s for you to decide after doing your own thinking and research. However, I do want to share a few guidelines that I hope will help, no matter whether you choose to smack or not.
- Any system of discipline that includes smacking must be maintained and regulated by grace
- If smacking makes your child angry or discouraged, you must refrain from it
- Never use smacking as a way of venting your own anger or frustration
There is no justification for smacking without grace. And if you’ve been guilty of that, apologise to your child for hitting them and ask God to change you. These are some other simple steps to prevent harmful smacking and to help us discipline with grace:
- Cry to God in your frustration and anger - ask him to heal your hurts
- Get rest for yourself if you can, even if it means locking yourself in the bathroom or fleeing to the balcony or backyard for 5 minutes!
- Ask a friend to keep you accountable and share your struggles and failures with them
- Get some strategies under your belt so you know what to do in the heat of the moment - this website is a good starting point: http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/discipline_strategies
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