What to do when parents disagree about spanking?


Whenever I switch one of the kids my wife has a fit. She begs me to use a different punishment. Her crying and shouting make it very difficult to administer a proper whipping to the youngster. Afterward, she is furious with me and may even give me the silent treatment for a few days.

If the wife is against corporal punishment should the husband respect her wishes? Normally she is respectful and obedient but the thought of a switch hitting any of our children, ages 8 to 16, is very upsetting to her.


The problem described is a difficult one as it indicates a greater problem than just a decision on how the children should be punished. In establishing a marriage we are told, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). The idea of becoming one flesh is more than a description of the sexual relationship. A husband and wife are to join together to act as a unit.

Does this mean that there will never be disagreements? Obviously with people involved, this cannot happen. Arguments are bound to happen, but there are proper ways to handle disagreements. Your wife has chosen one of the poorest ways possible to gain resolution. Grownups ought not to act as children when they do not get their way. Throwing a tantrum in front of your own children is begging for trouble. First, it causes confusion was to what standard of right and wrong is to be applied. Second, it gives an opening for children to play one parent off of the other parent. The unfortunate fact is that there is little you can do to encourage your wife to behave properly, except to sit down and reason from the Scriptures during a calm moment. Just keep in mind this warning, "A continual dripping on a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike; whoever restrains her restrains the wind, and grasps oil with his right hand" (Proverbs 27:15-16). In other words, it is next to impossible to stop a woman from being contentious if she is a mind to be so. Your only hope is in changing her mind.

Therefore, we must address why your wife objects so strongly to spankings. Is it because she objects to the concept of spanking? Does she believe you use it too often? Or, does she believe you are too severe in administering it? If she has legitimate cause to believe that her children are not being spanked but being abused, wailing about it will not solve the problem -- she should be going to the authorities for help. However, her behavior seems to indicate that she does not see the punishments as abuse; she just doesn't like it.

Spanking is a legitimate disciplinary action

Though efforts are being made to change the laws, spanking remains a legal option in the United States and in most other countries. There may be restraints as to who is allowed to administer a spanking. For example, many states have specific laws forbidding teachers from spanking children. However, spanking remains legal especially for parents.

Nor has any harm been found for properly administered spankings. In a study presented to the American Psychological Association in 2001, Elizabeth Owens, a co-author of the study, stated, "Occasional, mild spankings of young children are OK and do not cause any lasting harm that carries into adolescence ... Such discipline does not hurt youngsters' social or emotional development ... A lot of people out there advocate that any spanking at all is detrimental, and that's not what we found."

Yet, even if laws were enacted against spanking, the reason spanking is used is because of God's teaching on the matter. The Creator is much wiser that the created.

  • Proverbs 13:24, "He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly."
  • Proverbs 22:15, "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him."
  • Proverbs 23:13-14, "Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell."
  • Proverbs 29:15, "The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother."
  • Proverbs 29:17, "Correct your son, and he will give you rest; yes, he will give delight to your soul."
  • Hebrews 12:7-13, "If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed."

If your spouse disagrees with these passages, you have a much deeper problem than a disagreement over spanking. You are married to someone who believes she knows more about child rearing than God.

Spanking can be overused as a punishment

Mankind has a tendency to find something that works and then uses that solution for every problem that comes up thereafter. Yet, anything used frequently will lose its effectiveness, including spankings.

Good discipline uses a balance of constructive encouragement and corrective punishments which act as deterrents to wrongful behavior. "And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). It takes both training (teaching) and admonition (correction) to raise children. Parents should focus on teaching their children what they should do so that the need for corrective punishment is minimized. "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up" (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). "For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, the children who would be born, that they may arise and declare them to their children, that they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments" (Psalm 78:5-7).

The best punishments are those which teach lessons and inhibit wrongful behavior. I remember a newly married couple who both had children from prior marriages. Shortly after the wedding, his son and her daughter were annoying each other and it soon developed into a fight. As punishment, the boy and girl were required to spend several days together. If one had to use the restroom or take a shower, the other had to wait outside the door. They still slept in their own bedrooms, but every waking moment was spent in each others company. Eventually, they figured out how to get along more peacefully.

Timeouts work well if a child is misbehaving for the attention or if the child thrives on social interaction, but it too can be overused. I know a number of parents who use timeouts almost exclusively and invariably the child retains his behavioral problems because the child simply learns to tolerate the temporary isolation.

Parents need to spend time outlining when certain punishments should be used. There is a time and place for spankings and these should be discussed. I generally recommend that spankings should be reserved for acts of violence, such as hitting or destruction of property, or defiant behavior. In other cases, find creative ways to fit punishments to the crime. As another example, I once was tutoring a child that had strong behavior problems stemming from a mental disorder. The child was usually sweet, but he started playing "run away" when it was time to do any work. At first, it was just inside the house. Then it was around the house, but soon it was down the street as well. I began to worry that he would run across the street without looking or a neighbor might see this adult male carrying off a child, misunderstand the situation, and report it to the police. So I told the child that playing keep away was fun, but not during class time. I explained how people could misunderstand what he and I were doing. Since I knew this boy was in pre-adolescence and was shy about his body, like most kids his age; I told him that the next time he tried to run off, I was taking his pants. The look of shock was hilarious; but you know, he immediately stopped running away. It helped too that I told his mother about the proposed punishment in his presence and she just turned around and told him that it sounded like a good idea to her. It takes more time to find a creative and appropriate punishment, but it is worth the effort and the variety keeps any single punishment from being overused.

Spankings can be improperly administered

A proper spanking ought to sting, but it should not leave behind bruises or cuts. The Scriptures talk about using a rod, though a switch would be a better word for it in today's English. The Hebrew word refers to a small branch. A good switch is stiff enough not to create a whipping action, which might tear the skin; but flexible enough that it won't break or create a bruise. Such a switch delivered in measured strokes gives the greatest sting for the least effort on the bottom of a child. As such, only a few strokes are needed to make the point.

Hopefully, spankings delivered consistently when a child is young will translate into fewer and fewer spankings as the years progress. Each child is different. Some are more willful than others. But consistency in demanding proper behavior and punishing wrongful behavior will eventually pay off.


Thank you for your long letter. I'm just glad to meet a preacher who holds to some of the old-fashioned standards. It seems like what was OK as far as discipline in the family only a few years ago is no longer permitted.

I don't know what is happening, our own preacher doesn't go for spanking the way he used to. When I was growing up he had a great big paddle right in his office and he spanked boys and girls and sometimes even a couple of church members (this was back when he ran an adult home in the 70s). Nowadays he hardly mentions it to anyone and I know he doesn't paddle anyone but his own grandkids.

My wife too has changed. She was all in favor of spanking when we were first married, but now she thinks that we should be careful and doesn't want me to whip the teenager. She thinks it will cause her to rebel. I don't see it, but she thinks it should only be used for little kids!!!

I get frustrated because I have a teenager who is giving me backtalk or lying about doing her chores and I think she needs to be dealt with. And I definitely don't think 16 too old for a spanking. In fact, I don't think any girl, including my wife, is too old for a spanking!! That's just my opinion.

So if I get into an argument with my daughter, I will probably get into an argument with my wife. She knows that our daughter is rebelling but she just wants to save her hide. It doesn't stop me but I usually hate the argument later.

I treat both kids the same and if the 8-year-old gives me the kind of lip the 16-year-old is giving me, he would get the same type of punishment. My wife even worries about disciplining an 8-year-old boy!


There are several reasons why your preacher's attitudes toward spanking are changing. Most people tend to mellow as they age. My own parents are more tolerant of misbehavior in their grandchildren than they were of us as their own children. Yet, I expect that. A grandparent's relationship ought to be different from the parent. But probably what is making the greatest change is the fear of government intervention. There have been so many lawsuits brought lately that many fear to call attention to themselves by making a strong stand.

Your wife too is caught up in fears as well -- she fears that corporal punishment will drive your daughter to rebel. I remember a study a while back that was heralded as "evidence" that spanking teenagers caused them to become violent. The study found a correlation between how often a teenager was spanked and how bad was their behavior. The problem with the study was in the conclusion. That frequency of spanking and bad behavior was correlated, I would expect. Good kids don't get spanked. The more often a child misbehaves, the more often a parent is left with few options but to spank. But to conclude that the spankings caused the misbehavior was a gross error on the part of the researcher.

God said, "Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell" (Proverbs 23:13-14). Now either you trust God knows what is best or you don't. Spanking is one of several methods of correcting bad behavior. It does not create bad behavior. So let start at the root problem. You have a rebellious daughter. The question you and your wife must address is what are you two going to do about it? I can guarantee that doing nothing or seeking appeasement will not solve the problem. In fact, I can guarantee that the problem will grow so large that you will not be able to contain it. "A child left to himself brings shame to his mother" (Proverbs 29:15). An example of this is David's son Adonijah. He was the second son of David who planned to overthrow the throne and God tells us why, "his father had not rebuked him at any time by saying, 'Why have you done so?'" (I Kings 1:5-6).

Sit down with your wife and lay out the problem. Get her input on how the problem is to be handled. Make it clear that ignoring the problem or allowing only minor consequences is not acceptable, but that you are open to creative suggestions for various alternatives. If she has no alternatives, then let her know that you have to do the best that you can to bring up decent citizens and godly children. Calmly ask her not to interfere, but if she has other ideas in the future to let you know. Do all of this privately. This is not a discussion the children should hear.

Now, allow me to address two other issues. First, punishment should be a consequence of misbehavior. You might be angry or annoyed that your child violated a rule, but punishment should not be handed out because you are angry. Angry people rarely think clearly. "So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:19-20). Also, people who punish when they are angry tend to be inconsistent. They base the need for punishment on their own reaction, but their reaction changes day-to-day. If you have a great day at work, it might take quite a bit to push you too far. If you had a miserable day, the slightest thing might be too much. You need to work on making your punishments more objective. Certain misbehaviors require certain consequences. These should be planned while you are calm and clear thinking.

Here is one possible example, suppose your eight-year-old boy has a problem with sassing back. What do you do? The next time he sasses, have him drop for ten push-ups. Push-ups are good for a growing boy and are just miserable enough to make him not like it. If he refuses, then he is grounded with no TV or radio for the rest of the day and his bedtime moved up one hour. Again, we are picking punishments that actually have benefits. TV and radio view often encourages misbehavior as does a lack of proper rest. If he breaks this or throws a fit, then he gets ten swats on his back-end, but the grounding remains. Don't lengthen the grounding as its effect doesn't last. Reset everything the next day and start fresh. Consistency is the key.

You can come up with a similar set of consequences and responses to possible further grief for your sixteen-year-old daughter. Just notice that the spanking wasn't the first choice. It was saved for when the situation became an outright rebellion. Especially get your wife's input here. I'm sure she knows just what would make your daughter miserable while doing things that are good for her. Lay out what you will do if each step doesn't lead to a correction to the bad behavior.

Finally, I would like to address the side comment about being willing to spank your wife. Such indicates a misperception about what marriage is about. Your wife is your partner, not your child. Peter warns, "Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered" (I Peter 3:7). Unless you treat your wife as an adult, equal to you before God, you will always find situations straining your marriage. Yes, as a husband, you are the head of your family. But headship means that you guide and show the way the family ought to go. You take the first steps and encourage the rest to follow you. The authority of a husband is the same as Christ. "For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body" (Ephesians 5:23). You will not find Christ in the role of an iron-fisted dictator. He is firm in His expectations of us, but He was willing to go first in showing us how to follow God's will.

I hope and pray that these ideas bring peace to your family.

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