Children need to know that they are not the center of the universe and that they have to answer to someone else. At first, it’s their own parents. Later, it will be other authority figures: teachers, bosses, the government, and, ultimately, it’s always God who is the one being submitted to or resisted.
Kids leap from the womb self-centered, always crying for one thing or another and demanding attention. At first, we must meet these needs, but, not very much past infancy, there will be occasions when we need to let them cry, not even attempting to meet their every whim. We must let them know that they may not always have their own way, usually for their own good.
When my older daughter was about three, I was getting her infant sister ready to go out and was putting on the little one’s clothes and bundling her up. I was about to strap her into a baby carrier/car seat in our living room, so I told my oldest to go to the car, climb into her own car seat, and I would be out in a minute.
When starting out the door, I noticed she was not in the car. I couldn’t see her anywhere, so I panicked a little, wondering where she had gone, and set down her sister. First, I looked out on the road, fearing that she would be imperiling herself in the worst way, but she was not there. Finally, I saw her way back by the neighbor’s yard, looking at chickens they kept in a coop. I yelled for her, and in the cute way only a little girl can run, she trotted and sort of waddled toward me, smiling the whole way.
I asked her if she had heard me tell her to go to the car. She said she did. I asked her why she didn’t do what I had told her to do.
She replied, “Because I wanted to do what I wanted to do.”
Believing that the root of all sin is a desire to simply do what we want, however benign or innocent that may seem to be, I was not pleased. My daughter could tell that her answer was not acceptable, and her smile collapsed.
Very calmly, I told her to go inside where I spanked her soundly. Afterwards, I hugged her, and she apologized for disobeying me. Such acts of open defiance were rare with my daughter, and at a very early age, she realized that her way was not the only way.
As I write this, I know some readers will take offence at the very idea of spanking children. I certainly understand their objections, for I concur that what often passes for corporal punishment is mean-spirited and destructive. Parents have no license to vent their frustrations on their kids.
Parents should be calm, not angry, when spanking their children. Anything other than a strategically placed paddling on a small one’s backside is probably child abuse, but the Bible encourages the use of proper corporal punishment (Proverbs 22:15; 23:13-14).
Besides the special revelation of Scripture, it seems like nature itself bears witness to this method of discipline, and it is as if God designed little people’s anatomy for spanking. A friend of mine told me about a coworker who was working on a scaffold and fell off, landing on one of those wrought iron fences with pointed posts like spears. Despite his hard and sudden landing directly on one of these dangerous objects, the man sustained no serious injury. Fortunately, he hit on his right buttock, and other than an odd scar only his wife sees, he had no lasting effects.
Our children will also have no lasting ill effects if we strategically swat this piece of muscle and fat. They will, however, learn through very real but temporal pain the difference between right and wrong.
My wife and I only administered corporal punishment for deliberate disobedience, not for mere childishness. Once we ascertained that our child knew he or she had rebelled, we very calmly administered a spanking, after which we allowed the guilty one to ask forgiveness for the offense. This was always followed by an assurance of love from me or my wife, and forgiveness, along with a big hug. Afterwards, we went all about our lives, the incident behind us, except for the lesson learned.
That is the difference between mere punishment, which demands justice for misdeeds, and discipline that is gracious and causes children to grow with their experiences. I never enjoyed spanking my kids; in fact, I hated it. I loved them so much, and inflicting pain on them was never my goal. Worse, though, would have been allowing them to remain the self-serving little people they were by nature.