Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Nobody Deserves a Good Spanking: By Sparing the Rod, Both Parents and Children Will Learn the Gospel Discipline of Nonviolence, Argues This Mother of Four

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Nobody Deserves a Good Spanking: By Sparing the Rod, Both Parents and Children Will Learn the Gospel Discipline of Nonviolence, Argues This Mother of Four

Article excerpt

FIVE, FOUR, THREE, TWO ... THIS OMINOUS countdown can be heard in my home of four kids under age 5 about every 10 to 20 minutes. What exactly is going to happen when I reach "one"?


So far my luck has held as my children always seem to scurry into compliance a split second before that. (I often have to slow down and start an early math lesson in fractions to avoid revealing the emptiness of my threat.) But I am counting down not their doom but the time Mama needs to cool off and dig up extra patience.

Why not just give them a good whack and be done with it? Some say I spoil the child by sparing the rod. They argue physical punishment that is rare, dispassionate, and well reasoned, aiming to respond to severe cases of disobedience or to dangerous situations, is an essential part of a proper childhood formation. Many believe that modern parents have become wimpy and overburdened by theory, raising wild children who know no boundaries or proper parental fear. But how many can achieve a Stepford-parent level of remove such that our physical disciplines can be dutifully administered uncorrupted by our own personal anger or frustration?

The entire verse from that oft-used snippet of scripture states: "Those who spare the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them" (Prov. 13:24). But true discipline does not need to be constructed on a foundation of forced compliance inspired by violence and fear. Rather, it mandates, as the Latin root of discipuli or "student" implies, that the relationship of parent to child be like that of a teacher to student. It is focused on education, learning, respect, and love.

As the ultimate teacher, Jesus shows us what our relationships can and should be with our children. He never resorted to anything close to corporal punishment on his fairly dim-witted disciples. Rather, he showed them the true way to love as God loves.


compliant children at any cost, as a Catholic parent I am called to nurture something more than fearfully obedient children. It started when I married their father and perhaps somewhat naively made a solemn promise to accept children and to raise them lovingly according to the law of Christ and his church.

Jesus says the greatest commandment is: "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart.... You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 22:37-39). Therefore we must teach our children to love God and their neighbors as themselves, and paddles, rulers, or switches don't work well.

Gregory K. Popcak, a Catholic social worker and counselor, writes in "Ten Reasons I Can't Spank" ( "Discipline's main objective is to teach the offender what to do instead of the offense, rather than merely stopping the offense.... [I]t is less concerned with teaching compliance with the law than it is with teaching how to have deeper, more respectful, and loving relationships."

Just as spanking a child for missing a math problem is not a good strategy for teaching math, so, too, should we question spanking a child for a moral infraction. In fact, you undermine real discipline and self-control in your children when you rely on a good whack to get your point across. While corporal punishment undoubtedly gets your child's initial attention, I doubt parents ever can stop spanking a child who has "learned to be good" through it.

No method of child discipline is foolproof; many don't show immediate results, but patience and repetition will likely eventually prove their worth. When we discipline our children with violence, we are really releasing our own frustration and anger. The lesson that children learn is not, "I should not continue in this behavior or I will suffer physical pain" (not exactly a wholly laudable message in the first place). Rather it is, "When I am angry it's acceptable to soothe myself by striking out at the cause of my frustration. …

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