A recent case of child abuse by their parents made me want to revisit the issue of corporal punishment. It brought to light why some have advocated for its abolishment. Of the 196 countries in the world 49 of them have seen the need to ban corporal punishment while 52 have committed to reform their laws to do so. I am an advocate for corporal punishment and believe its a child’s right to be spanked occasionally. But I do not condone abuse or violence. One of the issues of concern whenever corporal punishment is mentioned is the definition of when it becomes abuse.
Most proponents of corporal punishment base it on two main premises;
(1) Tradition – Its part of our culture (Our parents spanked us, it worked so we will spank our kids) This is considered old fashioned now and only for ‘backward societies’
(2) Biblical Stand Point – (Withhold not correction from the child: for if you beat him with the rod, he shall not die.) Some maintain what the bible said was not literal
Tradition – How we were raised
My earliest memory of spanking was probably around nursery age. My mum would take us out of church and spank us with jacaranda twigs. It was for being unruly during the worship service. As we got older my father took over and spanking was administered using a brown leather belt. I say we because 95% of the time I got spanked, my brother who is a year older than me also got spanked. More likely than not we were in cahoots.
What also kept us in check was the community who took on the role of also administering discipline when it was necessary. A man in the hood known as Richie would stop his car and chase errant kids playing in the road. If he caught you he would spank you. Discipline went beyond the walls of our house, and we knew if we misbehaved in the hood we would be accountable to our neighbours. The last time we got spanked was in grade 6 when I drove a cricket ball into a bedroom window. I don’t have any bad memories of corporal punishment because each time I was spanked I was definitely wrong.
I also adopted that practice because I got a good example of how it can be administered effectively.
The Biblical Standard – Do not spare the rod
The bible states that we must ‘Train a child in the way that he must go and when he grows he will not leave it – Prov 6:22’ As part of that training it mentions that ‘He that spares his rod hates his son: but he that loves him chastens him occasionally – Prov 13:24’. It goes on to state that ‘Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.’ and also says ‘Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord-Ephesians 6:4 ’ There has to be a balance in meting out discipline and taking into consideration the feelings of the child.
Yes our children make us angry by their behaviour but this instruction also follows ‘In your anger do not sin” Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry – Ephesians 4:26’. We must not prolong our anger or use our anger as an excuse for spanking them excessively. The word also assures us not to withhold discipline from fear of harming our children ‘Withhold not correction from the child: for if you beat him with the rod, he shall not die – Prov 23:13.’
Administering corporal punishment is an act of love necessary in training a child. Children can be stubborn especially early on. ‘Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him – Prov 22:15.’
Biblical standard places responsibility for disciplining the child solely on the parents. Not the school, community or government. If we administer discipline correctly in the home where love is guaranteed then schools, the community and the government will not need to discipline our children for us. We would like schools to impart values to our children and act as an extension of the parenthood but sadly that is not the case, it is the parents responsibility. But now we want a system where the parents can’t discipline and the school can’t discipline and even those who were not stubborn will become errant as well.
Biblical spanking is not just spanking but is in the context of all other Christian principles. Those who administer it should keep this in mind and not just focus on the spanking.
Corporal Punishment in Schools
When parents fail to discipline their children they transfer the problem to the school, where a child spends more active time than they do at home. I support corporal punishment in schools because its an extension of the home and would want the same efforts exercised there as well. Its a partnership, where they pick up on where the parents left.
At our school corporal punishment was only administered by the headmaster and his deputy. It was regulated, and consisted of caning for boys only but not for girls. In school it works as a deterrent. Come high school I was only caned once while in form 2 and I vowed never to go back to that office again and I didn’t.
In South Africa corporal punishment is outlawed, but more kids are abused and even die from initiation rituals than corporal punishment. That’s still allowed based on culture.
I talked to some teachers and they say having their hands tied has made teaching difficult as students are delinquent and unruly and do not treat them with any form of respect. Some are even afraid of their students.
One of the teachers believed corporal punishment does not work, even though they do resort to it at times as he felt that there were no structures for discipline at school to impress on the students that there were consequences for doing wrong.
Another teacher said that some of the parents insist on their children being spanked by teachers at school. South Africa is introducing an online Discipline Programme which will have a database with all offences. If a child does something you log in the offence against his name. You then retrieve the punishment that will be appropriate for that child. This will assist the teacher in not having to worry about how to discipline the child, but I don’t see this being effective in dealing with the errant child without the occasional rod.
Some schools still administer corporal punishment and they are well known for their discipline even though it has been outlawed.
Our Process of Corporal Punishment
Corporal punishment is a last resort in a three part process. Its a process of engagement with the child. A child should not be spanked with their first time offense. Sometimes we make the mistake of underestimating our children’s intelligence. They can be very manipulative and always push the boundaries to see what they can get away with.
The first offense – Laying ground rules
(i) We verbally engage with our child and ask them what they feel about what they have done.
(ii) We always give them the chance to give their understanding of the offense.
(iii) Then we lay the ground rules and the consequences associated with that offense.
Second Offense – The Reminder
(i) If an offense is repeated then we ask them to tell us what we discussed to see if they comprehend their offense and if they are aware of the ground rules we laid.
(ii) We remind them of what we discussed about the first time
(iii) Emphasise that next time it will be a spanking
Third Offense – The Spanking
(i) A reminder of the warning
(ii) We remind them of what we discussed about the first time
(iii) Then we administer the spanking
(iv) Another reminder as to why they have been spanked
(v) They are given opportunity to acknowledge if they understand why they have been spanked
(vi) They asked to apologise where applicable
We only use a belt on the backside, consisting of one or two firm strokes. Never more than that. Explaining and querying before a spanking helps the parent to clam down. This is so the punishment is not done out of frustration, or just to vent off. Spanking out of frustration is more about the release for the parent as opposed to a corrective measure for the child. This is an abuse of corporal punishment and abuse of the child. Do not take your frustrations out on your children.
In a month we don’t spank our kids more than twice. The process may seem cumbersome but disciplining children is a long term endeavour requiring patience and consistency. Minor offenses can result in withdrawal of benefits, no TV, no movies, going to bed early.
In our home chores are not a form of discipline as these are mandatory for their training in responsibility. So whether they have been good or naughty the chores still need to be done!
Good behaviour must be rewarded, and praised. If all our children know is the times of corporal punishment then it may lose its corrective effect.
Kids talking back to parents
Many times I see kids talking back to their parents, throwing tantrums, and I just say kusarohwa uku (this is because they are not being spanked!) Swift corporal punishment, two or three times this occurs normally solves this, showing that it will not be tolerated. This can prevent bad behaviour later on. You also need to discern between talking back or if they genuinely believe they are right and they are just trying to explain. Its important to hear them out and then weigh what they have said and be honest too. They always have an opportunity to explain what they have done wrong. That also helps you to calm down so you administer the punishment without being emotional.
Be humble enough to apologise if it turns out you administered corporal punishment mistakenly. Most of the time when our children have done something you can tell just by their tone who is wrong. I insist on corporal punishment because I would rather my children get disciplined now by my loving hand than to be disciplined later by the heavy hand of the law.
An attack on God’s institution for training children
The banning of corporal punishment has not much to do with regulating abuse as it is an attack on God’s institution for training children. The abuse of corporal punishment has provided the excuse to attack this biblical method of discipline in training children. This is just another frontier for the attack on God’s authority.
There is an attack on the marriage institution through various movement. The attack on God’s divinity through atheism and the list goes on. Tomorrow even chores are going to be outlawed as child labour. Scientific research will be quoted and laws enacted, but we will surely be worse off than when we started.
The beauty is that God has given us the choice to raise our children the best way we seem fit. If you want to spank you can, if not you don’t have to. But he has given a provision for the occasional use of the rod where applicable.
Children’s rights seem to ignore the elephant in the room. That children have the right to be raised by both parents in the same home. That should be the first right on any child rights charter. A child who is being raised by a single parent in the home is being denied of this right. But this will not be outlawed because it would be a headache to police so it is conveniently ignored.
Abuse is also parents and adults who smoke in the presence of kids even in the home. I would rather spank my child for misbehaving, than smoke in their presence daily. What with verbal abuse, where do we draw the line with that. Teachers and parents abuse kids verbally which will also scar them for life more than what a spanking will do. There is a double standard about what is and what is not child abuse. Spanking is not child abuse.
The argument that spanking will make them violent doesn’t hold water unless the parents are generally violent people. If you are a violent person your kids will pick it up. They will fear you and will still be affected psychologically even if you don’t spank them. And if your actions are motivated by love your children will also pick it up.
Since corporal punishment is a process it needs both parents to be in agreement on its administration. They also act as checks and balance between themselves to warn each other if there seem to go beyond what is necessary. Corporal punishment prepares our children for life in the real world. A lesson that there will be painful consequences for certain actions. Persevere with discipline as long as the children are under your roof. The rewards are not apparent today, its like planting a seed and watering a seed which will only bear fruit years later.
Scientific research says that spanking is not effective. I do not agree with the research. The research seems to focus on ‘excessive beating’, ‘spanking frequently’ and ‘harsh physical punishment.’ Research does not seem to take into account the process of how they came to the spanking. Attitude of the spanker and other immeasurable circumstances are not considered. ‘Chasten your son while there is hope, and let not your soul spare for his crying- Prov 19:18.’
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After writing this piece I decided to do an interview with my kids and hear their thoughts on various rights.
Guest Writer Doreen Anyijukire from Uganda sent in a her perspective on corporal punishment – To spank or not to Spank?
Some articles on Corporal Punishment
The Pros and Cons of Corporal Punishment Read
The prohibition of corporal punishment Read
Research on Corporal Punishment Read
Is Corporal Punishment an Effective Means of Discipline? Read
What Science Says About Using Physical Force To Punish A Child Read
Why Physical Punishment Does Not Work Read
The impact of the abolition of corporal punishment on teacher morale: 1994–2004 Read
Corporal punishment on the rise – survey Read
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