Parenting Without Spanking


I recently received a message on Facebook asking for some insight on a parenting book that advocates spanking. I hadn’t read the book itself, but the issues raised in the message’s questions are worth thinking about so I tried to answer the questions as posed without reference to the book. Here are some excerpts from that Facebook exchange:


Message to me:

I have been searching all over for a Biblical response to Instructing a Child’s Heart by Tedd and Margy Tripp and haven’t been able to find anything. Are you familiar with this book? It is filled with all sorts of parenting proof-texts, on issues of authority and using “the rod” as a means of showing God’s grace to children.

I would also like to know your perspective of the whole doctrine of spanking… I remember reading that you didn’t spank your kids and they turned out fine and they love Jesus. We have a 3 yr old son, and we are re-thinking the whole Biblical premise for the use of the rod. Any or all considerations would be helpful!

My answer:

——-,  I wish I had some insights on the Tripps for you, but I confess I haven’t read anything they’ve written nor heard them speak. That whole theory of parenting advice (spanking as grace, fathers and mothers having defined and exclusive roles, etc.) is so foreign to how I was raised and how we raised our kids.

As for what to do if the Tripp teaching showed up at my church, I think the first thing I’d do is pray for the people who are being misled into such horrible parenting advice. I’d also set my eyes on Jesus knowing he definitely does not want me to treat my kids that way.

Have confidence that you are in the right, and know that they are wrong. It’s hard to deal with people who think they’ve found the latest answer to child-rearing, but the really sad thing for them is that they are buying into another set of rules and lists (as if anyone can have a perfect family in just 10 easy steps!).

One thing my wife and I learned early on (and we’ve held fast to in 20+ years of having kids) is not to let anyone else tell us what’s best for our kids. If we don’t feel comfortable with something we reject it, whether the advice is coming from a teacher or doctor or pastor or whoever.

I hope that helps.

Follow-up message to me:

How do you respond to the Proverbs doctrine of spanking? How can we look at Proverbs being mandates for our Christian parenting?

There is nothing in the New Testament that instructs parents to use corporal punishment on children. The last thing I want is for my son to fear me rather than trust me.

My response:

Using proverbs as proof texts does violence to the nature of proverbs. They state generally observed propositions, not laws mandating behavior.

We did a lot of talking with our kids, plus the occasional use of time-out. It is harder than spanking, but more effective in the long run.


[Parenting is an adventure and like all adventures there are times when it takes a lot of effort, but the right effort makes it all worthwhile.  In my experience, spanking is wasted effort. Your thoughts?]

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39 Responses to Parenting Without Spanking

  1. janehinrichs says:

    I too held to the thought that as parents my husband and I knew what was best for our kids, especially when we disagreed with the “experts.” God gives parents wisdom and understanding if they seek Him for it in regard to parenting (well, in regard to anything).

  2. We started out spanking our kids (oldest is now 8). I quickly found that it didn’t seem to have the effect I wanted. Sure, it changed behavior, but I’m not wanting to raise a kid who’s been behaviorally conditioned.

    Unfortunately for a while, I didn’t see any better options. And besides, spanking is the easiest route, and the quickest to get the problem solved. It’s a shortcut.

    Recently, I’ve discovered that what is most helpful for us is to be counter-intuitive. My kids are intelligent enough to know when they’ve messed up. They don’t need me cramming it down their throats until they feel immense shame. I think there’s something hardwired in us that when we mess up, we expect some kind of physical judgment/pain/consequence.

    So I go the other way. When I get home and find out from my wife that my son has done something (say pushed his brother in anger causing his brother to scrape his knees), he’s expecting me to “let him have it”. I usually start with him recounting the event, asking him how he felt, and then asking him how can he prevent that event next time. Then I tell him it’s time for his consequence and I usually pair a wrestle/kiss/hug-fest with a task like coming up with a way he can help his brother in something the next day, how he can make the next day special for him.

    Over time, as we’ve made the switch from spanking to counter-intuitive, we’ve seen the family stress level drop quite a bit. I think the counter-intuitive approach fosters trust in the parents as well. Our kids aren’t afraid of us, but know that we love them and can take care of them. And since it’s counter-intuitive, it appears to them as being “different” from their kid-logic, which they interpret as wisdom (according to my 8 year old).

    Ain’t gonna lie, it’s a much more challenging approach than spanking, especially because you (as parent) have to deal with your own heart and your own shortcomings much more. You expose your flaws as a human. But if you let it, it’s humbling, which falls right in line with the rest of parenting – the most humbling thing ever.

    • Tim says:

      Christian, your parenting skill sounds like it has grown over time, and I think that’s the mark of a healthy family: parents learn every year how to be better parents. It’s hard work, but so worth it!

  3. Adam Shields says:

    William Webb’s Corporal Punishment in the Bible is a great response to pro-spanking advocates. He is a bible scholar and was confronted with spanking as an issue when his oldest son developed a degenerative condition and went back to the capacity of a 3 year old. As he thought through the issues of spanking a teen that only had the capacity of a 3 year old he reevaluated his previous reading. There is also a very good epilogue jointly written with his wife, a special Ed teacher on parenting that is probably the best 30 pages I have read on parenting. Here is my review of it.

  4. Laura Droege says:

    Thought-provoking post, Tim. We used spanking for a while, but it was too easy (for me) to be inconsistent: the more depressed I was, the more likely I was to resort to spanking because I couldn’t handle their minor misbehavior, and the more stable I was, the more likely I was to be patient with the kids and use time-outs or other techniques. Making the discipline fit the misbehavior–the logical consequences of their bad behavior–makes sense. Sometimes, though, my brain can’t quite figure out the logical consequences, so I have to call my husband for what this should be; we discuss it on the phone–out of earshot of both kids–and decide; then we tell the child what’s going to happen, and follow through with it.

    For example, we would take away the toy she hit her sister with for a set period of time. Or, in a memorable instance, we didn’t let a child go to a birthday party when she refused to do a particular chore and pitched a fit about doing it. In that particular case, it was her younger sister who was invited anyway, and while the birthday-girl’s mom had said the older sibling could come, we made her attendance contingent upon finishing her Saturday chores. She chose not to vacuum, screamed for an hour, and made the choice easy: little sister got to go to Chuck-E-Cheese, and big sister didn’t.

    • Tim says:

      Parenting is hard! One thing I hope to avoid is to come across like I am saying I have the answer for how every family should handle every situation. Life is not that simple, and being a parent is hard, complicated work. It’s also a blast, of course. The way you and your husband talk through consequences for your kids sounds like it is really worthwhile and working well for your family, Laura.

  5. Jeannie says:

    Thanks for this post, Tim. And the comments so far are great. Parenting is difficult and humbling and we need grace for our kids and for ourselves.

  6. Mary Anne says:

    What troubles me about this is that I’m a product of the old school child-rearing methods (emphasis on the “rear”) and I hear people say things like, “Well, that’s just child abuse.” And I get angry because my parents were NOT abusers. Did I like the methods they used? Well, no, but you won’t find many children who do like it when their folks enforce discipline by whatever method.

    And when I see how out of control children are these days, I’m not sure a little fear of the parents wouldn’t be a good thing from time to time. I see a LOT of kids who pay no attention whatsoever when an adult speaks and, judging from their responses when faced with a rule they don’t like, no one has ever told them “no” and backed that up. And in your line of work, Tim, you probably see a lot of them as well.

    I’m glad not to be raising kids now. But in response to some of my friends who say, “Well, what do you know? You don’t have any kids!” I always say, “I don’t have to have kids. I’ve been a kid.”

    • Tim says:

      I think your response to your friends is perfect, Mary Anne. And I completely agree about those who say any corporal punishment is child abuse: some is and some is not, plain and simple.

  7. Rev. Carlene Appel says:

    What a thoughtful column Tim. I don’t think there is a one size fits all way to raise kids. I was pro-spanking when we were raising our kids now 32 and 30, but it wasn’t the only thing we used. Using one form of punishment, as someone else commented on here, loses its effectiveness. Back in the 80s when our kids were little, people we knew who didn’t use spanking had the worst behaved brats. One of our bridesmaids and her husband were in that mix and Crystal was an absolute terror. They ended up not being able to take her anywhere. We had them over for dinner and they had to leave because of Crystal’s behavior. It was very clear who was in control, and it wasn’t Steve or Sue. Crystal grew up into an uncontrollable teenage terror and that was the last we heard from them.
    Well we must’ve done OK including spanking because we could always go into any restaurant with our kids and they knew how to behave. Many a stranger stopped by our table to compliment how well behaved they were. I don’t credit the spanking for that though. I credit the fact that we took our kids with us to restaurants and other places from the get go. They were taught what was and wasn’t acceptable behavior and expected to obey. I think that last part was important. Kids learn really early what they can and can’t get away with.
    Ed and I had a parenting rule for ourselves. No idle threats. If we said we were going to do something we followed through on it. That was hard sometimes but for example, the kids knew if they didn’t clean their rooms when asked, Mommy would bring up a green garbage bag and start throwing things out if they weren’t picked up. Once they went into the garbage bag the items actually did get thrown away. That was an especially hard one to follow through on, but we did. Fortunately, that only had to be done a time or two. After that just bringing a trash bag to their rooms was enough to get them moving.
    What we did may not work for everyone but it worked for us and I have no regrets. I don’t think there’s a single “right” way to discipline, except that children behaving badly need to be corrected. The most important thing I have learned over the years is that consistency and clear expectations go a long way towards having well behaved children. Above all our children should know that they are loved unconditionally regardless of behavior. It’s something they should be told and shown throughout their lives.

    • Tim says:

      “I don’t think there’s a single ‘right’ way to discipline, except that children behaving badly need to be corrected.”

      That sums it all up nicely, Carlene. Thanks for relating too how all this played out in your family. Congrats on raising kids successfully!

  8. I am a mother of 10, and for the past several years, I have been my shifting mothering approach away from punitive aggression. These are web sites of people who advocated gentle and purposeful discipline approaches:

    Sally Clarkson:
    Teach Through Love – Lori Petro:
    Samuel Martin:
    Little Hearts – L.R. Knost:

    One of my articles –

    Another helpful resource for me was The Explosive Child by Ross W. Greene. Even if you don’t have a volatile child, the Collaborative Problem Solving concept is priceless.

    Grace and peace,
    Virginia Knowles

  9. Tuija says:

    Parenting is humbling, to be sure.
    I happen to have a fairly compliant child. We’ve had very few instances of deliberate misbehaviour, where we’d need to think about ‘punishments’ or consequences. No, he does not always get his own way. Yes, we have conflicts. We all make mistakes and mess up and even lose our tempers sometimes. But we also talk things over. Apologize. Talk about how to do better, talk about what’s in our hearts, whether there are other issues behind the surface stuff.
    Personally, I haven’t met any occasion where I’d have seen a need for spanking as a option.

    But having a compliant child is not a proof of my parenting skills – it’s just who he is. And I feel very inadequate to give anyone advice on how to parent, especially to people whose children have very different temperaments.

    • Tim says:

      Your style seems to work well for you and your son, Tuija. I am glad for your take on how communication is the way that works best for you. And I totally agree that every family needs to find the way that works. The book the FB person asked me about seems to think that only those who spank are doing parenting right, and that’s just wrong.

      • Tuija says:

        Thanks Tim. Just like you say – every family needs to follow the Lord, not a fixed set of rules from other people.

        The comments here have been really interesting. Thank you all for your personal stories and the resources you have shared!
        One of the books that have been the most meaningful for me is Tim Kimmel’s Grace-Based Parenting. I think it’s time for a re-read soon again.

        And one more thing if I may. There’s this verse, Ephesians 6:4:
        “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Lots of people read this and get fixated on keeping the children disciplined. But I appreciate the reading I once heard from a Bible teacher: the person who should be “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” in this verse is the parent. To seek instruction from the Lord and follow Jesus in what you do as the parent. And not to forget the grace of God – both for yourself, and the child.

  10. dpersson7 says:

    There is such great advice here. I really wish there was such open dialogue when my husband and I were raising our children. We did spank at times, but quite honestly neither of us had a clue what we were doing, we were young Christians and brought a lot of baggage into our relationship. We (mainly me) were influenced by the popular Christian parenting books of the time which focused on controlling a child’s behavior. The one important thing that I have learned is that if the motivation is to control a child, there are bound to be problems. As a parent I needed be aware of my own motivation for doing something before I addressed a child’s behavior. How well behaved a child is, is not always the best gage of successful parenting. A loving relationship is really a better way to decide whether or not a method is working. I eventually concluded that as long as a parenting style is based on love, mutual respect, and wanting the best for the child, God’s grace is sufficient for all of our mistakes. I should know, I made a ton of mistakes and yet I have lovely children who have become awesome parents.
    I agree with you Tim, that parenting is an adventure, and being a grandparent is even better! 🙂

  11. Ruth says:

    So many great insights, and comments about how people differ, we found, after feeling totally dreadful about smacking, that, communicating the disapproval at the action, whilst not putting the child down, worked wonders. Ours was an explosive household due to several developmental issues, so we used other methods.
    Talking, time out, helping fix the mess, getting two angry but calmed down kids into dialogue with each other, not over reacting or yelling helped. We never used deprivation of an activity as punishment, or the peculiar ‘grounded’ idea. Addressing a situation then and there, and getting them to help solve the problem, from, I’m sorry to, seeing the other point of view, to getting them to exchange hand shakes ( very cute), to paying for a broken toy etc.
    We ran Boys Brigade for many years, and several very needy young boys were deprived of the most important event of the week if they were naughty.
    It is one thing I think appalling, does mummy lose her night out if she yells at daddy, does daddy miss the football game because he split juice on the floor? As you act in your life, your kids learn by example.
    We according to our sons are good parents because we listened and helped to solve issues and had a sense of fun which could defuse tension…well thankyou boys….they compared how some of their friends parents were coping and would bring the friends home for some TLC. I think I always put myself in the shoes of the child..why did it happen, how is the child coping, what’s really behind the situation, how can we resolve it together, we are never enemies, we are on the same side!
    We made so many mistakes, but kids know real love when they see it, and that’s what counts I think. Kids should feel approved of all the time, but clear boundaries set on their behaviour, a child can do a bad thing, but a child is not bad.

    • Tim says:

      The way you raised your children sounds like hard work, and totally worthwhile as well, Ruth.

      • Ruth says:

        It was actually a growing and and exciting time too, because we saw such progress, and we do have tremendous fun….I’m the little mum chasing her grown son around the house laughing like mad as he yells ‘dwarf alert, run, dwarf attack’ and him laughing as only a deep chested young male can! Then my other son appears from behind a door and ‘captures’ me! Fun!
        That can lead to asthma puffers all round, but who cares really? God is in our home and uses the most ridiculous situations to show His love, guess i am unconventional and my husband cheerfully nuts, Honestly Tim, we have had a ball sharing our madcap house with others, and we are very close, and it gives us deep, deep joy and satisfaction, and delight to go back over the good times.
        I so love the children and young adults we have contact with, both at home and in school where I teach, it really makes my heart sing and I so enjoy seeing every individual personality and needs, and interaction with each one is a dream, they are all so different, but touch the heart so much. From the preppie who says ‘ I not hungy! ( hungry), to the year 12 young men being so grown up and polite, and the young women showing such different personalities, or crazy year 7s who laugh and give cheeky comments with a grin, but still do their work….what’s not to be nuts about? 🙂 🙂 thank God for my life experiences, the children make everything worthwhile.

        • Tim says:

          “God is in our home and uses the most ridiculous situations to show His love”

          And it looks like the same can be said for what goes on at your school as well!

  12. Pastor Bob says:

    This is a topic that draws so much out of so many people, the Bible says this or that – or no the Bible does not say any of this….
    The issue is addressed very strongly, in the Old Testament the ultimate punishment for disobedience leading to rebellion being the death of the child. (Deut. 17:18-21)

    Having said this and no doubt made many wonder (WHAT!!!!) Contrast this to the new Testament principle, LOVE the sinner through the problem (sin). The child needs to see the firmness that only strong discipline will provide. This must also be tempered with love and understanding. The balance of tough and love NEED to be present. The “tough” aspect needs to be shown for only one reason – and only ONE, the desire for the best from and for the child.

    If the spanking (one blow is spanking?) cannot be delivered out of love, it is NOT be delivered. If the blow is too hard, it is excessive. The purpose is to show consequences for deliberate misdeeds, not the immaturity of childhood. Often the disobedience has its own consequences, i.e. seeing a friend hurt, or loss of something of value.

    I have met many parents who rarely spank, as well as those who have never spanked, to those with very stubborn children who are almost empowered by the pain.

    Balance – each child is different, each parent is different, each situation is different. In my role I share all of these thoughts and leave it to the parent(s) to decide the best course of action. Tis scenario I suggest strongly:
    1) misdeed is discovered
    2) ask the child about it
    3) go to your room and wait for me/us
    4) pray (review all information available)
    5) act on what God has shared with you – and the peace that comes from waiting

    I cannot rule out any action, nor can I advocate strongly for any action. My one story that is very telling is the three year old who would NOT obey parents. Mother was a pediatrician who asked for advice, and finally decided this very tough child would get a slap or two when deliberate disobedience was shown. Father was reluctant to do this, but gave in. after he slapped her on one occasion, the behaviors changed immediately. This young lady at the age of 21 is a model citizen, and remembers that one incident. She tells it something like this, ‘I knew at that point I could not get away with anything else.’

    The only idea I wish to strongly emphasize for parents is this: Both parents need to be in unity, complete and total. (The reasons can be explored later.)

    If any point comes out of this long writing, it is this: balance the perceived need against the two points of love and tough – pray and then act.

    • Tim says:

      I like the way you emphasize the decision making that goes with all of this, and underneath your points I see that you are really calling for parents to rest on wisdom and not someone’s insistence that there is only one right way to do this.

      • Pastor Bob says:

        More than once I have had the need to tell a parent of their child’s behavior. Most of the time it was not good news. One father was “offended” that I would tell him what I just shared. He did say he would talk with his son. I told him that my job was to tell/share my observation, and that I was not crossing any lines unless I told him what to do next. Since he did not ask for my advice I was not going to say anything about that.
        I remember saying something like ‘If you do not like hearing news like this, figure out how to change the need. YOU need to ask.

        Another key point is that i have been trying (and succeeding) in sharing good stories with parents – specific compliments. (Balancing tough and love) For some reason I have seen even minor problems drop.

        • Tim says:

          When you say it was your job to tell the parents, do you mean because the kids were under a program you were in charge of (church or something), or you happened to see a misbehaving unattended kid in the grocery store and found the parent to tell them what the kid had just done?

  13. Pastor Bob says:

    Can’t respond to this where it belongs-so:
    “When you say it was your job to tell the parents, do you mean because the kids were under a program you were in charge of (church or something), or you happened to see a misbehaving unattended kid in the grocery store and found the parent to tell them what the kid had just done?”
    Primarily in the programs where I worked (church, community, etc.) But once in awhile I would share something with the parents in a store (rarely) – the child was running too much and almost knocks over a senior citizen – YES! When a child was falsely accused by the store employee, I would speak up if I saw something. If the child was well behaved i would try and tell the parents as well.

    But I am largely powerless when the parent is screaming at the child for whatever reason, and what really gets my goat is the parent yelling at the tired child! Prayer is wonderful!
    Blessings to all!

  14. We chose not to spank our kids (now 18 and 20 and really amazing, respectful, accomplished kids). I would not change a thing. As I’ve seen in your Twitter feed and comments here, a lot of parents really don’t understand how to use time-outs and other discipline methods, because they misunderstand “discipline” (same root word as the verb “disciple”) to mean “punishment.” A great book that guided my choices as a parent was Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson and I highly recommend it. here’s the amazon link:
    Not rescuing kids, letting them experience the consequences of their actions, is a huge part of discipline (i.e. discipling them toward being responsible, independent people). Also, we talked all the time about choices. When they misbehaved, we told them they had made a bad choice. We never told them they were bad kids. Eventually, my so-called “strong-willed” daughter would wail, “I made a bad choice!” when she did something she knew was, well, a bad choice. But she always knew that we loved her, even when we didn’t like her choices. (this came back around in the teen years, not surprisingly)
    We also gave them choices. As in, (to a toddler) “do you want to put your shoes/coat/mittens on, or do you want me to help you?” when they balked and did nothing, we would say, “I see that you are choosing to have me help you.” And then without further comment, we’d gently pick them up and put their shoes/coat/mittens/etc on them. Always reminding them that even when we intervened, it was because they had “chosen” it.
    Is this harder than just “smacking” when they didn’t comply? yes. 20 years into the parenting journey, am I glad I invested the effort and time to do it the “hard” way? Oh, yes.

    • Tim says:

      Your description of how you gave your toddlers choices is exactly (as in word for word) how my wife taught me to do it as well with our kids and with the young ones we’ve worked with at church in the nursery and preschool classes. All that extra effort is what we did too, and our kids are showing the fruit of that in their young adult lives much like yours are. It is so worth it.

  15. Anonymous2 says:

    In general, parents don’t treat kids with respect. They would never want to be treated by an adult they way they talk to their kids.

    I changed from being a “spanking parent” to being a respectful parent when mine were in middle school. Kids respond very well if treated with respect and the Golden Rule. Neither of my kids ever rebelled and they turned out very well: independent, happy, educated, and gainfully employed.

    I realized even the best of parents has a black sheep, but I lucked out.

  16. Pingback: A different thing than asking God to fix your kids | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  17. Pingback: A different thing than asking God to fix your kids | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

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