"Spare the rod and spoil the child," says the old axiom. Is spanking — corporal punishment — the most important aspect of effective child rearing? In an age when child beating is at an unhealthy high, perhaps it would be better to spare the child!
Dr. Rowine Hayes Brown, medical director of Cook County Chicago Hospital, recently estimated that some 500,000 children are "severely injured each year [in the United States] as a result of beatings. She said that the death rate for children admitted to hospitals after whippings is 10 percent and that the majority of deaths are due to skull fractures, burns, concussions and injuries to internal organs. (Los Angeles Times, December 5, 1975. Child beating is by no means limited to the United States. It is an alarming social problem in many nations around the world. To a certain extent it is a symptom of the times in which we live. The frustration of home-bound, unemployed husbands has played a role in the incidences of child beatings in the United States. Soaring inflations in most Western nations, strikes, political unrest and other factors have produced unprecedented stresses on family units. Knowledge Needed. But the real problem is far more widespread. It is a simple lack of knowledge. How many parents, in any nation, have ever received any formal training in child rearing? How many have received one iota of legitimate instruction in this important area of life? How many have taken it upon themselves to look into what has been learned about proper child rearing or about child psychology? Many parents don't really understand their own children. They have no clear grasp of their children's emotional and intellectual needs. To millions of uninformed parents the primary goal for child rearing is control. If the can only "get the kid to shut up" they feel they have achieved something. For so many unfortunate children, life is an endless series of "don'ts," "no's","can'ts", "stop!" "don't do that", "be quiet," "sit still," "no, you can't go there," etc., etc.. It's all negative. Merely seeking to control a child's activities, noise level and attitudes is a short-sighted approach to child rearing. Enlightened parents operate on the basis of long-range goals. They seek to produce and end product. They seek to produce a child who can become a responsible, fulfilled, balanced, informed, contributing citizen — a full-fledged, valuable member of this society. I do not mean to imply that there are not legitimate short-range goals involving the physical and emotional control of a child. These objectives are also necessary and have their rightful place in any serious child-rearing program. But they are not the ultimate goals. No Perfect Parents. No one is a perfect parent! No parent has perfect children. Such children area an ideal goal — but it is unlikely that any method of approach to child rearing can ever produce ideal children. Children are people too, and they make mistakes. They have physical flaws, character flaws and certainly spiritual flaws. So do their parents. It has often been stated, "Parents are just grown-up children." This does mean that parents cannot produce better children. A happy, well-adjusted child is a product — an end result. There are cause-and-effect factors at work in the life of every human being. We are all the end result of our parents' child-rearing methods (or lack of them), our environments, our backgrounds. Much of modern psychology is based upon the principle of tracing adult problems back to their childhood origins. The Bible tells us: Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6). It is an accepted axiom that the first six years of any child's life are the most impressionable. Those of us who are "grown up" carry at least some scars from our childhood years. Habits were started, attitudes were formed, patterns were set. The rearing of children is one of the greatest responsibilities any human being can ever have. Those of us who are parents are presiding over the formation of the next generation of mankind. That generation will be an outgrowth, a product, of this one. Will that generation be of lesser quality, inferior stature? Or will it be a better age — an age of accomplishment and human emancipation? The way you rear your children can have an important bearing on the answers! Much can be said about proper child-rearing methods. Much has been written and published. This article will not attempt to "cover the waterfront" on the subject, but will discuss four vital basics for successful child rearing. (Further complementary information is contained in our free, full-color booklet The Plain Truth About Child Rearing.) Key Number One: Love and Affection. Children thrive in an atmosphere of love and affection. They shrivel up in an atmosphere of anger and tension. Loving parents produce loving children! A father who is an overbearing tyrant cannot expect affectionate sons and daughters. Solomon wrote, "He that is often reproved hardens his neck" (Prov. 29:1). He also said, "A broken spirit dries the bones" (Prov. 17:22). A child cannot bear to be crushed, thwarted and demoralized by his parents indefinitely! Paul wrote: "Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged" (Col. 3:21). Sooner or later a victimized child will turn bitter. He will become angry, resentful and, vindictive. The apostle Paul also warned fathers of this consequence: "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord " (Eph. 6:4). There is a time to correct, to rebuke. There is a time for righteous parental anger. But such occasions should be the exception rather than the rule! Parents should not be on a yelling, shouting, storming rampage. Such wild, uncontrolled parental emotionalism will only produce a negative result. The Godly Parent. Some parents are very consistent — they are always angry! But a godly parent is loving, patient, kind and affectionate toward his or her children. God's way is the way of love. We are told: "Love is patient and kind.... not irritable or resentful" (I Cor. 13:4, 5). Love is not cranky and snappy or always insisting on its own way. Love is easy to be entreated (James 3:17, KJV). It is open to reason. Loving parents occasionally give way to their children's wishes and needs when it is appropriate. This does not mean, of course, that loving parents should give their children totally free rein! We are not advocating anarchy in the home. There should be rules. There should be control. But all such rules and their enforcement should work for the common good of the family unit. Why Parental Authority? Parents should not wield authority simply for the sake of wielding authority. All authority is granted by God for good. It should not be used like a club merely to enforce the will of the parent. Rather, godly authority is exercised in love and in compassion for the good and benefit of all. It is easily possible to be balanced and loving in the use of parental authority. A child should strongly sense his parents' unfeigned affection. Ideally, he should never have to ask, "Do you really love me Mommy?" He should know it! This assurance should be periodically reinforced. Every child should be reminded constantly of his favored status with his parents. He must know that he (or she) is accepted, wanted, loved and needed. The Importance of Touching. One of the most important manifestations of parental love is touching. Hugging, cuddling, affectionate bumping or grasping are all signs of a bond that should exist between parent and child. Don't allow yourself to become distant or aloof from your children. Always be willing to give them a reassuring pat or hug from time to time. Solomon wrote, "There is a time to embrace..." (Eccl. 3:5). Be sure you don't miss out on those important times of intimate physical contact with your children. Results of Love. An important side benefit of creating the right emotional climate in the home may be observed in a child's I.Q. (intelligence quotient) level. Author Joan Beck writes: "Many long-term research projects show that your youngster's intelligence will develop to a higher degree if the attitude in your home toward him is warm and democratic, rather than cold and authoritarian. In one study, for example, the I.Q. of small children living in homes where parents were neglectful or hostile or restrictive actually decreased slightly over a three-year period. But in homes where parents were warm and loving, where they took time to explain their actions, let children participate in decisions, tried to answer questions, and were concerned about excellence of performance, there was an average increase in I.Q. of about 8 points" (How To Raise a Brighter Child, p. 47, emphasis mine throughout). The author then went on to point out that she is not advocating a completely Wild, permissive home environment. What she does mean is that "you should love your child wholeheartedly and enthusiastically and be sure that he knows it" (ibid.). To summarize, higher intelligence in children is but one of the many possible products of a loving, affectionate home environment. The constant demonstration of parental love for children is undoubtedly one of the greatest keys to successful, productive child rearing! Key Number Two: Set the Right Example. We've all heard the expression, "Monkey see, monkey do." It's also true of children. Children are often carbon copies of their parents. Bad-tempered, irritable parents produce bad-tempered, irritable children. Sullen, sulky parents often produce children of a similar disposition. How many fathers have been strutting along the hallway in their homes in some ridiculous caricature of a walk only to turn around and find a small son following them and imitating every move? And what about little girls who like to experiment with Mommy's makeup kit? There is something appealing about a three-year-old lathering up his face with his father's shaving cream. And we've all seen young ladies "bawling out" their dolls in mock imitation of Mommy. Monkey see, monkey do! Right parental example is certainly a critical factor in right child rearing. What a child sees he will imitate, whether it be the example of his parents, his brothers and sisters, or his peer group. Children are chronic mimics. A child's personality often mirrors that of his parents. His mannerisms, habits, vocabulary and opinions will often reflect those of his parents — for better or for worse! Parents who are bigots will produce children who use racist terms. Millions of little children grow up using such terminology never even realizing what it means to those on the receiving end. By the time they are old enough to comprehend these derogatory slang terms the die is cast and attitudes are firmly entrenched. If foul, filthy language is used in the home, parents cannot expect their children to avoid such language. Children and teenagers who smoke "pot" or take drugs will often point to their: parent's own addiction: alcohol, tobacco, or prescription drugs (not that drinking per se is biblically forbidden — only drunkenness is condemned). Adulterous parents can expect to have promiscuous children. Parental Hypocrisy. Nothing renders a parent's efforts in child rearing more ineffective than simple parental hypocrisy. Children cannot be expected to adopt standards to which their parents are unwilling to adhere. Speaking to the Jewish element in the congregation at Rome, the apostle Paul wrote: "... If you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children... you then who teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?" (Rom. 2:19-22.) This admonition can be applied generally to parents of children as well as to anyone! Key Number Three: Teach Your Children. Joan Beck writes: "Within a warm and understanding home, you should see yourself not only as a parent, but as your child's first, best, and most successful teacher" (op. cit., p. 49). Often the most effective parental teaching is informal. Capitalize on situations that arise. Take advantage of the questions that emerge as a natural result of your child's innate curiosity. This is a principle of teaching which is found in the Bible. Speaking of those laws which were contained within the configuration of the bid Covenant, Moses wrote: "And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise" (Deut. 6:7). Here, the parent is instructed to capitalize on various situations to teach his children. These are obviously spontaneous, informal instruction sessions. A conversation can develop with your child while you are simply walking "by the way." This can lead to questions, explanations and instruction. A later verse in this same chapter shows that parents should take advantage of their child's spontaneous questions to provide instruction: "When your son asks you in time to come, 'What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the ordinances which the Lord our God has commanded you?' then you shall say to your son..." (Deut. 6:20, 21). The explanation then follows. This type of spontaneous, informal, give-and-take teaching session is often much more effective with children than the formal, stilted "lecture session." Children just naturally tend to resent being "lectured." They will often close their minds to parental input in such sessions and daydream about more pleasant things! (This does not mean that there is not an appropriate time for a formal session of instruction in which. the child is obliged to pay attention. But this is not the most effective, nor should it be the most common, method of instruction.) Stimulate Thought. In addition to capitalizing on your child's natural curiosity and need for explanations, it is also important to encourage the child to think for himself. Wake up his mind! Stimulate those developing thought processes. "The actual work of the teacher consists of the awakening and setting in action of the mind of the pupil, the arousing of his self-activities .... All explanation and exposition are useless except as they serve to excite and direct the pupil in his own thinking. If the pupil himself does not think, there are no results of the teaching; the words of the teacher [i.e., the parent] are failing upon deaf ears.... Make your pupil a discoverer of truth — make him find out for himself" (John Milton Gregory, Seven Laws of Teaching, pp. 84, 85). Knowledge should not be "shoveled" into the mind of a child by parental "pressure tactics." The acquisition of knowledge should be one of the paramount experiences of any child's life. It should be an ongoing, thrilling, exhilarating process. Each parent should strive to give his children a sense of discovery. Guide, nudge, and direct their thought processes in the right direction — but let them draw their own conclusions! Do not try to "brainwash" or "force-feed" your child's mind. It's far too precious for that kind of abuse! The mind of a child is pliable, impressionable. It is receptive to almost any input from any source. In a way, a human mind is like a computer — garbage in, garbage out! It is most important that children be provided with a suitable learning environment. They should be given experiences which teach. The unknown is best explained by the known. Exploit the child's own frame of reference, build on the knowledge he already possesses. One of the great rewards of life is for a parent to observe and monitor the development of his own child's mind. It is indeed a thrill to watch and be a part of the growth process of a small human being created in the very image of the Creator! The Fourth Key: Discipline Your Children. Parental discipline is most often associated with spanking (corporal punishment). And the Bible does teach the principle of "spare the rod and spoil the child" (see Provo 13:24). God Himself corrects and chastens every son He loves (Heb. 12:6). We are told by Solomon that the foolishness of a child will be driven from him by the rod of correction (stick or switch) (Prov. 22:15). But spanking should be a last resort. Physical punishment should not be the main feature of a childrearing program! Yet, many parents have emphasized this form of discipline at the expense of the first three listed essential keys. To some unfortunate children, corporal punishment has become a way of life! "Sons," wrote the Psalmist, "are a gift from the Lord and children a reward from him" (Ps. 127:3, The New English Bible). Parents should love, teach and protect their precious heritage. They should be concerned for their physical welfare as well as for their mental and spiritual development. No parent should ever "beat" his children! A child should never be struck on the head or in any of the vital organs of the body. The place to spank is on the buttocks. But even this form of discipline can be abused and often has been! Some parents have seen spanking as a means of revenge or of "breaking" their child's will. They have continued to spank until they have drawn blood. This too, is an abuse. It is not necessary to make "hamburger" of your child's rear end to achieve the goals of proper discipline. Discipline is a means of curbing undesirable behavior. It is a form of punishment — never revenge! It is merely a method of effecting a "course correction" in the child's development. Not a War! Unfortunately, many parents think in strictly vindictive terms or of "winning" over their child. Spanking or other forms of discipline become nothing more than a battle of wills. "Most parents see the whole problem of discipline in child rearing as a question of being either strict or lenient, tough or soft, authoritarian or permissive. Because they are locked into this either-or approach to discipline, they see their relationship with their children as a power struggle, a contest of wills, a fight to see who wins — a war" (Dr. Thomas Gordon, Parent Effectiveness Training, p. 151). Parents should not be at war with their children! This whole approach to child rearing is absurd and immature. It is a simple-minded approach to a complex and profound human relationship. Assuredly there are times when a parent's will must prevail over that of his child. But there are more intelligent ways to bring this about than simply beating a child into submission! Discipline can take many forms. Spanking is merely one of them — and possibly the least desirable, depending upon the circumstances. In some instances, controlled corporal punishment can be very useful in dealing with toddlers — especially during that time when they are difficult to reason with. But Dr. James Dobson writes: "It is not necessary to beat the child into submission; a little bit of pain goes a long way for a young child" (Dare to Discipline, p. 35). There are other, more effective methods of punishment. Other Forms of Discipline. One of the most effective forms of punishment, especially for older children, is the withholding of privileges. Banning use of the television for a certain period, for example, or withdrawing permission to play with a friend, to go to a movie, to use the family automobile, to go to a dance, etc., can be effective. Dr. Dobson has this to say about the disciplining of teenage children: "... Teenagers desperately want to be thought of as adults, and they deeply resent being treated like children. Spanking is the ultimate insult. Punishment for adolescents should involve lost privileges, financial deprivation and related forms of non-physical retribution" (ibid., p. 61). Often, making a child of any age realize the consequences of his wrong action or attitude is a very effective form of punishment in itself. Think of the internal agony an adult hit-and-run driver must go through when he is finally confronted with the results of his careless action! A child too is sensitive to consequences of his actions suppose, for example, a young child throws a rock and injures his little sister or brother. The parent may then give the offending child the opportunity to "care for" the wounds of his brother or sister. Make him sit beside the injured child and hold a cold cloth against the wound. Or have him administer the band-aid. Let him "suffer" (see I Corinthians 12:26) with the injured child a little and he will soon feel remorseful over what he has done! Children must be made to realize that wrong actions hurt other people. Undesirable conduct is such because it hurts everyone involved — including those who perpetrate it. Explain Yourself. Parents should always seek to explain their punishment to the child who is receiving it. He must be made to realize why he is being punished. He should understand the justice of that punishment. Parental punishment should always fit the "crime." Don't overpunish for a minor infraction. Don't underpunish for a major one. And remember, punishment should never be "revenge"! Vindictive parents are ineffective ones. Poor child rearing produces maladjusted, unfulfilled, inferior children. Proper child rearing bears the good fruit of bright, responsive, well-adjusted, happy children. And proper child rearing is built upon the bedrock of these four critical principles: love and open affection; right parental example; intelligent, balanced teaching; and effective, appropriate discipline.
CONTROLLING YOUTHFUL ENERGY
"The glory of young men," says the Bible, "is their strength..." (Prov. 20:29). One of the greatest problems in any society is the harnessing of the energy and vitality of its youth. It is also one of the greatest difficulties of parenthood! "Johnny! Please sit still! Stop jerking and jiggling!" shouts the exasperated mother of a ten-year-old. "What's the matter — have you got ants in your pants?" she fumes. "Can't you ever be still and quiet?" Parents have been saying things like that for centuries. Virtually all "normal" children are bundles of pent-up, explosive energy. And that energy must be released! When it is bottled up, suppressed and thwarted, it builds up incredible pressures in young children. The longer energy is suppressed the more frustrated the child becomes. Just as an experiment, try this sometime. You are driving along the freeway or the motorway. It's an extended trip of several hours. There are few stops except for gasoline or "rest" stops. As you drive, study the expression on the faces of your children in the rearview mirror as they sit, squirm, struggle, wrestle, tussle, tug and pull away at each other in the back seat of the automobile. The longer they have to sit there, the worse their attitudes will become. Sometimes they will fall asleep in sheer frustration. They may keep saying, "When are we going to get there, daddy?" "How much longer?" "I have to go to the bathroom." (He just went 15 minutes earlier!) The longer this agitation continues, the more irritable the parents become. After all, they would like a nice, quiet, relaxing trip! Before long an explosion takes place. "Will you kids SHADDAP!!! Just sit still and be quiet! We'll get there when we get there and I don't want to hear anymore about it!" Sulk. Pout. Fume. Resent. The atmosphere in the car has degenerated considerably since the trip began. Why? Simply because the parents did not understand, nor know how to cope with, the factor of their children's energy! It's a law of nature — energy must be released. It must be burnt up, utilized. Yet children often lack the wisdom to know how to rightly utilize their own vast energy reserves. We are told that "a child left to himself brings shame to his mother" (Prov. 29:15). Children, left to their own devices, often use their energy in a destructive manner. This is one of the principal reasons why children cooped up and left alone in a big-city environment often resort to acts of violence and vandalism. Children cut loose from the warm and creative environment of a close and loving family unit frequently become youthful vagrants prowling the streets and alleys of cities looking for destructive outlets for those pent-up energies. Such neglect on the part of parents is one of the key factors involved in the formation of adolescent street gangs. The conclusion is obvious. Responsible parents must provide their children with constructive, enjoyable outlets for that vast reservoir of dynamic, vibrant energy. A child should never be cut totally adrift from his family unit. He should be able to find expression within it. He should never be left exclusively to his or her own devices during those critical formative years. (This is not to say a child should not be taught independence, self-reliance and responsibility.) Parents must strive to understand their child's need for constant activity and provide ways for the release of that energy. Family outings, sports activities, hikes, camp-outs, musical endeavors, building projects, wrestling matches with Dad, walks and runs, jogging as a family, exercising together, etc., are all invaluable and constructive outlets which can be shared by all of the family. Children should be taught and encouraged to "Think Family." Ideally, the family environment should be the most enjoyable place for a child to be. It should be the most interesting, the most satisfying. A child who cannot find satisfaction and activity within his own family unit will seek it elsewhere. Responsible, perceptive parents will recognize this need and seriously strive to provide the right kind of exciting, interest-filled environment for their children. Granted, it takes time and planning to be a responsible parent. But isn't it worth it? Will you do your part in helping to control the youthful "energy crisis"?
RECOMMENDED READING Joan Beck, How To Raise a Brighter Child, Trident, 1967. John Milton Gregory, Seven Laws of Teaching, Baker Book House, 1971. Dr. Thomas Gordon, Parent Effectiveness Training, Wyden, 1975. Dr. James Dobson, Dare to Discipline, Tyndale, 1973.