In the book of John, in the Bible, when the woman was “taken in adultery” and cast at the feet of Jesus, why didn’t he stone her? It was the law. Why did he get down on her level and think and show love to her as he told her that she did wrongly? And how did this woman feel about that type of correction? Was her heart changed?

Whether a person is a Bible reader or not, likely they have heard the phrase, “spare the rod” from the book of Proverbs. As a speaker about parenting, I have been asked about sparing the rod and corporal punishment more times than I can count. Parents want to know if spanking is a good idea. Should they or shouldn’t they spank a child? The fact that the question really isn’t settled after so much history with the phrase is evidence that many parents just don’t feel that spanking is the answer for their child’s change of heart.

To be clear, my father had a stick that was used for spankings a few times, and I spanked my oldest son once too. So, why didn’t I continue the practice? Simple. First, I knew that I wasn’t in control when I spanked my oppositional three-year-old. My emotions spanked my child, not my heart or my mind. Second, my son didn’t learn how to communicate better with me or have a change of heart when he was spanked. He learned that I was bigger and that he couldn’t fight back; yet. Third, after the spanking occurred, my young son gave me a look that I will never forget. The look pierced my heart and mind. He looked betrayed, not humbled or informed. His look left me asking myself, “Am I being the mother he needs me to be? Did I really teach him anything productive just now? Is there a better way?”

A Better Way

Shortly after that interaction with my son and my new resolve to not hit him again as part of a teaching moment, I started doing training to become a therapeutic treatment care parent for troubled teens. These teens were the ones no one else wanted because their behaviors were so extreme and they often processed differently than other children. Throughout the training it was made perfectly clear that no child should be touched as a form of punishment, in any way, shape, or form. If I would have spanked them or used any kind of physical discipline, then I could have to answer to a judge. Luckily, I realized that spanking wasn’t necessary.

There was a better way. I determined to have every interaction with my children, whether praise, pre-teach, or correction, be a teaching moment, not a reacting moment. This meant that I needed a plan for keeping myself calm and ready to teach and connect with my children in productive ways. The children would still need to learn cause and effect and accept consequences. But, that was just it, they would need to accept their consequences. If a person doesn’t get the chance to accept their consequences, then they can’t learn self-government, and all of their interactions will just turn into power struggles. So, I used planned scripts for teaching and correcting my children so that we’d all be ready to solve the problems instead of react to the possible emotions associated with the problems.

The Rod & Staff

What about that rod? Isn’t it biblical to spank a child? There are many interpretations of Bible verses. The same Bible verse can be applied differently to an experience an individual is having, or to a national crisis, or to an historical event. So, how do we know that the rod mentioned in Proverbs is meant to beat a child? What if the rod is something else? There is a lot of symbolism, and allegory in the Bible. For instance, Jesus Christ is referred to as many things, “the son, the rock, the water, the bread, the word, the life, the shepherd, the way, the truth, etc.” Could “rod” mean something different than a stick to beat people with? And, are we really sure that we, as shepherds of our children, should really beat our little lambs?

In the Bible alone, the word “rod” means multiple things. In Exodus and Isaiah a rod is a symbol of authority. Could it be that “spare the rod” means to maintain parental authority? And, in the book of Ezekiel, a rod is spoken of as a measuring stick. Could it be that we need to present our children with a measuring stick? What would be a good measuring stick for their lives; truth, gospel, the word of God?

People sight these two verses for why spanking is permissible:

Proverbs 13: 24, “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”

Proverbs 22:15, “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.”

The first example says, if you hold back the rod you hate your child. If you love him be sure to correct him. Understanding what a rod is, is vital here. Considering the other uses of the word in the Bible and the common usage of allegory and metaphor, it is too simplistic to assume that an inanimate object, like a stick, could be the means to saving a child. It could be that a parent needs to remember their authority and provide a measuring stick.

The second example says, children’s hearts can be misled or misinformed, but the rod of correction can drive away the misinformation. Again, if the rod is a stick, how can an object fix misinformation and foolishness? Hearts and minds change when they are instructed, not lashed out on. Wouldn’t a parent acting in authority with a measurement for truth do better at correcting than a stick?

Recently, after speaking at the Great Homeschool Conference in Missouri, a woman approached me after hearing me talk about why I don’t endorse spanking in order to share her insights. She explained that she was raised in Mongolia amongst shepherds. She said that every shepherd has a rod and a staff. She says that the rod is a very ugly, bumpy club, and is used to beat off the wolves. “A shepherd would never beat his little lambs with the rod.” She said. But, the staff is smooth and straight and is used to gently guide the lambs. The staff is firm, but always gentle, kind, and full of love. She then shared Psalm 23:4, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” And said, “Nicholeen I think you’re right. The rod and the staff comfort, just like when a shepherd beats way the wolves from the lambs gives the lambs comfort.”

When we understand how shepherds really use rods, it is a comfort to read all the Bible verses about rods. I have always believed that It was my job to not spare the word or God/truth to my children so that they would have something solid to hold onto, and that I should work with all my might to beat back the wolves that would steal their hearts and minds. Whether the meaning of the word “rod” in Proverbs means something firm to hold onto and measure their life and actions by, the truth, or whether it means a good parent should beat off the wolves surrounding their children, either way it’s a good message.

Spanking, hitting, beating children isn’t necessary. There are better ways at reaching the hearts and minds of our children. Let’s not be too simplistic or literal in our biblical interpretation of the term “rod” that we miss the deeper call to action to really shepherd the hearts and minds of our children. To shepherd a child is to lovingly, yet firmly, correct a child by safely bringing them back to truth and understanding while also strengthening the parent/child relationship. Parents must hold their rods of parental authority high as they correct and nurture their children toward truth.

To learn better ways to correct and teach children, come to Nicholeen’s next parenting training. Details here!