Happy Friday everyone, we’re back once more to close out the week with parenting expert, Tedd Tripp. He’s been with us all week. Dr. Tripp, yesterday you explained the importance of physical discipline in training young children and your reluctance in embracing the practice. Scripture is not silent here. But many Christian parents simply say, “You know what, I’m not doing it” — for whatever reason — “We’re not spanking our kids.” You said last time you felt like this has been a losing battle for you over the last forty years in America as fewer and fewer Christians are willing to embrace it. So from your perspective, among faithful, churchgoing parents who love Jesus, love their Bibles, and love their kids, what are the most common hurdles that prevent parents from using physical discipline in child training?
I guess I have two answers to that question. One answer is that a lot of people are very influenced by the thought forms of the culture. I mean, the world of ideas is like the world of fashion style. The idea of physical discipline is not in style in our culture, so it is hard for people, because in our culture a parent who practices physical discipline is regarded as kind of a simpleminded person who is not too creative and can’t think of better ways to deal with children and occasionally gets upset and just hits their kid out of frustration. That is the image of physical discipline.
So people think that if you are in favor of spanking, you are in favor of a very capricious, arbitrary thing where a parent gets angry, and when he has had it up to his eyeballs, and he starts flailing at his kids. And people think, I don’t want to be that kind of a parent. I am smarter than that. I want to do something more intelligent and more sensitive and better for my kids. So that is one set of problems.
I think we also have to acknowledge that there are many people — young people — who are parents today who are in their twenties and thirties who were raised by Christian people who spanked them in anger. And they were abused.
They were struck when their parents were angry and frustrated and out of sorts. So the parents, when they struck their kids, struck them excessively and capriciously. Something they might get away with one day, another day they would be spanked for — the spanking wasn’t always an orderly process, sometimes they would just hit. It was all under the rubric of “Spare the rod, spoil the child” — which, by the way, is not in the Bible anywhere. But those children promised themselves, I will never do that to my kids. I hated that. I am not going to be that kind of a parent.
Correction or Discipline?
And, you know, I want to say to young couples who have that life experience, I commend you. I want to stand in solidarity with you and say, You must not do that. That was wrong. However well-intentioned your parents might have been, it was wrong for them to discipline you in that way. But I want to offer to you something that is very, very different than that. So I think that a huge problem is that there are people who were abused. I think it is also important to make a distinction — and I have been doing this increasingly when I do seminars — between correction and discipline, especially with little children.
“It is important to make a distinction between correction and discipline, especially with little children.”
There are a lot of things that require correction that do not necessarily require discipline. And sometimes when parents embrace the idea of spanking and they say, “Okay, the Bible says I should do this, so I am going to do it.” Then they start spanking for everything. It is kind of like that old adage, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” And so I think parents need to make a distinction. There are a lot of things that children do that are wrong that require correction that are not necessarily defiant. The only thing I want to discipline is defiant behavior — failure to honor and obey mom and dad.
Defiance and Discipline
Defiance I am going to discipline. There are a lot of other things that kids do that require correction: “No, no, honey. You can’t hit your sister.” And I can talk to that child about the fact that you may not hit your sister. Now if the hitting persists, obviously, we are going to have to deal with that as disobedience — as discipline. But here’s an illustration I gave in one of these earlier podcasts: The child bowls over his younger sister and takes her toy. That is impulsive behavior on the part of the child. He is a three-year-old. He is impulsive. He grabs. He sees something he wants, and he grabs it, especially if he can overpower the person that has it. That is impulsive behavior. That is not defiant behavior.
Now does it require correction? Sure it does: “Honey, no. You can’t do that. You must give that toy back to your sister.” But it does not require discipline. If I can have an intervention that solves the problem without discipline by correcting, that is going to be my first approach to wrong behavior. Defiant behavior I am going to discipline. There is a whole range of other behavior that isn’t appropriate, but it is not defiant — and requires correction. And I don’t want to use spanking for everything that a toddler does that is wrong, because then that kid is going to be getting spanked way too many times in a day. So I want to reserve spanking for those times of defiant behavior where the child refuses to submit to mom and dad’s authority.