The Faithful Scribbler

A Catholic Mother In A Secular World

Christian Corporal Punishment?

on May 22, 2010

I was reading an interesting discussion today on the use of corporal punishment and behavior modification in Christian families.

Let me start the discussion by saying that I was spanked as a kid– perhaps a little wildly, but only spanked– and I’m just fine today as an adult.  My husband was also spanked as a kid (actually cut his own switch a few times, no joke), and he ALSO is fine.   Let me also add that this is going to seem slightly preachy…try to ignore that, preachiness isn’t the intended tone, but I’ve edited several times (which as you know I LOATHE doing, I am a Scribbler after all!) and can’t seem to change the tone much…so here goes!

I’m against Christian Corporal Punishment– might as well spell that out right at the beginning :)

There are lots of arguments against spanking that are rather silly. My favorite is that spanking teaches kids it’s only OK to hit if you’re bigger than the person you’re hitting.  Rather ridiculous in my opinion, but whatever.  I think the kid getting spanked (dependent upon their age) very ACUTELY realizes the difference between hitting the kid down the block, and being spanked by a parent.  It’s VERY different, and kids are smart, they know.

That being said, we dont spank.  We HAVE spanked, but we no longer do, and we won’t be reinstituting the practice anytime soon.  There are multiple reasons, which I will detail for you, the no-doubt-delighted reader, below.

1.  They say you’re not supposed to spank when you’re angry– well I challenge you to show me the parent that spanks calmly.  You spank when a behavior has upset you to the point that you feel your hands are tied and nothing else is more appropriate.  If I’ve resorted to spanking, I’ve lost my temper.  End of story.  Interesting point of note– the few times I’ve spanked Little Scribbler, I’ve also been yelling at her (raising my voice).  Coincidence? I think not.  Raised voices indicate a loss of temper.  For me, so does spanking.  Betcha I’m not the only one!  In fact, the yelling/spanking combo is almost like having an adult temper tantrum in a lot of ways…

2. We have had MANY behavioral specialist in our house to help us control various undesirable behaviors (spinning, flapping, head banging, biting, etc).  We’re  now better equipped with other behavioral modification techniques– EFFECTIVE ones!  Spanking, in the moment, punishes the child.  It does NOT (ever) alter behavior on a long term basis.  Multiple studies have shown this.  This is particularly true in young children, who are often left more confused than anything after recieving a spanking, because in the loss of temper, the adult has failed to fully explain the situation to the child.   Having learned behavioral modification techniques, I am now better equipped to handle Little Scribblers behaviors (some of which have nothing to do with her diagnosis, and are really just good old fashioned naughtiness), and frankly, since we’ve thrown the idea of “punishment” to the wayside, we’ve had  a LOT more success modifiying behaviors!   Consequences still exist– but they are not punishment. 

As per one of our behaviroists:

Punishment is something inflicted by an authority figure.  Consequences are the logical conclusion to the undesirable action– for example, Little Scribbler often deliberately pours her drink all over the table.  Logical consequence?  Loss of beverage priviliges for a period of time.   This results in about 3 mintues of intense screaming on the part of the Little Scribbler, before she accepts her lot and moves on with her life.   Wash, rinse, repeat.  Every day.  At least twice a day.  For nine days.  BINGO!  No more milk-pouring at the dinner table!  (I know this sounds ridiculous to those of you who are imagining yourselves cleaning up milk 18 times in a week and half, but with consistent, RELATED consequence, the behavior is permanently gone.  And no one had to lose their temper in the process!).

Now if we’d spanked her every time this happened, I would have laid my hands to a three year old 18 times in a week and half.  The spanking would have had nothing to do with the beverage pouring.  We’d have wasted a lot more milk. 

4.  For many children, Little Scribbler included, spanking is something their nervous system does not know how to process.  When you spank LS, or even when you raise your voice at her, her brain doesn’t know how to process it, and so she acts erratically.  Sometimes she laughs, manically.  Sometimes she cries and hits herself repeatedly in the face with her hands, trying desperately to alter the situation somehow.  Sometimes she cries and says she has “lots of boo boos”.  It’s possible this nervous system confusion is a result of her disorder.  It’s also EQUALLY possible that she is simply an emotionally  sensitive child, for whom this type of parenting would be very disorganizing and ineffective. 

3. As a Christian woman, the Blessed Mother Mary is our perfect example of motherhood.  A sinless woman, charged with raising the Lord Jesus from infancy to adulthood.  Think she spanked or yelled? I’m of the opinion she probably didn’t.  I’ve gotten into the habit of reminding myself, when I feel my temper rising, to mother as Mary mothered.  IT IS SO HELPFUL!!!

Spanking is a short term solution, and often times not a solution at all.  There is a difference between discipline and punishment.  Spanking is a punishment– it is an immediate consequence for an action taken by the child.  Discipline is a boundary set that will alter behavior long term.    Discipline helps a child learn to self-regulate, learn a boundary, form good behavior habits.

Does the Lord punish us, his children, while we live on this earth?  Or does He occasionally discipline us so that we can grow and learn and modify our behavior, so that we AVOID true punishment on the judgement day? 

God is our perfect father, with perfect love for us, his children.  I believe He wants us to succeed in becoming saints– He has given us the sacraments and the grace to better ourselves and act in ways that are pleasing to Him.  When we parent our children, we should look to God as a model, and parent as He does!  Give our children the tools and the love to better themselves, and to act in a way pleaseing to the Lord.  Fathers, look to God’s Fatherhood before you lose your tempers.  Mothers, remember Mary before you yell or spank.  We are parents, but that doesn’t give us liscence to act inappropriately towards our children.  Our children have been ENTRUSTED to us by the Lord!  They are HIS children first and formost!  We, as Christians, have been given the perfect examples of parenthood, and we have no excuse not to make every effort to model them.

And it DOES require effort!  When we took spanking off the table, that meant we had to know, very concretely, with what we would replace it.  We had to sit down, several times, over the last two years, as behaviors have changed, and formulate a written gameplan.  We needed something concrete and we needed to both know, in detail, what the plan was.  And we’re a happier family for it!

I’ve said before and I’ll say it again– I am a natural yeller, by instinct.  (I come by it honestly ;)).  Were it not for Little Scribbler’s issues, and having a behaviorist come into my house and teach me how to help her regulate her behavior, I would very likely still be a yeller.  The Auditor and I intend to have more children– many more, if God wills it.  I’ve often thought that maybe He gave us LS first, so that we could really get our acts together on the parenting front, before we got overwhelmed by the craziness that is multiple children.  I dont mean to imply that we DO have our acts together in every respect, but I do think we have a fairly concrete and consistent discipline plan that is, heaven help me, working (at the moment).

I tend to think there’s no such thing as Christian Corporal Punishment.  I think there’s always another way– perhaps not as quick, perhaps not as immediate, but usually more effective.  I haven’t prayed about it all that much, but my instinct tells me God doesn’t like us to use corporal punishment on the innocent.  I’m guilty of it– I’ve spanked my kid in the past.  In retrospect, I had a LOT more options than spanking, but I wasnt thinking about it at the time, and I certainly wasn’t thinking about God as my own father, nor about Mary as a mother to Jesus.  Just some food for thought if you’re on the “pro” side of the argument!


2 responses to “Christian Corporal Punishment?

  1. Pat says:

    Not sure I agree? But I am in favor of what works best.

    The goal as you state is to modify behavior; BUT there are also issues of teaching right from wrong. Can this be done without corporal punishment? Maybe?

    Love and prayers,


  2. John Rohan says:

    You said: “As a Christian woman, the Blessed Mother Mary is our perfect example of motherhood. A sinless woman, charged with raising the Lord Jesus from infancy to adulthood. Think she spanked or yelled? I’m of the opinion she probably didn’t.”

    You are probably right, but think of who her child was!!! This example doesn’t apply very well to the rest of us!

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