Sally Hope argues that the pastor’s wife, whose discipline methods have gone viral, can opt for a better way

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The Twitter storm caused by a pastor’s wife who admitted to slapping her pre-school aged daughter (see here)  has reminded us that many families still believe in physical punishment and seem to believe it works, and in one respect it’s easy to see why. Many children who are hit (and let’s get rid of euphemisms such as ‘spanking’, it’s hitting!) will learn quickly to comply, to behave how their parents want them to behave for fear of being hurt. Many of those parents will then receive praise for their children’s obedience and docile nature from others, in particular their church community, and so, it appears that they have “good” children, and their discipline method is effective.

Children who behave for fear of physical or emotional punishment, are not “good” children they are frightened children. Their experience is no different to that of a woman in an abusive marriage, who soon learns to have her husband’s dinner on the table at the same time every night for fear of the consequences. Hitting children does not teach them respect, it teaches them fear, it does not instil good values into them, rather it is coercive control. When those children are no longer under that control where is their incentive to behave well?

The pastor’s wife in question talked about “training” her daughter, (as though she’s a dog?) and indeed I’m reminded of some of the survivors of domestic abuse I have worked with who have developed OCD, so instinctive did the behaviours they were trained in become. Is this really what we want for our children? Is it really what we think God wants for our children? It is not simply a “theory” or “opinion” that physical punishment is harmful, it’s a well-researched and established fact. Physical punishment has been shown to alter children’s brain development in the same way that severe abuse does, and children who have experienced corporal punishment are more likely, as adults, to experience mental ill health, impaired cognitive and emotional development, addiction, low self-esteem, damaged family relationships and they are more likely to become either victims or perpetrators of violent, aggressive, and anti-social behaviour. *

It never ceases to amaze me how some Christians will dismiss or ignore scientifically proven facts, even to the detriment of their own children, because those facts disprove their own, human, understanding of the bible.

I could spend time writing about how “the rod” was not used for hitting the sheep but for guiding them. Or about how the word “discipline” has its roots in the word “disciple” which is about leading by example, teaching and nurturing; not hitting. I could write about how we know that the Old Testament advice isn’t necessarily how God wants us to parent, because we no longer stone our disobedient sons to death** or sell our daughters to men who rape them,*** and hence using a couple of verses from Proverbs to justify hitting children is inconsistent and hypocritical. I could write about what the bible teaches us love looks like and how that doesn’t involve violence or cruelty or anything that dishonours a child. Or I could point out that the bible says “Fathers do not provoke your sons to anger” (and hitting someone is a sure fire way to make them angry!) but ultimately the long and short of it is this: hitting children is harmful, God does not give parenting advice that is harmful, so if you think the bible says that God wants you to hit your children, you are mistaken.


**Deuteronomy 21:18-21

***Deuteronomy 22:28-19