Can Christians Please Stop Talking about Disciplining Babies?

by | Aug 12, 2020 | Abuse, Uncategorized | 124 comments

Stop Spanking Babies
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My 9-month-old baby boy is a handful.

It’s Rebecca here on the blog today! And let me tell you–my baby is a bubbly, jiggly, giggly little handful, but he is a handful. He learned how to climb stairs 4 months before he “should,” he figured out how to climb onto the couch before he could even put himself into a sitting position, and he takes two grown adults to change his more challenging diapers because he flails and rolls around so much.

I absolutely adore him. And he is a lot to manage.

Most of my pictures of him look like this because I can’t get him to stop moving for more than 5 seconds:

My baby boy is a handful. And I am loving it.

But something that I realized the other day is that my baby boy–that innocent, happy, giggly boy–is of “spanking” age in many Christian resources. In fact, according to books like To Train Up a Child, I should have been spanking him for 2.5 months already. 

Just listen to some of these excerpts from Christian parenting books (that were used among many in my own social circle growing up). The first, To Train Up a Child, was written by the same family that wrote Created to Be His Helpmeet, that we talked about recently. The second, by Ted Tripp, has sold millions of copies and is quite well-respected:

  • A seven-month-old boy had, upon failing to get his way, stiffened clenched his fists, bared his toothless gums and called down damnation on the whole place. At a time like that, the angry expression on a baby’s face can resemble that of one instigating a riot. The young mother, wanting to do the right thing, stood there in helpless consternation, apologetically shrugged her shoulders and said, “What can I do?” My incredulous nine-year-old whipped back, “Switch him.” The mother responded, “I can’t, he’s too little.” With the wisdom of a veteran who had been on the little end of the switch, my daughter answered, “If he is old enough to pitch a fit, he is old enough to be spanked.” (p. 79)
  • Any spanking, to effectively reinforce instruction, must cause pain, but the most pain is on the surface of bare skin where the nerves are located. A surface sting will cause sufficient pain, with no injury or bruising. Select your instrument according to the child’s size. For the under one year old, a little, ten- to twelve-inch long, willowy branch (striped of any knots that might break the skin) about one-eighth inch diameter is sufficient. Sometimes alternatives have to be sought. A one-foot ruler, or its equivalent in a paddle, is a sufficient alternative. For the larger child, a belt or larger tree branch is effective. (p. 47, 1st edition)
  • On the bare legs or bottom, switch him eight or ten licks; then, while waiting for the pain to subside, speak calm words of rebuke. If the crying turns to a true, wounded, submissive whimper, you have conquered; he has submitted his will. If the crying is still defiant, protesting and other than a response to pain, spank him again. (p. 80)
  • She then administers about ten slow, patient licks on his bare legs. He cries in pain. If he continues to show defiance by jerking around and defending himself, or by expressing anger, then she will wait a moment and again lecture him and again spank him. When it is obvious he is totally broken, she will hand him the rag and very calmly say, “Johnny, clean up your mess.” He should very contritely wipe up the water. (p. 62, 17th edition)

To Train Up a Child

(find more damaging quotes at the website Why Not Train Up a Child.)

I hope we would all agree that’s beyond the pale, and that To Train Up a Child is a child abuse manual. But even more mainstream Christian books say very similar things–that you must defeat your child, break them, that your child is evil, etc.

  • The child’s problem is not an information deficit. His problem is that he is a sinner. There are things within the heart of the sweetest little baby that, allowed to blossom and grow to fruition, will bring about eventual destruction……
  • When your child is old enough to resist your directives, he is old enough to be disciplined. When he is resisting you, he is disobeying…. Rebellion can be something as simple as an infant struggling against a diaper change or stiffening out his body when you want him to sit in your lap. (p. 154)
  • “A young child does not give proper weight to words alone. His attention is secured when those words are punctuated by a sound spanking.”
Ted Tripp

Shepherding a Child's Heart

Again, Christian books say that this little baby:

needs to have his spirit broken. If I take the advice of these books, I am to see this beautiful baby boy as a sinful being, with every time he throws a fit, rolls when I’m changing his diaper, or tries to stand when I want him to sit on my lap as further proof that he is damned and controlled by an innately evil spirit.

Take a second again and look at that baby boy. That smiling baby boy with banana on the side of his face. He, apparently, needs to be broken.


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I believe that much of this horrific, evil parenting advice which has caused so many Christian parents to go astray is, at its heart, the result of utter ignorance, pride, and a lust for power. 

When Alex bites me while breastfeeding, he is not trying to cause pain. He’s just trying to soothe his aching gums and he doesn’t understand that his actions affect me. If I beat him with a switch, I may get him to stop biting me. But I would also destroy a part of him by punishing him for something that is developmentally appropriate. What I am telling him is “Who you are is bad/wrong–you can never know when pain is coming (because babies don’t have the ability to understand actions and consequence in a future-thinking capacity yet), but sometimes you will simply get hit because you, at the core of who you are, are bad.”

When Alex pulls my hair too hard he’s not trying to be disobedient, even if I say “no.” He simply doesn’t have the executive functioning capacity to control his impulses yet, and frankly, if I didn’t want my hair pulled I should have been the adult and not let him play with it (it’s just so cute to see how much he likes to pet it!). By hitting him for doing so, I would add so much confusion and betrayal because his mommy, the person who gives him food and love and comfort and on whom he is fully dependent, hurt him and he doesn’t know why. He doesn’t have a choice but to love me; and the person he must love for survival hurts him.

A baby not doing what you want him or her to do is not disobeying, is not sinning, is not disrespecting your authority.

He is being a baby. And being a baby is not wrong.

But I think that many of these parenting false-teachers have substituted a desire for power and control for education in cognitive development. Instead of taking time and humbly asking, “Am I wrong here? Is this normal?” they instead work towards complete domination of their children because of their lust for power. The goal is not actually to have good kids–the goal is to have children who obey.

(As a side note, do you know who are often the most compliant children, so much so that it’s a major red flag teachers look out for? Sexually abused children. Compliance does not mean you have succeeded as a parent.)

But the problem is that they take this lust for domination and dress it up in Christianese so that parents who want to please God get seduced by their holy-sounding teaching and tricked into following them. This is why being a teacher holds so much weight and why we are constantly warned against false teachers in the New Testament; you can permanently alter the course of someone’s life by what you teach. I believe there are many parents who were overly harsh or strict or punitive with their children simply because the advice they were given was wrong, but they didn’t know there was an alternative. If they had read developmentally-appropriate materials, things may have been very different. But the false teachers got to them first, and they sounded the “holiest.” 

And if that is you, I am so sorry. I am so incredibly sorry.

I am sorry you didn’t get to gaze in wonder at your child and simply revel in their innocence and praise God that this is a child that will grow up knowing Jesus at the core of his being.

I am sorry you didn’t get to laugh at all the baby blunders and toddler-isms that are labeled as evil but are simply signs that they are learning.

I am sorry you felt you had to break your child’s spirit, this beautiful soul that you created and nurtured and loved, because fear of failing them was instilled in you to such a degree that you saw your own child’s spirit as a threat to their salvation, not a gift from God to celebrate (even the difficult ones).

I am sorry if you look back now at how you parented and you are filled with regret, or you wish you knew what you know now.

I am sorry that it is not only your child’s innocence that was taken, but also yours.

What if I told you that not all teenagers rebel?

And what if I told you that a lot of typical parenting advice makes rebellion more likely?

I interviewed 25 young adults, trying to figure out what made them rebel or not.

Our children are not spirits to be broken, but hearts to nurture and encourage and love.

Of course kids will misbehave. And of course, discipline is important so that they learn what the boundaries are. But spanking a baby is never OK, spanking a baby is never necessary, and spanking a baby is never beneficial. (In fact, there are many theological perspectives that argue against spanking and modern research is fully against spanking as punishment. Many of my professors in university who work with severe behavioural disorders treated them without ever implementing spanking once. I would argue that if it’s not mandatory in the Bible, if research says it harms more than it helps, and if the worst of the worst behaviours can be curbed without spanking, there is literally no reason to do so.)

I suggest that we, as the body of Christ, denounce the teaching that children’s spirits need to be broken and instead turn to Jesus’s words: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Jesus didn’t think that children were at risk of eternal damnation simply because they were evil to their core and needed to be broken–he says that the kingdom of heaven already belongs to them. Children do not need to be wrangled to follow Christ, they are running towards them and it’s our job to not HINDER them. That is so incredibly different than how books like the ones above see children.

Jesus doesn’t want to break your child’s spirit. Jesus celebrates your child, Jesus is standing there with arms wide open and your job, as a parent, is to foster that joyful running towards Jesus. Not hit your child for standing when you want him to sit. Not spank your child for rolling away during a diaper change. Not switch your child for crawling off a blanket you’d rather he stay on. No, your job is to not hinder your little one as he or she runs towards Christ.

My baby boy is not a spirit to be broken. My baby boy is a gift to be treasured.

Yes, we are working on “no” when he tries to roll off the change table because he’s seriously a risk to himself. And yes, we’re hoping he gains his fear of heights soon so he stops trying to swan dive off the couch. But our son is not a dirty rotten sinner at 9 months old. Instead, here is what I pray over my son every night before he goes to sleep:

May he grow up to be one who defends and protects others as he walks in the light of Christ. May he always know you, love you, and know he is loved and known by you. Thank you, God, for the blessing Alex is to us and for the privilege of being his mommy.

Because it truly is a privilege, even if he pulls my hair.


When we were talking about this post, my mother (Sheila) and I came across Alanis Morisette’s new song, Ablaze. It’s a love song to her three children, the youngest of whom is the same age as my son Alex.

The point of her song?

My mission is to keep the light in your eyes ablaze.

Watch her perform it here with her toddler stealing the show (and watch how she just loves her daughter):

The contrast is stunning:

  1. You must break your child’s spirit.
  2. My mission is to keep the light in your eyes ablaze.

Which sounds more like Jesus?

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Matthew 19:14

May we all as parents strive to keep the light in our children’s eyes ablaze.

What do you think? Why is it that so much Christian parenting literature ignores child development? What can we do? Let’s talk in the comments!

UPDATE: After the furor here and especially on Facebook, we’ve got a follow-up post on what the research says about spanking.

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Blog Contributor, Author, and Podcaster

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8. Check out Why I Didn't Rebel, or follow her on Instagram!

Related Posts

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

Related Posts

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124 Comments

  1. Joy

    Preach it girl!! As a mom of a 2 1/2 year old and a 13 month old we are in the midst of training. I am so thankful I grew up before my parents discovered train up a child. My mom waxes poetic about all their teaching and I cringe. I am to point my children to Christ, to illustrate the joy if serving Him. The idea of breaking my spunky and inquisitive babies breaks my heart.

    Reply
  2. Erin

    These articles are always so confirming for me, but also incredibly triggering. I was raised in a home that believed these things and endorsed / employed these methods, and as a mom of 3 young ones in my 30s I have no relationship with my own parents, nor they with my children. They never softened those core beliefs about babies and children and it made me sick to hear my mom grimly pronounce my daughter to be sinning when, at 16 months old having just learned to walk, she fussed in my arms to be let down rather than allow herself to be held.
    It used to bother me that my own parents don’t think I’m a good mom or believe that my children are good kids – but as more babies came, and as they grew (mine are now almost 7, 4.5 and 20m), I have become used to no relationship with my parents and comfortable with the idea that I only answer to my kids, my husband, and God for the methods we use in raising them.
    To the well-intentioned relatives who have expressed concern that I’m not a godly parent because I’m not following what they see is a biblical mandate to spank – guilt free shrugs and “I think you’re wrong about that”.
    I do wish we’d been told that parenting could be a constantly triggering event for those who were raised by harsh, abusive parents, but I think my husband and I have done alright and I know we’re breaking cycles that extend far beyond our decision not to spank.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m sorry, Erin. I can imagine that it was very triggering. I’m sorry that your parents didn’t show more love towards you, and instead treated you like a person to control. That’s so sad.
      And you bring up a really important point: When people parent like this, they do run the risk of losing the relationship with their kids and grandkids, because they really never had a relationship to begin with. If it was all based on fear and shame, then it’s not based on really knowing someone. So why would that relationship continue? So you’ve missed out on truly knowing your kids.

      Reply
      • Anne

        I think that it’s really telling that many of the leaders of this movement (the Ezzos, of Babywise game, come to mind) are estranged from their children. What a tragedy for all involved.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Oh, really? I hadn’t known that. Not surprising, I suppose. So sad.

          Reply
        • Sarah Evans

          I hadn’t heard that – I am sad to hear the Ezzos are estranged from their children. I found the early Babywise book very helpful for getting my babies into a sleeping and feeding routine . All 3 of them managed to sleep thought 12 hours by about 3 months old. My mother thought I was mad to wake a sleeping baby in the day to feed on a regular routine but it worked to get them into the idea that nighttime is for sleeping. Of course I fed them when they woke in the night and I didn’t leave them to cry for more than about 10 minutes (as far as I remember, they are 21, 18 and 14 now) when settling off. I didn’t go so much on the 2nd book about toddlers but there was wisdom in the idea of gradually removing boundaries instead of letting babies wander everywhere and then stopping them from doing something (because it was dangerous) when the whole situation could have been avoided by restricting where they could go eg. time in a play pen with their toys. I wasn’t at all perfect in this. Finding my daughter eating the cat’s food because she had crawled off without me noticing is one memorable occasion. “She’s showing you she doesn’t want to be vegetarian!” said my mother :-). I have been more keen to explain choices to my children and give them a reason why I am saying no. I didn’t want them to be fearful of me and resentful if I demanded unquestioning obedience. That doesn’t seem Christlike to me.

          Reply
      • Sheridan

        Yes, my father was an extremely authoritarian parent, dominating and controlling. This behaviour usually doesn’t operate in a vacuum – he was dominating and controlling over my mother also.
        Now, my parents are recently divorced as a result of his behaviour, and I have no contact with him for the sake of my emotional health and the health of my own young children. My husband fully supports this decision, as does my mum.
        My dad demanded my obedience and respect…he used whatever means necessary to get it. But when I grew up he had no relationship with me at all. It was all based on fear, guilt and obligation. He never knew me. He destroyed our relationship for the sake of being “right” and in control.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I’m so sorry, Sheridan. That’s just awful. It sounds like you’re making really good decisions now, and erecting good boundaries, and most importantly, you’re changing the pattern for the next generation. But I’m sorry for the hurt you endured.

          Reply
    • Jennifer

      I am so glad we have people speaking out on this. I grew up in a home that was like this as a teenager and even a few times in my early 20s my mother attempted corporal punishment but it was not just spankings. It started there but quickly progressed. I’m now in early 30s little to no relationship with my parents and raising my children to let their light shine bright.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        That’s wonderful how you’re raising your kids, Jennifer! I’m sorry about the pain you went through with your parents (both physical and emotional), and I’m sorry that they lost out on a relationship with their grandchildren. How tragic.

        Reply
    • Tamra

      Ok I love this, but the argument goes that proverbs tells us to beat our sons with a rod to deliver his soul from hell.
      David says in sin did my mother conceive me
      (I’ve also heard they go astray from the womb speaking lies but in context he’s referring to the wicked and he’s using hyperbole.
      Also not sure what beliefs you have about predestination but those who believe in man’s will are the ones who argue strongest for the fact that we are born sinners hence we need repentance and to be taught right from wrong. They think the “suffer the little children” verse refers to the child’s faith is very trusting in nature . Some additional resources to help a non Calvinist out would be welcome. I am learning more about Gentle Parenting but they are all reformed and I am not so that doesn’t help me convince my hubby either. Still I’m drawn to the practice.

      Reply
  3. Molly

    My oldest is 13 and youngest is 5. When they were born, I attended a church that was very much “you’re a dirty rotten sinner,” both children and wives. It was so toxic! I’m so glad attachment parenting was all the rage when my oldest was a baby. I’m not full blown AP, but i relate to most of their beliefs. My kids and i don’t need to undo that particular damage.
    Enjoy your little guy! He’s adorable! Such delightful rolls.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, that church sounds so awful! I’m glad you’re out of it (and that you escaped that toxic part of it anyway).

      Reply
      • Molly

        Yeah, it was awful. I’m still unlearning things i learned there. But God is good, and bigger, so I’m healing.

        Reply
  4. T

    I cannot believe that book advocates hitting a child with a tree branch ?!?!?!?!? It really is a child abuse manual….

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It is! And several children have been killed after their parents followed it. People have tried to get it banned from Amazon to no avail, although it is banned in several European countries. And yet homeschooling groups and fundamentalist churches still buy them by the caseload.

      Reply
    • Lindsey

      I was horrified at the switch for a baby part. While it’s true that it won’t bruise, a switch leaves raised welts and can even break the skin on the end (like a whip). I am not whole 100% anti-spanking, and have popped my children on the leg with my hand once or twice when they were around that age, but I could never hit a baby with a switch, much less TEN times!

      Reply
      • Liane

        Hi everyone!
        I would just like to point out that those two excerpts where it talks about switching a child 8 or 10 times, the book is definitely talking about older children and not babies. Switching for a baby (under two years) is only advocated as a means of training/conditioning and not as discipline. When the book speaks about switching babies it only ever speaks about once or twice.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Liane, switching babies as a means of conditioning is still abuse. You do not ever, ever switch babies for anything. Ever. And, as I’ve said before, it’s illegal in Canada and in most European countries and in New Zealand.

          Reply
    • Meghan

      I actually gasped out loud at that part. I think I’m going to go hug and kiss the daylights out of my toddler.

      Whelp that was a bust. She’s not in the mood for cuddles. Guess I’ll have to pet the dog instead.

      Reply
      • Anonymous

        I completely agree that these excerpts are horrifying. I’ve never in my life heard anyone advocating for spanking a baby for normal behavior – with a switch – 10 times! And I didn’t miss the part where they advocate using a belt on older children. No one I know would ever think beating your child with a belt is acceptable. I can’t begin to understand how someone who claims to know Jesus could treat their own children with such cruelty. Very heartbreaking that these things are being taught and followed.

        Reply
  5. Lindsey

    I’m not trying to argue with the research, but I have trouble believing an older baby cannot understand cause and effect because of my own experience. When my oldest was about nine or ten months old she was nursing. She bit down and jerked herself head back. My hand was on her thigh, and it reflexively clenched very tightly (as I’m sure you can imagine), and it even left a bruise. I felt so terrible. However, she didn’t do it again. Obviously I wouldn’t advocate for using that method to cure your baby from biting, but it does seem like she processed “bite during nursing = pain”

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      The issue is that the behaviour-effect is not a conscious choice in the same way that it would be for a 7 year old with executive functioning skills (e.g., ability to plan, impulse control, weighing options, those kinds of things). Babies pretty much run on impulse and instinct, so when you spank a baby or “punish” a baby in that way they become conditioned against that response. That’s why it works to remove the breast or your accidental squeezing when a baby bites; they are conditioned to learn that X does not lead to a positive outcome, so their brain just stops firing that particular thing. It’s not that they think, “Wow, I got hurt last time I bit mom, I’m not going to do that again”–they don’t have that cognitive capacity yet. It’s simply more like classical conditioning at this age because they have like zero impulse control. But much of this punishment is encouraged for things that are perfectly normal developmentally, and being harmed or hurt for something that is normal and healthy is incredibly concerning and can have long-lasting effects. That’s why it’s labelled as abuse.
      The problem with this idea of babies having cause-and-effect thinking is that it attributes thinking behaviours to babies the same way we conceptualize thinking ourselves. Babies–even toddlers–do not think in steps the way we do. They think in mainly what we call statistical learning, which is what I described above. X leads to Y. Z leads to J. Toddlers can start to think, I want N, what leads to N? But they still don’t quite have the cognitive capacity to shut off their impulses in the same way which is why you can watch your toddler look at the wall, see them thinking, “I’m not supposed to colour here,” and then just start colouring and feel very chagrined when they are caught. They didn’t want to be naughty, but the impulse control just isn’t there yet (and, frankly, it’s hilarious to watch the mental process just completely derail). So when we attribute cause-and-effect thinking in terms of morality to children by calling biting disobedience instead of simply biting or saying a child was sinning by colouring on the walls instead of focusing on impulse control teaching tasks, that’s where we run into issues. I probably just didn’t explain it properly in the post. 🙂

      Reply
      • Anon this time.

        Rebecca, with a boy that active, you need to be on the lookout for ADD and ADHD and other developmental issues. When our son was born everyone said things like “little boys are hard work” and “little boys will tire you out” and tired we were so we figured thats what everyone was talking about. No, we had real problems and everyone (including our pediatrician) missed it until he got into school. Then we had real issues. Might want to get him checked especially if you have teo adults having to follow him around.

        Reply
        • Amy

          ***For ‘Anon this time’ – WHAT IN THE WORLD (?!)
          I’m sure your comment to Rebecca is intended to be ‘helpful’. But “a boy that active”……? SMH
          Maybe it’s just me but all behaviors and things she described about Alex seem perfectly *normal*, and certainly do not sound off any alarms for she and her husband to need to become fearful that he may have or may develop attention disorders and developmental issues.
          I’m so sorry things went that way with your son. Truly very sorry. But I encourage you to pause in the future before ‘offering’ such a warning-to ensure you’re not projecting all of you guys’ specific experience onto new mothers/their sons, and simultaneously (unintentionally) causing anxiety where it is totally unwarranted…especially since new parents need zero more on their plate to worry about :/

          Reply
          • Rebecca Lindenbach

            Anon this time, I have a great deal of education in the warning signs for ADHD and other neurodevelopmental disorders as well as childhood behavioural disorders, and I can assure you, he really doesn’t show any signs at all, and in fact gives us every reason to believe he DOESN’T have ADHD/ADD. A diagnosis can really only happen during school years anyway so no reason or benefit to worry just yet. And I do think that parents are often told to live in too much fear, so let’s remember that hyperactivity is only one of the symptoms, and is perfectly normal on its own. It’s only when it’s together with other symptoms and is at a level that impedes normal functioning that it becomes a problem. 🙂 Sometimes it’s a deeper issue, but most of the time babies really are just busy! They’ve got a great big world to explore, and tons of energy to do it with!
            Glad you have gotten help for your boy, I hope you have found which therapies and medications help him manage in school. It can be a tough road!

        • Lori

          Anon.
          Why worry this mom about SCHOOL TROUBLES? Her son is a toddler! Really, I suppose you think you’re being helpful but she didn’t ask for a non-medical professional’s advice on her son. This is a case where you should keep your mouth shut. Most likely you will make somebody MAD 😠 or worry a new mom. Not cool.

          Reply
  6. Em

    Yes!! I was talking to my friend the other day and she was sharing her observations about the earlier homeschooling “pioneer” moms and the newer generation of homeschool moms in her community. She said the younger moms are more apt to figure out their children’s learning style and plan a curriculum/schedule around that. The advice of the older generation is to just pick something and roll with it until it is no longer working. I don’t know if that observation could be specific to the area, or a reflection of the culture at large. I’m happy to see moms emphasizing nurturing their kid’s spirits, not breaking them.
    I was surprised/not surprised to read in an Elisabeth Elliott book about spanking toddlers. I didn’t finish the book for several reasons, and I left the ONLY negative review of it on Amazon. Like you, I feel sorry for moms who might have followed that teaching against their instincts.
    I have a very…spirited…toddler. It makes me cringe when I hear someone say of a child “They just need a good spanking.” It seems like there is SO much more that goes into instructing and teaching a child.

    Reply
    • Em

      I’ve already mapped out conversations in my head if anyone comments or questions any of my parenting methods. “What year will my daughter be 16? Do you know what the world is going to look like in 2034???? Do you think God knows what the world will be like? I trust God will show me how to raise my daughter to be the person He wants her to be in 2034 and beyond.”

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly, Em! Your observation about the different homeschool moms is likely right on. I feel like many of the younger moms are doing it more to have relationship with their kids, and what it to be geared to their kids, which is healthy.

      Reply
  7. Becky

    Ugh, I can’t believe that any book would actually advocate spanking a baby! And especially with a switch. The latter just sounds abusive at any age, but especially for one young enough to not be able to connect a behavior and the resulting discipline. My daughter is 11 months old, and I can’t even imagine hitting her.
    I think that maybe for a lot of Christian parents, and especially those of us that grew up in more conservative households, it’s a struggle to know how to discipline in a God- honoring way, and find the balance between being too legalistic and too permissive. Spanking was pretty much the only tool that a lot of parents knew when I was growing up in the 80s (though my parents only used it as a last resort, and pulled us out of a Christian school when a male teacher once used it on me during school hours). I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of spanking my kids at all, and have tried to find alternative ways of dealing with discipline. It’s really hard to find good advice for when things like time outs and talking through feelings don’t work, though. I’m dealing with a rather strong-willed 3 year old middle child who likes to ignore me completely, leave his time outs immediately, and often hits his siblings as a first reaction. I have to constantly remind myself that my job is to help him learn to channel that determination into good things, but it’s so hard to figure out just how to get through to him!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I hear you, Becky! And that’s awesome that your parents pulled you out of that school. Way to go!
      I think the other problem with emphasizing spanking is that it forgets the other side–what kids need more than discipline really is relationship-building time with parents. They learn best in relationship time. We need time to pay attention to them, to talk to them, to praise them and teach them. And then the discipline doesn’t come out of nowhere.
      Knowing you, I’m sure you’re already doing that. But I do think that’s the missing piece that people don’t talk about. It’s like the only interactions with your kids that are ever discussed is how to discipline, not how to talk and engage with your kids.

      Reply
    • Meghan

      We have a spirited 3 year old too! Gentle parenting methods work best on her, which is pretty common with spirited children. I got a lot of great ideas from the book How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen and from the website The Fussy Baby Site. The most effective tool in our own kit is “time in,” which is where you sit with the child during the meltdown, let them work their feelings out, and then talk to them after they’ve had a chance to calm down.
      Also, Daniel Tiger songs are really useful!

      Reply
      • Becky

        Thanks for the recommendations, Megan! I’ll look into those. And “spirited” is a great word to describe him, lol.

        Reply
        • Meghan

          Yep! Spirited is the word most often applied to our little spitfires, so that’s going to get you the best hits using a Google search. I am also a fan of just straight up calling her feisty or firecracker though. Those words conjure up images of strong capable women, which I love.

          Reply
        • Anne

          Another great resource is “Raising Your Spirited Child” (perfect for his age right now) and “The Explosive Child,” which is aimed at slightly older kids (early elementary). Learning to help my spirited kiddo process his needs and BIG emotions has actually helped me become a more emotionally intelligent and connected person. It’s amazing how God uses our children to sanctify us and teach us so much about Himself!

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            I think my husband (a pediatrician) has The Explosive Child on his bookshelf right now!

  8. Sarah

    I think you make some very good points against the abuse that the Pearls advocate for, but I would say that there is a middle ground between that and not spanking at all. I have not seen a study against spanking that differentiates between spanking and abuse. I know most people would say that there is no difference, but as a child who grew up in a home with loving, thoughtful, and rare spanking, I would definitely disagree. I love that you point out that a lot of childhood behaviors are not spanking worthy. I agree and it makes my heart hurt to hear of parents disciplining children (especially in anger) for being children! But I firmly believe that babies can learn cause and effect especially for their own safety. It is not child abuse to train your child to not touch by flicking their hand when you say no. They do not associate the (very little) pain with you, but with the word “no” and it may save them a great deal of pain later on when they are in danger.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      I know what you’re saying, Sarah, but that is simply not what research says, and the large meta-analysis that is currently the benchmark for spanking research addressed the concerns you brought up by doing its best to only look at studies that used SPANKING, not hitting with a spoon/belt/actually beating your children. Here’s a comment I wrote on Facebook explaining the effects according to research and why some kids grow up in homes where spanking “worked”:
      What research says is that spanking leads to either negative outcomes or neutral outcomes–many kids are spanked and are totally fine! The same way that if you never wore a seat belt, it is very possible that you would never get hurt.
      BUT, we know that wearing a seat belt is OK because we can prevent serious damage. So we wear a seat belt, even if we’ve personally never been in a car crash. Because the stats say that you have a higher likelihood of dying if you don’t, similarly, the research says your kids have a higher likelihood of aggression, mood disorders, poor relationship with parents, and other externalizing behaviors if you spank. Not everyone will, but the chances are higher.
      Additionally, among families who did spank who had kids who had good relationships with their parents, research suggests that it’s not the spanking that helped–rather, they have good relationships with their parents DESPITE the spanking. So likely the homes overall were warm, loving, nurturing, and the introduction of spanking wasn’t enough to overcome those protective factors. But if a little bit of poison doesn’t make you ill because the rest of your diet is really really good, you still don’t need to ingest the poison. Also, there are usually other disciplining forms at use in these families that mean that even if spanking wasn’t used, they likely would have turned out fine and been well-behaved children.
      The fact that there are families who spanked who turned out great does not negate the research with hundreds of thousands of participants that found that overall, spanking is an unnecessary risk that, at best, leads to neutral outcomes and has not been found–even when done “correctly” (not in anger, only when the child is of certain ages, only with an open palm, etc.)–to help strengthen parent-child bonds or lead to lower rates of unwanted behaviours in children and adolescents.
      It is worth noting that other parenting practices have been found to not only avoid negative outcomes but actually promote positive ones, so there are research-based alternatives.
      (And additionally to the stuff above, the flicking example I don’t actually know any research on. So that’s not what I’m talking about.)

      Reply
      • Anonymous

        Thanks for the helpful explanations in the comments, Rebecca! My parents used spanking minimally when I was growing up and I had believed that using occasional spanking was a good way to discipline. But learning about the research has changed my mind.
        The other thing that changed my mind is that there is a double standard where it is ok to use physical punishment against children but not adults. If your boss was upset with you and hit you, that would be assault. So why then is it ok to spank a child?

        Reply
        • Jane Eyre

          I am not pro-spanking, but there are a LOT of things that are appropriate to do to children but not adults, and especially adults in the workforce. (The “your boss is sort of like a parent” leads to abusive and controlling bosses, not better parenting.)
          You can send a child to his room, take away their toys, ground them, tell them no dessert, or have them do extra chores. If you did that to a spouse, people would encourage the spouse to call the domestic violence hotline. If you did that to an employee, the company would need a truckload of money to settle the lawsuit. We do not treat adults like children, full stop.

          Reply
          • Anonymous

            Hi Jane, I agree with you that we don’t treat children like adults but the issue of physical violence just seems different to me than the other examples you gave. Even though children are under the authority of their parents, they still have some rights that should not be violated. We can’t say violence is wrong when one adult does it to another but that violence is okay if an adult is doing it to a child.

          • Jane Eyre

            Anonymous, you aren’t getting it, but that doesn’t change the fact that you just need to stop with that logic of “if we don’t do it to adults, we don’t do it to children.”
            You *feel* that violence is different, but you are justifying violence against adults. The things I listed are literally criminal actions when done to adults, have been done to adults, and are defended being done to adults (usually women) because we treat children that way and women are like children.

          • Anonymous

            Hi Jane, I’m a little confused by your angry response here. Of course I don’t believe that women or adults in general should be treated in abusive or controlling ways. But we sometimes justify doing things to children that violate their human rights, like their right to not be physically harmed by someone else. Obviously we don’t treat kids exactly the same as adults but sometimes kids are treated like they have no rights or autonomy at all. I liked a comment someone put a few days ago about trying to give her child as much autonomy over their own body as possible. She noted that she does not physically force her child to do something unless it is a health and safety issue. I thought that was a great point and that’s what I’m trying to get at here. Hopefully that helps clarify what I’m saying. I think we’re actually mostly in agreement but if not, it’s okay to disagree.

      • Eric

        Hi Rebecca,
        I appreciate your concern for the wellbeing of children. I really do. Relationship building is such a key part of parenting, and Proverbs models this relationship building very well. In fact it would be easy to prove that Proverbs spends far more time on relationship building and instruction than on discipline. Any form of discipline without this loving relationship building is going to do more harm than good. I agree that just giving a child a whack when you are frustrated is abuse, not discipline.
        However, your arguments against any spanking at all run up against a major roadblock. Your only support is research which is never neutral but always comes with values presuppositions which do not necessarily line up with the Bible, and some allusion to a few Bible verses without taking them all into account. Yet you totally ignore what the Bible says about spanking. My wife comes from Europe. When she and I first started dating, she told me, ‘no one will ever spank my children’. My only answer was to give her a list of bible passages telling us to do so and asking her to grapple with the reasons the text gave for why to do so. With no further comment from me. That changed her mind.
        The commands to spank in Proverbs with the reasons God lists for why to do so are not culturally bound or open to multiple interpretations. So how do you explain such Bible verses? What are we to do with them? Are you really asking parents to put your own research conclusions above what God’s word clearly and unambiguously says? Prov 22:15 clearly provides both a diagnosis and a promised cure that is not culturally limited. Does such a text written by the Holy Spirit not have more authority than modern research? Does anecdotal evidence about abusive spankings erase God’s own word?
        It isn’t helpful for you to quote the most extreme advocates of spanking you can find and then dismiss all spanking as abuse, or to quote them out of context. I am not familiar with the first resource you interact with and would object to writers who rip the Proverbs verses about spankings out of their context to make it the primary or only part of their child rearing. I do know that Paul Tripp spends the vast majority of his book on relationship building, love, and instruction, and for you to dismiss his words about spanking as evil is to do a grave disservice to his writings and to take them out of context.
        I love what this blog is doing to make sexuality discussable, and have profited from it many times and used your material to improve my own teaching, marriage, and parenting. But as a pastor, I don’t recommend the blog to most of my people because of the way you misrepresent both complimentarians as harmful to real relationship and anyone who makes spanking part of their child rearing as abusers. Neither conclusion describes my own marriage or family, nor does it describe the majority of my people. It is painfully unfortunate that such good material on this blog sometimes gets eclipsed by an article like this one.
        Eric

        Reply
  9. Meghan

    OMG those excerpts just broke my heart. My church small group did a study called The Art of Parenting last year, which was ok but not awesome (heard several assertions rather than arguments)…up until the section on discipline which insinuated that if you love your child you must spank them. I was extremely vocal about how we do not spank our daughter. Still gets my hackles up thinking about it.
    You know, I never thought I’d say this, but I am actually grateful I ended up with a little spitfire of a daughter. We could tell from a very young age that traditional discipline methods weren’t going to work with her, so we used gentle parenting methods from the beginning. It’s SO MUCH upfront investment and takes a lot out of you, but honestly I see all the work we put in paying off in spades now that she’s an older toddler. She’s still feisty, but she’s also highly empathetic, independent, affectionate, and kind at a level I don’t see with most of her peers.

    Reply
    • Anne

      Yes! Keep it up! You will continue to see it pay off. My spitfire of a 3 yo is now a lovely, deeply connected 6.5 yo and he is an absolute pleasure to parent. Obciously, we haven’t “arrived” quite yet, as he is still so young, but I see good fruit from our decisions. am so, so grateful for the Holy Spirit’s guidance on how to parent him without spanking.

      Reply
      • Meghan

        That’s awesome Anne! It’s always so encouraging to hear from other parents of spirited kids who are further along in the journey than we are. Parenting this kid well takes a lot out of me, but she more than makes up for it with those qualities I listed at the end of my comment. She constantly amazes me.
        And she really is such a great kid. I call her my little spitfire but I actually kind of love that about her. She’s going to grow up to be a strong capable woman with fire and grit like her mama and I am so here for it! Just working on finding some healthy channels for all those BIG FEELINGS. Mama uses running. Little Miss Feistypants hasn’t found her groove yet. Unless you count throwing a tantrum as a groove. 🙂

        Reply
  10. K

    Great, great article! Just as this blog as carefully laid bare the false teaching of marriage books, it would be great to have a series about the false teaching of “Christian” parenting books.
    When reading the blog posts on Focus on the Family, I had to go back to my childhood as I was raised, so I thought, on every FOTF resource out there. I saw on my parents book shelf books like “Dare to Discipline”. So a few months ago I read some excerpts from that book online. I was horrified (and glad to find out my parents didn’t follow the book very well).
    Would also be great to have a list of good parenting books to read. I have actually given up right now on “Christian” ones, and try to find the best books on child development by actual child experts.
    For other moms of toddlers, I would highly recommend “Joyful Toddlers and Preschoolers”. It has very practical, developmentally appropriate ways to interact with our young children with joy, rather than hatred and dominion.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I love Discipline That Connects with Your Child’s Heart! Great book about how to actually shape character, and not just respond to outward behavior by trying to control your kids. I’ll be talking about this more on Friday, too. And, of course, Rebecca’s book Why I Didn’t Rebel is great, too!

      Reply
    • Emmy

      About good parenting books: I have learned much from Ross Campbell’s works. He has written How to Really Love your Child, How to Really love your Teenager, How to Really love your Angry Child…and many others.
      He does not write much about babies, however. His books are more about toddlers, school kids and teenagers.
      It is a good idea to make a list of good books and also harmful books on parenting.

      Reply
      • Alexandria

        We have 5 kids. Ages 8, 6, 4, 2, and 3 months. They’re all a handful lol I’ve been involved in the breastfeeding and gentle parenting community since before my first was born and reading this type of advice is horrific. I was first introduced to this through the Duggars. They “blanket train” their babies. I’m a La Leche League Leader and just can’t imagine treating a baby like this. I am reading the book Mother Hunger and by treating a baby like that, you child will have lifelong consequences. Thanks for speaking out ❤️

        Reply
  11. Jane Eyre

    This made my stomach turn. I am horrified that this is out there but am glad you wrote about it. Thank you, Rebecca.
    When I was younger, there was a lot I was willing to forgive my parents for: they married young and divorced not much older. In the last few years, especially with having my own child, I think they are completely out of their minds.
    Like one of the above commenters, I don’t have a relationship with my controlling parents any more. As a child, I was naturally very obedient; the problems arose when as a grown adult, the control became wildly inappropriate and was a default reaction to things they didn’t like. Maybe that level of control is effective with obedient children, but it’s not appropriate or constructive, and it is completely wrong for an adult.
    And now with a baby? I love him and try so hard to show him that he’s loved. We take care of his needs because we love him. When he learns that we love him and are good at responding to his needs (food, sleep, warmth, love), he learns to trust us. When we remain calm and loving, and things work out, he trusts our emotional wavelength. It’s amazing how much the meltdowns have lessened since he was a newborn.
    Adults who insist on taking their garbage out on little babies have a pile of issues. It’s also so hurtful. I’m a grown adult and I absolutely hate when people just unload on me. Even though I know it’s their own issues (women who struggle with weight making fun of my figure, people who failed out of college calling me uneducated, etc.), it’s still so upsetting. But taking it out on a little baby is a new low.

    Reply
  12. Chelsea

    This article and this video made me want to drive straight to daycare and scoop my almost-two-year old up in a very big hug. Thanks as always for your encouraging and wisdom-filled voice!

    Reply
    • Meghan

      I tried that after I read this article and she squirmed away. Womp womp.

      Reply
      • Chelsea

        Yeah… mine decided she’d rather play with her Nala and Simba dolls. Ha!

        Reply
        • Meghan

          Well then I think Nala and Simba need some hugs! 😉

          Reply
  13. Joy

    This is the first time ever that the “comments allowing profanity are not allowed” disclaimer has ever applied to me. My daughter is the same age as your son Rebecca and reading this made me misty-eyed and it made me come out with a few four-letter words that I shan’t repeat. The part about the abused little girl advocating abuse herself literally broke my heart. Abuse really is a cycle from which not many can break free.
    …but seriously, are people INSANE?! HITTING A BABY WITH A TREE BRANCH?! What the…what?! I don’t care if it’s your pastor or your mom or whoever telling you to do these things, this is EVIL! Like actually evil, the kind that we should be genuinely afraid of. I think sometimes Christians think of “evil” as an abstract idea. It makes me want to scream. NO, LOOK, THIS IS IT! You want to fight evil – there you go!!
    And most importantly, WHY IS THIS MAN NOT IN PRISON?! Does he have legal custody of his kids?! WHY??? He’s basically admitted to doing this in real life. Have people not reported this?! Is this legal to do in the US?! I am from Britain so I might be confused as to what is covered by US law. I am slightly beside myself as you can tell.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      His kids are grown. He has been sued because other people have used his book and ended up killing his children. But it’s never gone anywhere. It’s just so sad. The book should definitely be banned. I wish Amazon would remove it.

      Reply
      • Joy

        That is heartbreaking. I’ve gone online and gotten myself an education on this man and the whole thing is just, well, unbelievable. Like a movie villain. It makes me so mad I could cry (I am also pregnant, so I cry a lot😀). Something about the fact it’s been done “in the name of God” and legally defended in the name of “religious freedom” makes this worse to me. I hope even one of those poor people comes across this post and snaps out of this..madness? I don’t even know what to call it.

        Reply
  14. Wild Honey

    I started reading “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” because it was recommended by both PWs at our then-church. (We left the church because it turned out to be heavy-handed and authoritarian. Surprise surprise, given the parenting books it recommended.)
    I was struck by the amount of FEAR-mongering engineered by Ted Tripp against parents. It may be a pride issue on the part of many, but for others, this parenting technique is used from a place of both a desperate love and a desperate fear for the well-being of their child(ren)’s souls. Coupled with a fear of “worldly” influences from psychology and a fear of government “interference” in so-called “biblical” parenting… You have parents with openly defiant children (ages 5-8) who “spank” their kids’ bare buns with a wooden spoon and call it a “consequence” because they are afraid of CPS coming and taking away the children they truly, deeply love and want the best for, parents who have been trained by Tripp and like-minded spiritual authorities to think that their children will literally be d**ned if they are not “spanked” into submission. To outsiders, their “consequences” are clearly backfiring, but they are too afraid to be willing to try anything else.
    I am all for reasonable consequences in training children. But not this.
    These books are dangerous. They are damaging. And they are completely antithetical to the Christ who said, in response to the question of who is the greatest, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven… If anyone causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:3-6)

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Amen, Wild Honey! I think most parents WANT to do the best for their kids. But they’re told that if they don’t spank, terrible, terrible things will happen. It’s just so awful, especially when it’s in the name of God.

      Reply
  15. Boone

    I think a lot of this is about control in general. Everybody is evil and they have to be controlled. They have to follow the rules without question because if they start asking questions that can lead to actually thinking for yourself. That can lead to people deciding that that they really don’t want to be a part of the program anymore. If that happens the program collapses. This has to be drilled into the followers at an early age. The earlier the better.
    We saw this mindset when we were homeschooling our three. We were homeschooling because of dyslexia Issues with two of them. We raised our three to be warriors, literally. Both of the boys are 2nd degree black belts and my daughter is now a 5th degree black belt and fought on the US team for three years. They were taught that no man has the right to put his hands on you for any reason and if he tries, break it.
    Did we let them run wild? We set boundaries and those boundaries were observed. We did it without being bullies or damaging their spirits. They’re all three well balanced adults. Two of them have advanced degrees and one of my sons practices law with me.
    Boone

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s awesome, Boone! And I think your observations are right on the money. It is largely about fear and control.

      Reply
  16. Emmy

    Alas, the Pearls are not the only ones to write bad books on parenting. When I was pregnant with my first baby I visited our pastor who had something to discuss with my husband. While they were talking, I browsed through a book that wos lying on the coffee table. It was about parenting. A spanking manual. The title was You and Your Child and it was written by…Chuck Swindoll! The very first book of Chuck Swindoll I ever read was a spanking manual, can you believe it!
    I have later read some really good books by Chuck Swindoll. About God’s love and grace. Very insightful, very encouraging. But You and Your Child was not a good book. It was harmfull. As a naive young mom, I believed I should follow its advice because it was a Christian book fill of Scripture quotes. And I bought it. And I did it. I’m still so sorry about it.
    There was also another famous one: The Christian Family by Larry Christenson. Reading that book really made me to loose my direction as a parent. Nothing good to say about that book, even though I know Larry Christenson has also written some very beneficial books.
    How come that these guys can write so well on Gods love and grace for grown ups mut they have so little love and grace to offer for small children?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s an excellent question, Emmy. I think it comes down to the fact that our culture and our world devalues children. That’s slowly changing, but in general, we devalue children. We talk a lot about racism and about sexism, but we don’t talk about the ways that we disregard children’s needs. That’s sad, I think.

      Reply
  17. Seth

    How do you reconcile Roman 3: 9-18 with the idea that your child is running to God. The bible is pretty clear that everyone is a sinner and inherently broken and in need of salvation from themselves and their sin. Children are an especially good example of this, you don’t have to teach them how to disobey, and yet God requires all people to obey their parents. Unless I misunderstood what you meant.
    Another question I had was at what point do you expect someone should spank or how do you expect someone to discipline there child if not spank? There has to be some way to enforce/communicate that God requires a child to obey their parents, once the child clearly understands their parents will and then disobeys it.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Seth, there are absolutely tons of ways to discipline without spanking! And in fact, many of those methods have far more long term success, studies show, than spanking. The book Discipline That Connects with a Child’s Heart goes over a lot of those ways; Rebecca’s book Why I Didn’t Rebel looks at pre-teens and teens.
      And of course we all sin! Absolutely. But you also need to understand child development. A child is not capable of understanding moral choices when they are very young. They are simply exploring; that’s all they’re doing. Heck, they don’t even realize the world exists outside of themselves at the point where the Pearls start telling you to spank the child for disobedience. The baby at that point doesn’t even understand they’re separate from everyone else!
      Just simply look at what is developmentally appropriate. Until a child is 2, they aren’t deliberately disobeying. They’re simply learning, and they’re trying to learn to regulate emotions and to figure out the world. You can help them, you can guide them, you can distract them, steer them in a different direction, but they do not understand that they have made a bad moral choice. To talk to a child as if they are deliberately disobeying when they are simply being developmentally appropriate is harmful. You can read more about that here.

      Reply
      • Jenna

        The thought I am having a hard time with is that corporal punishment used to be common place. And kids (and society in general) used to be better behaved. As in, lower crime rates and a general respect for those in authority. Less aggression. Is that not true? Am I romanticizing the past?
        I am genuinely curious to hear what others have to say. I mean, I know I sound old but kids these days… 😬 I would never have gotten away with attitudes like that!
        (And omg spanking babies and continuing to spank a child until they “submit” is vile)

        Reply
        • Rebecca Lindenbach

          It’s difficult to say if society used to be better behaved. Remember that corporal punishment was wide-spread when slavery was also wide-spread. Was society better off then? I would say no.
          Additionally, child labour has only been illegal for just over 150 years. Should we go back to making children work in dangerous conditions? Should we emulate countries where child labour laws are still not in place, and 8 year olds are sent to work in mines?
          The idea that it used to be commonplace so it must be OK could also be said for many things we know now to be evil. In the past, as well, bad behaviour had a much heavier price. People did actually starve if they didn’t get enough food from the harvest. Prison sentences were harsh, and freely given even moreso than today. You could be hanged. So misbehaviour was much, much more costly.
          At the same time, you read books like Tom Sawyer and you learn: bad behaviour and mischief-making has been around in every generation. I believe part of the reason we’re seeing more misbehaviour is not because we’ve stopped spanking; it’s because children are treated like little kings and queens without any real responsibility or consequences of their actions (you can’t even fail a grade these days, really) and spanking isn’t going to fix that.

          Reply
  18. Ashley

    As much as you ladies are concerned with thologically correct teaching, there are some very alarming things in this article. We are all born sinners–even that sweet little boy, and the precious little girl in nursing in my arms right now. She is not saved because she was born to parents that are. The Bible clearly teaches that each must accept Christ for themselves. The only means of salvation is through JESUS! Do I think my baby is evil, or dirty and rotten? Certainly not! Yet I cannot deny that she is a sinner just as I am. I am very aware that she is not cognitively choosing to go against God’s will for her but that does not mean she is innocent before God. Do I believe that if she were to somehow tragically perish at this young age of 7 months that she would be damned to hell? Absolutely not! We serve a merciful and loving God. There is not however a magical age at where we can not call even the tiniest of babies a sinner. The Bible gives us no alternative.

    Reply
    • Ashley

      To be clear, I absolutely agree that spanking an infant is unacceptable. The quotes you posted from various books are appalling 😭

      Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Ashley, with all due respect, you can hold both beliefs that children are born able to know and love Christ (therefore, saved) BUT also born with a sinful nature. All I”m saying is we don’t need to be afraid children will be enslaved to the sinful nature because children can be born into families where they know Christ/the Spirit because that’s their environment, their norm, their everyday. I “asked Jesus into my heart” when I was 5. Literally nothing changed because for as long as I could remember I had been talking to Jesus, singing to Jesus, praying to Jesus, hearing stories about Jesus, and believing that He existed. Can I tell you WHEN I started believing in Jesus? No. Because it literally started while I was in the womb and my mom sang to me and prayed over me. But if my parents had treated me like I wasn’t a Christian until I said that prayer, or like I wasn’t innocent before God before I said that prayer, that would have damaged my spirit.
      Children need to be taught right from wrong. But a baby, a toddler even, very rarely is SINNING when they misbehave. It’s simply growing pains, and it’s OK to see it as such.
      Additionally, you cannot say that someone is not innocent before God/not saved but also that they would not go to Hell. If you believe the Bible gives no alternative but that all babies, even infant newborns, are sinners you must also believe that the only way–the ONLY way–to go to heaven is to declare Christ as Lord. And children cannot do that until they can speak. So you either believe that Scripture means that babies are not saved because they cannot believe Christ is Lord because they cannot cognitively fathom that and so therefore they would go to hell, or you believe something more nuanced. I do not see scriptural support for the idea that children are damned before God until they can accept Jesus into their heart themselves, and I see even less Scriptural support for the idea that people who ARE damned before God ever go to heaven. I have studied the scriptures on this extensively, and trust me I did not come to this standpoint flippantly.

      Reply
      • Craig

        Would love to see you address the less extreme. I see a lot of posts talking about beating the evil out but what about the Christian parents who spank only occasionally for deliberate disobedience. Generally the child is a little older and will look the parent in the eye and do what they know they shouldn’t. I disagree with all spanking but those parents will read an article like this and say “I don’t do that” but still spank their kids.

        Reply
      • Beka

        Let me just start by saying that I think spanking babies is wrong and that babies should be loved and cherished. But, in Psalm 51, David says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” I have three children and it was definitely before one years old that all my children could look me in the eye and tell me “no” very deliberately when asked not to do something. Or look me in the eye after being told not to throw food on the floor and deliberately do what they were told not to do. It doesn’t take long for a child to yell “mine” and display selfishness even though they were never taught how to be selfish. It was very apparent that my children knew how to sin even without being taught. We all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, even if we don’t recognize it. It’s why we need to be constantly reminded that we need Jesus. I think, that belief doesn’t break my child’s spirit, but instead points us to the kind and loving One who lovingly draws us to himself and created a way for us to be right with Him. I think it’s totally possibly to gaze adoringly into my child’s eye and wonder at the innocence, while also understanding that we are all born into sin because of the fall.

        Reply
        • Rebecca Lindenbach

          But Beka, those things you are talking about are not evil; they are a part of healthy development. JESUS would have done those things, and he was without sin.
          We can raise our kids knowing they need God, and that they can sin and need forgiveness and not falsely label normal developmental behaviours as signs of evil or sin when, again JESUS did these things as a baby because all human babies do them.

          Reply
  19. DragonLady

    My parents are older than the Pearls and Tripp. I can remember pretty much my whole life hearing my dad brag about how he “broke” me when I was little. However, while I learned coping skills to survive, and am damaged, he didn’t break me. Still, I didn’t realize how much of my childhood was toxic when my children were young and so I made so many harmful mistakes because I didn’t know any better.

    Reply
  20. Bre

    Thank you for this, Rebbecca! This will probably sound weird since this is an ‘abuse’ article…but this actually really spoke to me.
    To make a long, complicated story short…I’ve hinted at this a few times in the comments, but I’m kinda trapped between two ideological rocks right now. I’m Pro-Life and have started doing activism with my universitie’s PL club, but I’m also a committed egalitarian. A lot of the Christian organizations and individuals that are most vocally active in the Pro-Life movement buy into some form of the “women are for making babies and nurturing; husbands are for being leaders who are in charge and “protect”” They are well-intentioned, but it’s frustrating because I believe that this isn’t Biblically sound. On the flip side, no egalitarians I’ve met online are Pro-Life; some give lip-service to refute opposing attacks, but they harp on it being about controlling women. Unfortunately, many are downright gleefully anti-pro-life and think it’s misogyny. I’ve tried to gently explain why I’m Pro-Life and why I believe it’s the truth using science (science convinced me; the fact that I follow Jesus is what made me get off my butt and do something) but people have attacked me with profanity and anger, to the point that I’ve recently quit facebook because seeing so many opposite opinions has triggered my anxiety. Yeah; Autism, ADHD, and Anxity…I feel really strongly about stuff (like good/bad and justice) to the point that the fact that the world is, well, the world, makes me mentally freak out.
    This article, horrible as it is helped me because I remember hearing about the Pearl’s horrible book when I was a kid. I loved watching 20/20 and they were doing a special on the Independent Fundamental Baptist Churches and the female survivors of sexual abuse, cover-ups, and child abuse. Basically; husbands there were/are taught that their wives are totally under their control, women live under total misogyny and legalism, the pastor is seen as “the law” to obey, and kids must be unquestionly obedient. They talked about this book; the victims talked about the book basically being a second Bible and how kids were frequently spanked through high school. They also aired disturbing clips of flat-out sermons on how to spank your toddlers without killing them and addressed the deaths of children around this book. One woman’s pastor met her three-week-old nephew and told her sister to start spanking the baby because “Babies cries are the cries of the will and that will needs to be broken”(!!!! No words for this!) I rewatched and rewatched it and cried a TON! Even though I was still pretty naive on God and probably not even 10 yet, I knew that it was evil and that Jesus and church weren’t supposed to be like that. It broke my heart that people would hurt kids in the name of God.
    So…the point that I wanted to thank you for (I needed to explain all the above so you wouldn’t think I’m crazy!) was because it reminded me of seeing that show when I was little. With my mental issues around trying to understand why this stuff happens and what I should do, God spoke to me through this article and reminded me of the show and given me hope for trying to sort out all my ideological/ethical/moral dilemmas and dealing with the fact of evil. I realized that God started nudging me towards caring about these sort of things long before I began to theologically and logically wrestle with them; he knows what he’s doing and I just need to chill out and trust him because I can’t really control anything and HE’S the one in control. I really needed that reminder and it’s weird that God used such a downer article, but I’m grateful nonetheless! Oh, and your son is SOOO adorable!

    Reply
    • Emmy

      Dear Bre, I’m in the same kind of limbo myself. I am a Christian and Pro life, most certainly, but I’m also egalitarian and green. Really hard to find a party to vote on in munincipal elections, for the Green Party is not absolutely Pro Life and the Christian Democrats are not Green. :/
      One argument I have used to conceal Pro Life with egalitarianism is, that abortions are a violation of women’s right also, because many babies that are being aborted are girls. And girls become women. So, an abortion is not Pro Life nor child friendly, but it is also not in the best interest of women’s right. Female lives matter, also the little ones.
      Male lives also matter. Sure! I have five boys, but no one is going to say I have been used as a baby machine, without me saying back something very nasty.

      Reply
      • kmmc

        I have a question for the Pro-lifers. There was a 10 year old girl that was raped by her 42 year old step-father in Paraguay in 2015. She became pregnant… at 10 years old….
        What would your advice be about the pregnancy?
        Would you be all Pro-life and give the advice that the young girl should go ahead and have this baby?
        I’m really curious. This is a direct question. You don’t need to misdirect it by saying that this doesn’t happen often.
        This isn’t me being snarky. I really want to know what would be your answer?

        Reply
        • Wild Honey

          I consider myself more egalitarian and pro-life. Speaking just for myself, I consider myself pro-life because I don’t think abortion should be used as a form of birth control. But, I am also not completely against abortion for any reason. In situations where carrying a child to term would endanger the woman’s life or when the baby cannot survive outside the womb, I see more room for grey, and more of a matter of self-defense on the part of the woman. But I also say this from my perspective as a woman living in a first-world country with access to reliable birth control and in a stable marriage that could manage an un-planned pregnancy, so… Take my opinion for what it’s worth.
          To speak to your specific situation, I think there are no easy answers. You’re putting the life of an innocent baby (who had no say in the actions of his/her despicable “father”) up against the physical and mental health (and possibly life, how easy is it for a 10-year-old to endure pregnancy and labor?) of an innocent little girl who has already endured rape.
          Your question is like telling someone two of their children are going to die, and they can only save one, and asking how they’re going to pick which one to save.
          Having lost a baby to miscarriage; having walked with other mothers who’ve experienced miscarriage or stillbirth or the loss of a newborn; having had a premature baby who probably wouldn’t have survived if it wasn’t for the miracle of modern medicine; having felt my babies moving inside of me during my pregnancies and even then experiencing their differing personalities; I think the life of the unborn is precious. But so is the life of the little 10-year-old girl. So, how do you choose? I have no idea.
          And no, that’s not a misdirect, just the honest truth.

          Reply
        • Bre

          KMMC, it’s fine! You’re not being snarky! People have genuine questions about these situations. My issue is while I think people are well intentioned in wanting to relive women/girls of something they never wanted, or deserved, they are trying to treat a symptom of the problem (rape). The woman/girl may not be pregnant anymore, but that doesn’t mean that the trauma from the rape won’t still be there. Aside from abortion not fixing a woman’s trauma…. babies who are products of rape and incest are innocent; they had no choice in the fact that they were conceived in evil, and their lives matter just as much to God as the lives of the victims (their mothers). I used to think that abortion was ok in these cases, but then I started reading testimonies of women who chose life in rape. It’s honestly really disturbing, what some of these women have been put through because they chose to keep “rape babies”They talk a lot about being shunned by family, friends, and even churches! To this day, a lot of them get hate mail and such evil vitriol that I can’t understand; people are that angered by their choice to accept and love their baby. I’m starting to think that many of the issues with rape cases has more to do with society itself.
          I would advocate for her giving birth to her baby, and then doing whatever in terms of adoption, parenting, ect would be best for her ability to recover and heal. I’m against young girls being allowed to have abortions even in the case of rape specifically because of how young they are. Abortion can be very dangerous. It can increase your chances of breast cancer and other diseases, leave you sterile, maim you for life, or even kill you. Women in developed nations still are killed in abortions, so I’m horrified by the idea of having a child get one because of all the things that could go wrong. Especially, as Wild Honey has put it, labor for a child in poorer country is already SO potentially dangerous; how much more so would an invasive ‘procedure’ on a child in the same country be?
          Also, the majority of women who conceived babies in rape and gave birth have no regrets about it, while many of the women who did abort, even if they say it was best, still report feeling traumatized by the abortion itself. Some have even described it as feeling like they are being raped again. Many of them were pushed into it by family and friends and made to feel like it would help them…only it made things worse and left them with years of trauma to struggle with. Even without the rape part, “post abortion syndrome” has slowly been getting more attention and research focused on it, and it’s clear that lots of woman are negatively impacted by their abortion, even if it takes years for it to come to the surface. The rape and having to endure labor and birth are hard and dangerous… but how ethical is it to subject a little girl to something that traumatizes grown women? While dealing with birth is a big burden for a child, so are the possible consequences and aftermath of an abortion.
          I hope this all makes sense…I’m still learning to put together my thoughts in a coherent way. I know it probably sounds like I’m making up stuff with the “most women” claims, but they are true; I’ve read articles and research and stuff, but I’m kinda in the midst of moving back to my college town for the start of school, so I don’t have time to track down the links, hence me just slapping down my thoughts in a hurry. You’re free to research this issue and agree or disagree with me; I hope my brain dump makes sense and is at least a little informative.

          Reply
  21. Trying Hard

    The belief of children being born sinful has been one of the truly saddest things I have heard. I didn’t grow up with that teaching and didn’t know it was a thing until a few years ago. When my child was brand new to the world (and I was exhausted and suffering with PPD) someone told me his crying was just his display of selfishness; not that the newborn could be hungry, in pain, need a diaper change, or just need the comfort of being held; just selfishness. It totally floored me that someone seriously thought the cries of a 2 week old came from a place of wickedness. So sad.
    No, babies aren’t born sinful, vile creatures, separated from God. THAT’S what sin does – separates you from God. And innocent children are not separated from God. They aren’t in some weird limbo until they’re old enough to obey God. They are guileless.
    When a person is mature enough to know right from wrong, to be able to make decisions for themselves about their relationship with God, THEN they are held accountable for their actions. But babies, toddlers, and children do not have the mental, emotional, or spiritual maturity to either willfullly disobey God or deliberately live their lives for God.
    I wonder if the concept of babies being born sinful has been a factor in some authors stance on harsh discipline?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think that certainly is what is behind many authors’ stance. I also think that there is a lust for power and control in all of us, and children are one being that we can control. For people who feel helpless in other areas of their lives, here they can be king. And I do wonder how much some of that plays a part, too, especially when you look at some people’s stories who were raised by very authoritarian, controlling parents. It is sad.

      Reply
  22. Rogue

    My mom homeschooled us. I think she may have read that book too…I think I remember her apologizing for doing so a year or two ago. We were moderately conservative when she started out. Thankfully she found the path to more enlightenment than what the other seriously sheltered at time family we new. They practiced “rug training” which basically involved using a switch to teach your infant to stay on a rug so they wouldn’t wander and be more compliant..so yeah..thank The Almighty for the internet and tv. Early homeschooling was probably a bit cult like in the church in our day. Ok. Maybe cult is a too strong a word…but eh..hope that makes some sense..

    Reply
  23. Minta

    I was raised in a home where these principles were applied and I have seen and continue to experience the damage it does to families. I do not endorse anything about this method of child raising. However, my husband and I have since raised 6 children and I do think we need to be careful not to completely dismiss the Biblical notion that everyone is born a sinner in need of God’s grace and Jesus’ sacrifice. It is possible for a 9mth old to sin.

    Reply
  24. Jess

    What do you have to say to the people who say the Bible mandates spanking (specifically Proverbs 23:13-14)?
    I have not fallen strictly into one camp or the other and I hope you know from previous comments of mine that I don’t say this to be antagonistic or start a big debate. I would just actually really like to know as I really value your (and Sheila’s) viewpoints on things.
    My husband and I have talked this around and around and I can’t ever seem to settle it in my own thoughts. We have 3 (out of 4) very strong willed children and figuring out how to effectively discipline them is a challenge every day so I am constantly trying to figure out what God would have me to do.
    Thanks in advance for any additional thoughts.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Well, the particular verse in Proverbs has several issues–“He who spares the rod hates his son.” We need to know several things here–what is the rod? And what is a son?
      Some people feel that the rod isn’t about beating a child on the back but instead a shepherd’s hook that would guide. And then the Hebrew word for “son” does not mean toddler. It tends to mean older child, like at least 10. So if we were to take that verse to be about spanking, we would learn that you should START spanking at 10. Instead, most people STOP spanking by 8 or 9.
      Another thing–in the Old Testament, people learn things by either punishments or blessings. And punishments are a big thing in the Old Testament. But in the New Testament, under the new covenant, Jesus says that we will learn and be changed through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus doesn’t punish people anymore; He has relationship with them. And that should be how we handle our children. We build relationship with them, and as we do that, they learn.
      Yes, we need to discipline, but I don’t believe that means spanking (and there are much better alternatives to spanking). I hope that helps!

      Reply
      • Jess

        Thank you for the reply, Sheila. I agree 100% that parenting should be about relationship. God created us for relationship with him and with others and that should always be our focus. But I think a large part of that relationship is them learning to respect and obey my husbamd and I.
        I guess I am just still confused about discipline. I agree that it should be immediate which is what sometimes makes it difficult to implement some of your other ideas in the post you linked because a lot of them cannot be immediate. When children are very young, (3, 4, 5), they do not have a lot of privileges to be taken away (at least mine don’t). They are not in sports or activities yet, they don’t get any time on iPads and such. They have a few chores already and they actually still think it’s fun to scrub toilets and sweep and dust so that is not really a consequence to them. I took away my sons legos (his most prized possession at the time) when he was about 4 and he said, “That’s ok, I don’t like my legos anymore anyway, I will just read books.” He especially, and now a couple of my other kids too, don’t ever want me to “win” when I try to discipline them. He will say whatever it takes to let me know that my discipline doesn’t phase him, that he thinks he was justified in whatever action he did in the first place. No amount of talking through how his actions impact others or trying to build relationship with him by attempting to foster empathy and compassion in him turns his heart to repentance or makes him more likely to obey in the future.
        Also, I was referring to the verse in Proverbs that says “Don’t fail to discipline your children. The rod of punishment won’t kill them. Physical discipline may well save them from death.” This verse says child or children, not son. And it speaks of actual physical discipline, not just the “rod of correction.”
        I mean, I guess you could say that punishment was an Old Testsment practice, but Jesus doesn’t negate this teaching in the New Testament and I am always confused about how we know what things from the Old Testament are supposedly “outdated” once Jesus comes into the picture. How do you discern that?
        I definitely don’t think spanking is the ONLY way to discipline. And I am not even arguing that you SHOULD spank every child. I am just saying that some children (especially very young children) do not respond well, if at all, to losing privileges or being explained to how their actions affect others. That is where I am at a loss. I cannot allow disrespect and disobedience to continue time after time after time and when other forms of discipline do not communicate the message that their behavior is unacceptable, I’m not sure what else to do.
        Sorry for another long response. I just honestly struggle so much with this and I want to get it right.

        Reply
        • Kay

          I can relate to your experience with your son! My youngest- aged 3.5- is incredibly strong-willed and nearly impossible to punish. If I take away his favorite toy, he says, “Well, it’s kind of old. I don’t like it anymore.” Time-outs don’t phase him, stern words make him laugh, etc etc. My older kids were never so willful and stubborn. I’ve resorted to spanking a few times, with very mixed feelings, but honestly that was ineffective as well. He actually said, “I did that because I wanted you to spank me.” I’m praying God will use his strength in a positive way some day!

          Reply
          • Jess

            Yes, Kay, it is so hard to discipline a child with that strong of a will. You feel like you for sure aim to strengthen your relationship with them, draw them towards repentance, and aim for their heart to change and grow closer to Jesus. But then nothing you do or say seems to produce any change or repentance or heart change whatsoever. It makes for a very difficult and frustrating journey! Wishing you luck and praying our kids channel that will into loving, pursuing, and sharing Jesus one day!

        • Rebecca Lindenbach

          Jess, by your logic, though, this passage doesn’t “mandate” spanking–it “mandates” beating your child with a rod.
          Are you willing to beat your child with a rod? Of course not (I certainly hope not, at least). So we need to understand that we’re already not following part of the “command” because we know it’s detrimental to children.
          I am so glad you are wrestling with this, and I advise you check out Samuel Martin’s book about this. We’re not going to say anything he’s not going to say better. He’s done an incredibly thorough, in-depth look at the original wording and the contextual cues about the text to give a very fair, balanced view of these verses in the appropriate context. Check it out.

          Reply
          • Jess

            Thanks Rebecca. I was just having that discussion with my husband last night….me arguing the “well, you’re not literally going to beat our kid with a stick” side, and him trying to figure out how to literlly apply the verse without advocating beating a child. Scripture can be so confusing sometimes but I am grateful for the additional resources.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Hi Jess! Don’t apologize. Great questions! And that is actually the same verse we’re talking about–just different translations.
          I’d recommend that you take a look at the book Discipline that Connects with Your Child’s Heart by Jim and Lynne Jackson. It’s wonderful, and it will answer a lot of these questions!

          Reply
          • Jess

            Thanks Sheila! I have already been looking at their website today as another of your commenter suggested it. I found their ebook on Perspecives on Spanking very helpful. And I read their ebook on Consequences That Actually Work. I look forward to reading more and continue to wrestle this out.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Oh, I’m so glad! I find their approach really wonderful, consistent with child development, and rooted in biblical principles of godly character. I hope you find it helpful!

  25. AspenP

    connected families.org is a really helpful and Biblical resource for parents wanting to connect and disciple the hearts of their children.

    Reply
  26. Cynthia

    OMG Alex is adorable, and lucky to have a wise and loving mommy.
    I had the same thoughts when my kids were that age. They are 16, 17 and 20 now, and I still haven’t had the horrible teen years that people predict. As long as you keep them safe, tots naturally outgrow some of their scariest and more exhausting behaviors. Kids don’t outgrow their relationship with you, though, or the role modeling that you provide.

    Reply
  27. Libby

    I never cease to be utterly shocked by this stuff, it just breaks my heart. I’m in the UK and I can’t believe it’s so prevalent over the pond, although a lot of Christian parents here would be a lot more authoritarian than me, it’s nowhere near this extent and I’m so grateful.
    I read “Jesus the Gentle Parent” a couple of years ago and had Issues with the theology in it. I’ve yet to find a good Christian parenting book though, especially for younger kids (my favourite secular one is “how to talk so little kids will listen)
    That Alanis Morissette video is lovely though, it made me cry! (probably especially because I was breastfeeding while watching it, oxytocin is powerful stuff lol)

    Reply
  28. 80's kid

    I think a lot of Christan (evangelical, protestant, North American) teaching in the ’80s and ’90s came from a place of deep fear. I remember clearly my mom talking about how she would have to stand before God to answer for how she parented us. It didn’t manifest in excessive corporal punishment in our family but I think it probably robbed her of some of the joy of just being in relationship with her kids at the time.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think that’s very true. And it likely did rob her of a lot of joy. It’s just so sad, and I hope we can put that chapter of the church behind us.

      Reply
  29. Erin

    I agree that we shouldn’t be spanking babies; babies are too young to make a conscious choice to disobey. But it seems strange to me to say that babies aren’t sinners.
    Did you mean that they aren’t deliberate sinners because they can’t choose to sin?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, that’s it exactly, Erin. Babies are not making conscious choices to disobey. Heck, until they’re 6-9 months old, they don’t even recognize that the world exists outside of themselves, so they have nobody to disobey–their mom, cognitively, is just an extension of themselves!
      And babies are naturally self-focused, because that’s the only way they have of learning about the world. It’s experiential at that point. So it’s not that babies are being selfish; they honestly don’t understand that others exist or have feelings. They only are able to perceive the world through their own senses. They can’t cognitively make sense of it yet.
      The ability to actively choose to disobey a parent isn’t really there until they’re about 2. Until then, the problem really is one of emotional regulation. They’re starting to feel emotions, and they can’t figure out how to control it. And so they often explode and have tantrums, but it’s really more that they can’t self-calm yet. They just have to learn. but if we treat it as deliberate disobedience, we can do harm.
      Of course all of us are sinners; absolutely. But it’s also true that we’re all in the image of God, and when you’re raised in a family with the Holy Spirit, it is very different, and I think we can expect that kids will love God and follow God, even from a young age. Doesn’t mean that they do’t do wrong, but just that they’re not unregenerate.

      Reply
      • Dee

        I certainly wouldn’t condone spanking a baby. The baby doesn’t understand what is going on. My parents spanked us when we got older for severe behavior: stealing, lying, nearly setting the forest on fire, cheating on a test etc. We got grounded a lot, me and my sister for most things that were minor. We did have a relationship with our parents and felt loved, but knew that certain offenses would get spankings. It was a deterrent for me and my sister for sure. When my youngest brothers got old enough to discipline, they were doing some really bad stuff like drugs, car theft, being in gangs. My parents divorced when they were in grade school. My Dad could not discipline them with spanking then because the boys figured out they could call CPS on him. My youngest brother wound up in juvenile prison. My other brother nearly died from gang activity he was involved in. It was a hard time for our family. I look back and wonder if my parents were able to discipline them with spanking in the early days that it would have deterred them from criminal activity at such an early age. I don’t think spanking should be commonplace or for every kid, but some need more severe consequences.

        Reply
        • Rebecca Lindenbach

          Wow, Dee, that sounds like your family’s gone through a lot. I don’t know if it’s any sort of consolation, but the research actually shows that your brothers would likely not have been any less likely to do those things if they were spanked. In fact, kids who are spanked tend to show MORE, not less, externalizing behaviours and aggression. The answer to parenting difficult children is not to hit them more; but there are many evidence-based parenting strategies based around empathy, emotional regulation, and increased familial involvement, stability and warmth that do have positive effects. But spanking likely would not have saved your family from the heartache you have experienced. Again, I’m so sorry for all you’ve been through.

          Reply
  30. Megan

    THIS: “because babies don’t have the ability to understand actions and consequence in a future-thinking capacity yet”
    People assign SO much motive to babies (and even young children) that they aren’t capable of, and it’s just…baffling. I can remember being a teenager and doing things I shouldn’t and then only in retrospect realizing “shouldn’t have done that”.
    I also think it’s a failing of the evangelical church that we *primarly* see ourselves , and therefore our children, as sinners as opposed to hearing that God made us and called us good; and that doesn’t negate the effects or sin or it’s existence, but neither does sin negate our goodness. God didn’t not declare us evil when he banned us—for our own good—from the garden.

    Reply
  31. char

    I work for Head Start and studied early childhood education and development in college and sadly, I see that many, many parents lack knowledge. We need to understand mainly that children are NOT small adults. It helps a lot to understand just that – that they don’t think the same way or see the world the same way an adult does at all.
    I think that a lot of this abusive parenting advice also does come from not only a lack of understanding but a lack of empathy, probably because these “adults” (especially the ones teaching) did not have a loving upbringing.
    I find that it’s best to study the Bible myself, asking the Holy Spirit for guidance, and to NEVER believe what anyone else SAYS the Bible says. We need to use our minds with the Holy Spirit. I grew up in a Christian cult and YES, these controlling groups/churches/methods really are cults. They are sometimes called “cultic” or “cult-like” and can be ANY kind of group – business, church, secular organization, or even just a family. But they are controlling, manipulative, and demanding. They often drive people AWAY from Jesus – that is the saddest effect.
    I also had a very difficult child and it was very difficult to be patient with him, but it really pays off! If you just continue to love and build up the child – find the positive and praise them for it – even if it’s a very small thing. I was not perfect at all. But we did stop spanking, because it seemed to CREATE more defiance and anger in our child, and gave more positive attention, guidance and quality time and now he (he’s 17 now) tells me he loves me and hugs me every day, best of all, we are much closer and his character is continually improving so it really IS worth it!
    Another thing that really helped me with my relationships with my children was to face my own issues – my selfishness, pride and wounds from the past. My children and husband would sometimes trigger negative responses from me because I had not fully dealt with my own issues. That is highly important. Once I really, truly surrendered to Jesus my life improved dramatically.

    Reply
  32. Renae B

    This post breaks my heart and brings up SO much guilt. I have a 3.5 year old and a 20 month old. When my oldest was younger, I was mislead by James Dobson’s “dare to discipline”. His words sounded so convincing. Though his principles are FAR less severe than the quotes shared here, and he never advised spanking a baby, he did spell out how to go about corporal punishment for willful defiance in the toddler years, and I followed. I cry to myself for every time I slapped my babies hand away from an outlet after he didn’t listen to our no’s, thinking I had to in order to keep him safe. And the spankings on his Little bum when he refused to stay in bed after we put him down for night. And every other time I spanked him in order to get him to listen. I hate myself when I think about it. I’ve never withheld love and affection from him, and it’s never been my mission to break his spirit or anything horrifying like that. I now follow guidelines of respectful parenting, as spanking never once felt right to me, but I fear I’ve harmed him psychologically. Do you think I’ve done irreversible damage?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, no, Renae, I’m sure you haven’t at all! When spanking is combined with a loving environment, the effects seem to be neutral. And if you stop spanking so young, I’m sure they’ll be fine. Really. So don’t fret over what you can’t change, and just walk forward with grace1

      Reply
      • Renae B

        Thanks for your reply, Sheila. I appreciate the affirmation. I needed it. I have a horrible habit of overthinking every wrong thing I’ve done to the point of some wicked anxiety. Yes, we’ve always provided a loving and accepting environment for our 2 sons. I’m so relieved to hear that that will have most likely balanced out our past mistakes in parenting. Thanks again..for taking the time to reply, and all the wonderful you do!

        Reply
  33. M

    Oh, my goodness. Thank you for this post. I can’t even form a succinct and coherent comment…
    I’ll just mention that I’m someone who
    — raised children in the heyday of the Ezzos and Shepherding a Child’s Heart
    — now has a master’s degree in Infant Mental Health, with all of the knowledge of interpersonal neurobiology, attachment and social-emotional development at my disposal
    — cannot stop crying when I hear the song “Ablaze.”
    Fill in the spaces in between with regrets and sadness.

    Reply
  34. Janet

    I don’t think you can lump train a child and Ted trip in the same article
    Not all who spank are trying to brake the spirit
    When a child bites you while breastfeeding and you scream and they laugh, they know what they are doing
    When they pull your hair after being told no multiple times, they are testing boundaries. As with all things parenting it cannot be a formula based on some random timeline
    My children were spanked and they did not rebel. It started and stopped at appropriate ages and was never intended to brake their will

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  35. Laurie

    Rebecca, thank you for writing this post! It’s SO important to be “speaking truth to power” in the evangelical church and calling out this false teaching. We were whipped within an inch of our lives as kids. And when I refused to cry, my mother would beat me even more. She was a true believer in “spare the rod spoil the child” but it was all to have power and control over us and she talked all the time about the need to break our spirits.
    We raised our two children without spanking, needless to say. And I truly believe that not only is this kind of Christian book written by men with a lust for power and control, but they’re not interested in learning about child development, having communication skills, or truly loving their spouses. The lack of intellectual depth in the past fifty years in evangelical leadership is appalling. Sorry, I guess your article triggered me just a bit!

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  36. Aleah

    Can we please stop conflating spanking and discipline? I absolutely started providing discipline (that is, teaching) for my child when he started pulling my hair. “Ouch! I don’t like it when you pull my hair. I’m going to stop you,” as I slide my thumb into his fist to release my hair. But there’s no way I’m going to hit a baby for being a baby, and even less way that I’d call it “discipline.”

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  37. Aleah

    Also, why the HECK would I want to break my child’s wonderful little spirit? Don’t literally ALL decent parents want to guide and teach their children’s spirits? Breaking a child’s spirit will only make him resent you.

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  38. John C

    This is to the Pearls, Ezzos, and yes, the Dobsons of the world. I am the result of the ways you advocate raising children. Sadly, you are not first, nor are you likely to be the last, to believe in torturing children in the guise of saving them.
    This is to those who adhere to the ways of the Pearls, et al. This is the story your children will tell.
    I am 71 years old. I have physical scars from what was done to me by those who were ordained to cherish and love me. They embraced ‘spare the rod; spoil the child’ with great devotion and at an early age. They said they were preparing me, and my siblings, to be worthy of entering Heaven.
    I gave up on God because I was told over and over again that what was being done to me was in His name, by His commands. He was, to me, hateful and angry. It took decades for me to understand the depth of the lies I was told.
    By the Grace of God, I was given over to the care of kind, gentle, and loving Christians, thank you Mary Eunice and Aaron, after my serious and almost successful suicide attempt at the age of 14. They saved and healed me in so many ways and planted the seeds for my discovery of God’s love and life through Jesus, though it took many years for those seeds to sprout.
    I did not father children out of fear that I would do to them what was done to me. I’ve wrestle with the demons of depression all of my adult life. It wasn’t until I was 34 that I had enough faith in myself to get married. The damage my parents caused was deep and grotesque.
    I am blessed in many ways. I have a loving wife of 37 years. I have step-children who love me and who I love. I have grandchildren who admire and love their Papa. I have nieces and nephews who I love and who love me. My faith was restored. God took care of me. He did not abandon me, even as I abandoned Him.
    I did not see my parents again after my suicide attempt. My siblings also avoided them after they were removed from our parents house at the time of my suicide attempt.
    My parents died without any of their children or grandchildren at their side.
    I do not hate them, haven’t for many years. I do abhor what they did to us; their children.
    This is a caution to those who believe they make their children worthy of God through pain; through breaking them. You risk accomplishing just the opposite. You will do great harm. You will likely die alone.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you for sharing your story, John. That’s heartbreaking. I love that God sent you two wonderful people to step in and show you love, and that you’ve been able to nurture such great family relationships now. But what a cost! I’m so sorry.

      Reply
  39. Yulya Sevelova

    Hello, I stumbled upon this blog tonight, and thought back to all the churches I attended during my nomadic years. One thing that stands out is the abuse of babies and young children at the hand of their parents. Once I started to go to Christian bookstores, I saw those creepy books mentioned, and those authors, including Larry Tomczack, who wrote ” God, The Rod, And Your Child’s Bod.” Yes, there’s such a title as that for a book. I hate to say this, but it really is American Christianity driving all this abuse ! Even worse, their missionaries have sent their poison all over the world, like Tedd Tripp, for example. He travels the globe, peddling his toxic opinions about children. I read his book out of curiosity-what a monster that guy is ! Ditto for J. Fugate, Reb Bradley, ad nauseum. I’m glad to see such characters refuted here. And it’s a relief not to have been raised by such people either. My heart goes out to the 71 year-old man who so eloquently wrote of the effects of such anti-child parenting culture and what it does to people. Kudos to him for overcoming such a backround ! Most never do, you know. Gosh, I wish there was a way to stop this madness from infecting churches, especially the IFB, or the Pentacostal type churches !

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes! And I wish there were a way to stop missionaries from taking all of this to other parts of the globe, too.

      Reply

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