Peaceful Does Not Mean Permissive

The “offensive” picture 

Spankings. Whoopins. Corporal punishment. All of these terms describe physical forms of discipline. But are these the only forms of acceptable or effective discipline? 

This post wasn’t going to be posted for awhile, but there has been a picture floating around social media which has prompted me to fast track it. 

Since adopting the NAP we have tried to move away from coercive and aggressive forms of discipline for our children. We have adopted a philosophy commonly known as “Peaceful Parenting”. 

Among many Reformed folks and among many in the general public, peaceful parenting gets a pretty bad rap. Some mistake it for permissive parenting. Some insist that the Bible requires physically coercive discipline. 

The recent photo of a toddler throwing a tantrum in Whole Foods while her father and grandfather stood passively over her prompted quite a bit of backlash in the conservative world. One post struck me in particular, that of Matt Walsh. I typically agree with Matt on most subjects, but this is one where I find myself in the minority among his followers. 

Many of the comments on his post were along the lines of “I would never let my child do that without harsh physical consequences!” or “If my toddler acted like that I would have drug him out of that store and taken him right home!” Perhaps worst of all, they accused the father in question of raising a snot-nosed liberal who will forever throw tantrums to get everything she wants. 

As a father of five I can say with conviction that if we followed either of the suggested courses above our shopping would never get done. 

“Spare the rod, spoil the child” is an oft quoted verse when Reformed folks debate discipline methods. One would think Reformed people would be more meticulous, as this is in fact a misquote. 

The actual verse says:

“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” Proverbs 13:24 ESV. 

No mention there of “spoiling”.  The Proverb actually describes it as something worse. You aren’t “spoiling” your children if you fail to discipline them, you are hating them. 

Some would say that parenting without aggression or physical coercion is parenting without discipline at all. They believe that we are hating our kids by not using a physical rod to discipline them. In the minds of many of these people every infraction (such as a grocery store meltdown) is to be met with a swift swat. Either the hand is to be used or an object like a gluestick or “something that doesn’t leave a lasting mark” (so as not to draw the attention of the Child Protective Services). Their thinking is that physical pain is the only way to reinforce instruction. They insist that discipline cannot happen without this pain. 

A few years ago we went through a Sunday school class on Paul Tripp’s “Shepherding a Child’s Heart”. The process for discipline outlined in this book goes something like this: Child does something wrong, child is sat down and told what they did wrong, child is spanked, child calms down, parent and child reconcile with a hug, child learns. 

The stated intent of the book was to teach parents to to train a child’s heart and not just change their behavior. While I agree with the premise that a child needs heart change more than simple behavior modification, I disagree that spanking is always necessary. In fact this book tries to make the case that spanking is the only Biblical method of discipline. Honestly I don’t believe that this method ends up being much more than behavior modification. 

Physical pain as reinforcement for instruction is less a matter of heart change and more a matter of instinct. When a child (or adult) performs an action and is met with a painful consequence, it is usually natural for them to respond by ceasing that action (I say usually because often we are inclined so strongly towards sins that even physical pain won’t drive us away). It makes sense that we can change a child’s behavior with spankings or other physical punishment. 

But discipline requires far more than just changing behavior. We must not only turn our kids from the wrongs and towards the rights, we must also ensure that they know why actions are right or wrong and encourage them to want to do the right. This depth of discipline cannot be accomplished by spanking alone, if at all.

So how do we ensure our kids aren’t railroading us or everyone else they come in contact with? Permissive parenting differs from peaceful parenting. Where peaceful parenting creates and enforces boundaries (just without coercion or aggression), permissive parenting allows kids to do whatever they want. This is, by definition, parenting without discipline and in fact, hating the child. 

To keep our kids from becoming little hellions we establish firm boundaries and teach them to respect everyone, regardless of that person’s status or position. We teach them to live by the Golden Rule and the Non-Aggression Principle. We teach them to treat others with kindness, even in excess of how they would want to be treated. We also teach them about property rights and to respect what others own or possess. 

Next time I will discuss both my wife’s philosophy on spanking and mine and talk about a few other methods of discipline which we prefer.   

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