There are five verses in the book of Proverbs the misreading of which led me astray in disciplining my children. I wish I had never read those verses. And yet I knew God wanted me to read them. But it was only after my three children outgrew their father’s discipline and went off to live their own happy lives that I began to understand what God meant by these verses:
‘He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly.’
‘Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of correction will drive it far from him.’
‘Do not withhold correction from a child, For if you beat him with a rod, he will not die.’
‘You shall beat him with a rod, And deliver his soul from hell.’
‘The rod and rebuke give wisdom, But a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.’ Prov 13:24;22:15;23:13-14;29:15
All five verses speaks of the rod in disciplining a child. And so I kept one paddle for smacking my little kids’ seats and two thin switches for caning their legs. And I kept them on top of a cupboard in a conspicuous way so my children, even in their best behaviors, can always behold the terror that awaits them should they revert to any misbehavior.
The fears, impressions and perceptions of little children are as real to them as are the real terrors and horrors to adults. But rare indeed is the father who can perceive experiences through his children’s senses. But it is my earnest prayer that this mission will be able to do just that – to encourage and guide fathers so they will be able to perceive the feelings of their little ones and turn their hearts to them, and thereby the hearts of the children will turn to their fathers in affection, respect and bonding that will never diminish with age.
Today I am able to feel to the core of my senses, in my very bones and liver, exactly how my children felt each time they passed by the cupboard. It’s the same feeling that would sweep through me if this scenario were real: My Father takes a lightning rod from the many stocked in third heaven, and pointing to it, tells me, ‘Look, my son, I am doing this for your own good, so you never go astray and land in hot water. I have given you my laws and shown you the path of life; if ever I catch you breaking any, this bolt will zap your seat with such searing heat you would think seven times before you want to do it again’.
For the rest of my life that I would be under the tutorage of the law (Galatians 3:23-25), I would live in daily dread of the consequences of forgetting that’s there’s a rod awaiting my every breach of good conduct. This was how the ancient Israelites lived, under the constant cloud of a Disciplinarian (1 Corinthians 10:1), except that instead of a bolt from the blue on the seat, a merciless barrage of granite stones awaited the sinner’s head.
This is how the churches under the legalistic system live today. Under the constant fear of breaking the law and coming under the wrath of God. Praise our Savior that his blood was shed for our sins, and not our own! Jesus has taken all the wrath that was due us upon himself. There is no more wrath awaiting us, even if we slip and sin, for our Father will forgive us the instant we realize our slip and ask for forgiveness.
Our children should never, even for a moment, live under the hovering fear of the rod of punishment. The father or mother who takes a cane or a paddle or some other instrument of torture in the sight of their child, has not attained the emotional and spiritual maturity that God expects fathers and mothers to attain before they decide to bring forth a child to the world.
So why does the Bible recommend the rod of punishment for children? Because there are possibilities of situations arising where only the physical rod, and nothing else, can discipline a child. It is truly a very rare possibility, and I can say with sufficient confidence that if you use wisdom, you very probably need not use even once a physical implement of correction.
What are those possible situations where nothing else but the rod is effective? See this verse again:
‘Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell.’ Prov 23:13-14
A rod should be used in a situation that will deliver your child’s soul from hell. May our Father in heaven give you the wisdom to know what are those situations in your own child’s life. Here’re a few that I can tell you from my observations:
When a child displays a constant attitude of hatred towards another child, and in spite of your repeated verbal corrections, the child shows actions and speaks words that originate from an evil source that has somehow managed to penetrate your son’s or daughter’s subconscious mind.
Children who were left uncorrected with such an attitude are the ones who turned into human monsters in their adult lives, such as Hitler, Idi Amin, Bokassa, Stalin, Mao, and many others in the modern era, whose childhood hatred of other people went on wrecking their consciences until they could directly be responsible for the death of hundreds of millions of innocent people and think of it with impunity. “I can send the flower of German youth into the hell of war without the slightest pity”, boasted Hitler, echoing what another man with the same spirit in him uttered a hundred and twenty years earlier. “A man like me cares little about losing the lives of a million men”, said Napoleon.
It is natural for little children of even Godly parents to display wrong attitudes. It is a trait that they and we have inherited from our first parents when the tragic fate of all their descendants’ genetic dispositions was sealed at the moment that Adam and Eve decided to go their own way against their Creator’s will. This naturally inherited disposition in human beings can be suppressed only when their human spirit is overridden by the Holy Spirit on being born again. Until then, parents have to be constantly alert against their children’s natural spirit gaining a permanent stronghold in their consciences.
When a child speaks or acts in a spirit of hostility against another child, parents must correct that behavior with immediate gentle correction. Gentle, because the child is not doing it deliberately. But when gentle correction is proven futile after a couple of times, the correction should taken on a sterner approach. But our Creator has put within every child an innate desire to please their parents. When they see that they have done something displeasing to their parents, and that the parents are not happy with them as before, extremely rare is the child who would not want to do all they can to regain their sense of assurance of their parents’ delight in them.
But should it happen very rarely that a child continues to display a wrong attitude, and gentle and stern correction (including withdrawal of privileges and other forms of nonphysical correction) are not effective enough, then, and only then, should the parent resort to a physical rod. When such a situation happens, the parent may take the child and give him a smart, but not too hard, smack on the seat with their palm or a flat object. Alternatively, they can use a thin switch for a single whip below the knees. Just a single whack or whip.
You should absolutely never punish your child when there is even a trace of anger in your mind. A child corrected in anger is a child that imbibes a similar quality – a spirit of retaliation. That’s actually what the parent is doing when they hit a child in anger – retaliating against their child because the child has done something that offended them, not solely because the child has done something that endangers the future of their soul.
If you feel anger in you, pause, and pray a short prayer for wisdom and restrain in correcting your child. When your emotions are under control, then take the paddle or switch and correct your child.
I know from experience that just a single use of the paddle is enough. For some sensitive children, even the sight of the parent taking a cane to punish him is effective enough. If child shows much fear in sighting his instrument of torture (for that’s how any normal child will view the rod), refrain! Call you child, and tell him firmly that if he doesnt want to be caned, then he should never repeat the offence again. Only an unusual child will refuse to immediately accept this condition for nonpunishment. You have already used the rod on your child, although it did not land on his body.
After you are done with the correction, there comes the ‘restoration of hearts’ phase between parent and child.
In the mind of the child, his parent’s punishment of him, no matter how much he himself feels he has earned it, is a short breaching of the absolute confidence he has in the one person he loves and adores above everyone and everything else. This temporary breaching, if left unattended, creates a deeper sense of rejection in the child. He feels the parent may have never really forgiven him fully, or that his parent’s love for him may have diminished. Unwise parents have suffered the consequence of little children being left alone with their hurt emotions after physical or verbal chastisement. The effect of unattended hurt is seen in the rebellious responses of the child when he or she becomes a teen.
Soon after the rod is administered – in situations where it is absolutely necessary to save the child’s attitude from being hardened in hatred or rebellion – the father or mother should make the first move of reconciliation. The parent should go to where the child is, embrace him and tell him that dad, or mom, loves him and he is just as dear to them as before. Some children may be immediately comforted, some others may take a little longer for their hurt to be soothed. However long it takes, the first priority in life for the parent then is for him to turn his child’s heart back to him as before.
Another situation where the rod may be necessary is when the child repeatedly forgets or ignores a strict instruction of the parent, the disregard of which may endanger the child’s physical life. For example, a child continuing to go to a dangerous area to play, or a stubborn tendency to get into fights, or repeated stealing, or repeated lying. By ‘repeated’, I mean’ doing it again after being warned at least three or four times.
Again I say, that such situations will be very rare, and it is my constant prayer that parents whom I am privileged to be able to counsel will never need to use the physical rod even once in their parenting years.
An example of a family where the rod was never used once stands as a great encouragement and testimony to the truth that a physical rod need never be resorted to in bringing up your children to be Godly people.
I once got into a personal conversation with the head of a school where I served under him as the vice principal. He is one of the most principled and Godly persons I have known. He has two sons and a daughter. He said he and his wife had never once used a cane on any of their children. Once, however, he said, he scolded one of his sons, using a tone of rebuke that his child had never heard before. It happened only once. But, the principal said, this child was so affected by this verbal rod that it made a permanent scar in his mind. If the principal had refrained from even that slight rebuke, he could have had a 100 percent physical and nonphysical rod-free parenting life. But my point is, if you would diligently look for an alternative way to correct your child, a rod need never be used on him or her.
The principal’s children are successfully placed in life today and are parents themselves now. I do not know if they are able to continue the same kind of nonrod discipline in their own children’s lives as their parents were. I havent met the principal for many years now, but when I meet him next, I will ask him and find out.
I was an overstrict disciplinarian of a parent, to my excruciating remorse many years later. But by my Father’s grace, all my children have grown to be loving and lovable members of society, faithful to God and faithful to their families. But that’s because I have spent years and years of tearful prayers that God may negate any unhealthy qualities my children may have imbibed from my parenting follies in my earlier years as a father.
In all cases where the child’s soul or body is not in danger, never even think of a physical rod. Even depriving a child of a privilege should only be applied after his repeated infringements of an instruction.
The best short answer to how best to discipline your child is to put yourself in a similar situation between you and your heavenly Father. How many times have you committed the same sin, given in to the same weakness, and the Father did not so much as utter a single word of impatience, but was longsuffering toward you, and waited patiently until you came to him in repentance. And that’s why you and I love him so much and want to obey him so earnestly. Not because we have to, not because we fear his rod, but because we want to, because of his lovingkindness towards us even while we were sinning against him.
‘However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.’ 1 Tim 1:16
‘The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.’ 2 Peter 3:9
Our Father doesnt just forgive us a few times or several times until he reaches the point of too-many-times-already and then takes up his rod of correction. He forgives usany number of times we turn to him after a repeated sin. Even when we are forgiven a sin against him, and after a while we become careless and commit the same sin – seven times a day, or a total of 490 times – our Father’s forgiveness is still the same (Luke 17:4; Matthew 18:21-22). That basically sums up the attitude that fathers on earth should have toward their little ones.
The way we discipline our children will be the way they will live even to their old age.
‘Train a child in the way he [should] go; and, even when old, he will not swerve from it.’ Prov 22:6 CJB
Our loving and forgiving Father in heaven, bless every parent who has read this message and enable him or her to bring up their children in the way that you want them to grow up, so they can become Godly parents themselves, and above all, become children of God in whom you delight greatly. Amen.