Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Family Dynamics

Responding to Sibling Fighting with …Spanking?

Thou shall spank your child is not in the Bible

As I have highlighted in previous posts, one of the most stressful aspects of parenting reported by parents is when their children fight. Although by now the scientific study of parenting has forwarded some exceptional methods of parenting to help deal with the stress of sibling dynamics, many parents respond out of religious conviction to sibling aggression with spanking their children.

Imagine the irony of hearing a parent yell at their child “don’t ever hit your brother, we do not hit in this house…” as the parent proceed to hit their child.

This technique is apparently making a comeback in some online circles as a parenting method to deal with many childhood misbehaviors. Recently I was sent a link by a religious friend of mine to what he thought was a clever online post that read something to effect of “I was spanked as a child and therefore… have developed a respect for others.”

I responded to his link with “you probably also developed aggressive tendencies, an anxiety disorder, anti-social tendencies, academic problems, and sexual issues…”

I have yet to hear back from him.

There is much to draw from traditional religious practice with its emphasis on kindness, altruism, compassion and charity. Unfortunately, when it comes to the most basic responsibility we have as parents, fundamentalist religious individuals often use discipline techniques that are wrong and profoundly harmful for the long-term development of their children.

When challenged, religious individuals point to the infamous verse in Proverbs (13-24) which states “spare the rod, spoil the child” and claim that they are commanded to spank their child. End of story!

However, beyond the destructive consequences of hitting you child, taking this verse to mean that the bible commands us to spank our children is flat out wrong!

First, commandments come from the Pentateuch, otherwise know as the five books of Moses, what Jews refer to as the Torah. Proverbs is not in the Torah and is not God’s commandments. Proverbs is life advice conveyed by King Solomon after a tumultuous life of highs and lows. After going from the glory of building the temple in Jerusalem and reigning over the only period of tranquility in Jewish history to being tempted into idol worship by his many wives and being cursed by G-d with the splitting of his kingdom, King Solomon had some words of wisdom to expense.

Taking all the words of Proverbs as commandments would make for a very entertaining, and absurd, life. Read through the rest of Proverbs and you will see what I mean. Just one example: In chapter 12 of Proverbs, King Solomon writes “Remove worry from your heart.” Taking this as a commandment would mean that every time you allow yourself to worry you are transgression a commandment. This morning when you worried that your kids did not make it to the school bus on time, you transgressed. When you worried about getting to work on time, you transgressed. If you are reading this now at work and are worried that the boss may come by and see you wasting time, you are transgressing. (Actually, you probably are transgressing “Thou shall not steal” considering that he or she is paying you to work, but that’s another story). Point being is that Proverbs is not commandments; it is just advice written in poetic prose.

I am not sure how a clever play on words by King Solomon became the guiding doctrine for one of the most important tasks we have as human beings: raising our children. We overlook countless actual Biblical commandments which encourage us to act in kindness, compassion, love, and understanding and instead choose a tenuous interpretation of one line in spiritual poetry to steer the crucial life task of parenting?

I have a feeling that when parents spank their children its not really about religion; it’s about out-of- control anger. Don’t hide behind religious scripture to justify your uncontrollable temper issue.

Spanking children is an unacceptable form of parenting. It is unbelievably damaging to children and may lead them to develop profound emotional, social, academic, psychological, and even sexual problems in the future. Not only that, they are also less likely to follow your religious observance in the future. How ironic!

If you rather not draw any parenting suggestions from the vast scientific literature on this subject, feel free to go back to King Solomon to see how his advice materialized with his own children. Pick up your bible, Kings I chapter 12, and read about how things turned out for his son Rehoboam.

Not only is it not a commandment, apparently is not the best advice either.

More from Avidan Milevsky Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today