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Spare the Rod?

Spare the Rod?


"Spare the rod and spoil the child." We've all heard it, right? Only there's one problem: that most quoted 'biblical' parenting instruction doesn't appear anywhere in the Bible!

William Langland's The Vision of William concerning Piers Plowman, 1377, includes this line: "Who-so spareth ye sprynge, spilleth his children." That is old English for the phrase we are familiar with. King Solomon, in Proverbs,1 said something that on the surface sounds similar, but actually means something entirely different: "One who spares his rod hates his child, but he who loves him, disciplines him in his youth." Let's compare the two phrases:

Can we compare spoiling a child to hating him?Spare the rod and spoil the child.

One who spares his rod hates his child…

Can we compare spoiling a child to hating him? More often we think of people spoiling their children because they love them. King Solomon wrote that one who loves his child disciplines him in his youth. Why do some people spoil their children, while others discipline their children firmly but lovingly, and yet others take the phrase literally and hit their kids?

Parents usually parent in the style that they do, not because that's what's good for their kids, but rather because that is what is suitable to them, the parents, in the moment. Let's be honest here. The way that we react to our kids has more to do with us and how we are feeling than with what the kids actually did.

If you are by nature warm, calm, collected, and have strong principles, it will come across in your parenting. If you are a hot-head, that too will come across. When your children feel that you are reacting to them based on your own "stuff" and not because of their actions and their needs, it will distance them from you. If you can see that your children need something that they don't want, or want something that they cannot have, and you can deal with it in a clear and principled way, they will understand that you are doing it for their best interest. If you flare up, you have lost your chance to teach them what you believe.

This can also be more subtle. People's moods and situations fluctuate. If a child comes to you in the evening wanting to tell you about what happened in school that day, and you had a successful and pleasant day in which you accomplished everything on your list, you might put down your newspaper, or turn off the computer, or hang up the phone, sit down with the kid and really listen. You might be surprised or impressed or even worried about what your child has to tell you, but you are open to hear the child out. When the child wants to communicate and you are emotionally available to receive what she has to say, the conversation will really be about the content your child wants to share, and the interaction will enhance your relationship.

Let's take the opposite scenario. You had a tough day. Everything went wrong. Traffic in the morning made you late to work. The boss was furious that you were late, because there is an important deadline tomorrow. You found out that another coworker was "let go" because of financial constraints. You scurried around in circles trying to do your part, but nothing seemed to be coming together. You forgot to pick up what you needed to make a healthy dinner, so dinner found its way from the freezer to the microwave to the table. You want to eke out some quality time with the kids, but your mind is only on the work you need to do to meet the deadline, and when you can finally get them out of your hair to do it—and you are worrying whether you are next in line to be "let go." When the kids sit down with their homework, you run to the computer. You look up and see Michael standing there. "What!? Aren't you supposed to be doing homework? What do you want from me?"

It's no longer about poor Michael; that's you and your stress speaking. Now the thing is, you are no dummy; you know that your stress is speaking. And Michael's no dummy either. He knows that you are in drive-through parenting mode. If you are distracted, Michael is free to do what he wants. If you catch him, one of two things will happen: either you'll scream your brains out and put on a good show, or you'll just let it slip by because you don't have the time or energy to deal with it, and because you know that you are stressed and don't want to take it out on Michael. Either way he wins—but really he loses, and so do you. King Solomon would call that hating the child.

Hopefully none of us would say that we hate our children. Yet all of us sometimes hate ourselvesNone of us are perfect parents, and we all fall into those traps at times, but hopefully none of us would say that we hate our children. Yet all of us sometimes hate ourselves. We hate our inability to control the situation, and the inability to be perfect. When life gets out of hand, unless we are very careful, this hatred can well up and spill out on our kids. We can't give love or stability to our children when we don't have it within ourselves. So what do we do? We do damage, either by giving our kids our money and our stuff instead of our hearts, or by hitting and screaming.

One who spares his staff hates his child. What staff was King Solomon talking about? A staff is solid and doesn't change. A staff is used for support on one's way. For parenting rules to successfully show our children that we are trying to build them in ways that are good for them, the rules must be solid and consistent; they must support the growth of the children on their paths, and protect the needs of the parents. The staff is the "measuring stick" that the parent can use to show the child that there are realities, principles that obligate us all.

Adults who have solid principles that support them in all their ways will be able to measure the behavior of their children in a predictable and safe way, and respond to inappropriate behavior in ways that don't undermine their parental authority or just blow off anger. They will be able to feel the support and love within themselves, and be able to support and love their children. "One who loves (his child) disciplines him in his youth." If you love your child you will help him to develop himself in a disciplined way in his youth, before things get out of hand. You will make time to explain to your child, not in the heat of anger, but in a moment of warmth and understanding, why you expect him to behave in a particular way, and why that is important to you, and ultimately to him.

It's pretty simple. Who you are is how you'll parent. You can only teach what you know. You can only give what you have. You can only build with the tools in your box. Fill yourself with warmth, goodness, and all that you dream of for your children. They will know you as a treasure chest, and come to fill themselves with knowledge and nourishment for life.

Shalvi (Weissman) Waldman , M.Sc., is a writer, therapist and teacher living in Tzfat with her family. She counsels women and couples in a process of accessing and actualizing their “soul-prints.”
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Wolf USA November 14, 2017

Define discipline and abuse Discipline means to teach to follow the rules, drill, repetition. Doing it over and over.
Clean your room every day....not just once in a while when mom or dad get upset at the disaster.

Abuse is to hit, attack, theaten, etc
To treat in a harmful or injurious way.

Just something to think about Reply

Shalvi Waldman Tzfat September 14, 2016

reply to Jess Mazal Tov Jess! And welcome to the wonderful club of parenthood. You and your husband are on the right track - the time to start learning to be an effective parents is before the child is even born! Reply

Jess Rutten Belgium September 9, 2016

Thank you, Shalvi, for your wonderful insight on this topic! My wife wanted to know what the Bible meant when it was talking about disciplining your child with a rod. Somehow it didn't feel right with her if it was to be taken literally. We are soon to become parents and glad we came across your article. Many blessings to you and your family Reply

Anonymous January 30, 2016

descipling children I agree with Stan Lee Jay of Tennesses. What the Jews did back in the land of bondage is old testament and we set free Christians have nothing to do with that bondage. The rod can be God's Word or as it states a rod for the back. You go ahead and listen to the lies your children tell you, ignore when they steal, let them have their way most all the time, and they will grow up to break your heart and your purse by trying to bail them out of trouble all the time. I tried just showing love and attention and understanding to my two kids and until they were in their late twenties they would not listen to much of anything. If you layed down rules and boundaries and showed them who was in control as a parent, that is when they straightened up and listened to you and the right ways. Your way is plain stupid. Reply

Anonymous toronto January 1, 2016

education Different countries have different ways of educating their people. A country like India depends on its movies to educate the people, I myself was an avid movie watcher. So you see in villages , it is not only for entertainment but also for education. Similarly Torah has the same place for Jews. The teacher is always a selected few to educate and those who shine will excel but everyone will get the message and practice in life. Educating is easy but putting it into action is more difficult. Reply

Dean Campbell January 31, 2015

Thank you Shalvi; I like the way you discussed healthy parenting. However, the original statement in the Torah/Old Testament was arguing for what we now call child-abuse. Of course some of us now have education and changes in attitude that preclude that behavior....but not those that use the Scriptures is a literal guide for their lives. Violence is learned in the home.....and usually supported by quoting what's stated clearly in the Scriptures. This is abundantly clear in certain communities that have high crime rates. God Bless Reply

Stan Lee Jay Nashville, Tennessee December 2, 2013

Spare the Rod? I disagree slightly. King Solomon's quote in Proverbs: : "One who spares his rod hates his child, but he who loves him, disciplines him in his youth.", means that If you Spare the Rod... you don't care HOW your child turns out. You don't Worry if they're Bad. You don't Consider, how they Think. You basically Ignore their Development... so Obviously... you "Hate" them. But if you Care about your Child, if you Worry how they'll turn out, if you Love your offspring... then You'll Discipline them... when they're Young. You broke it down, and took the Literal Meaning of the verse... where Most People... read it and take the Overall Intent. So, although I like this column and topic... I tend to Disagree with Your Interpretation. Reply

Chavah Kwiatkowska Latvia November 27, 2013

Wonderful article. Thank you! Reply


outstanding article I live in India and read your article i found it absolutely correct and very impressive Reply

Anonymous Newport News February 26, 2012

I just realized... That Hashem isn't beating anyone anymore since the Temple has been destroyed. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA February 24, 2012

Kathy, one word to you. Amen! Reply

Kathy Rickett Vinton, OH February 21, 2012

Spare the Rod I live in an area of Ohio that is filled with problems. Nothing is worse than when pastors and preachers council young people to spank their children until they behave. Our society will never be free of violence and schools will never be free of bullies until parents learn to stop hitting their children. Reply

Anonymous Chartres, France January 19, 2011

Teach not react I struggle with this topic like many mothers. In theory I want to be the perfect mother but I have to battle the poor parenting skills I endured. Lots and lots of screaming and yelling. I have to pray and turn to G-d to help me to break these destructive cycles.

I agree that the best parenting style is based in love, warmth, but firm authority as the parent. Once the child sees that I am not shaken by them, I don't have to do much except give the lesson to be learned. We do cool-off periods for our family when someone is just so upset they can't control it. Everyone in the family goes to take a cool-off moment then we come back and deal with the situation in a clear-headed way. Usually my kids come back and apologize and we can talk about it. We try to read from the Scriptures why the behavior was not acceptable.

These kinds of articles help to remind me that we all go through difficult periods in parenting. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA January 11, 2011

Hitting and spanking create more hitting, and acting out in other ways. Only spank (swat, one swat) not in anger. Better ways are time outs and withholding of toys, etc. By the way, I have noticed MANY parents buying EXPENSIVE cell phones, etc, for their kids and then they complain about their children's behaviors? TAKE AWAY THE CELL PHONES for a week until the child admits the wrong he did and tells one way he can prevent from doing wrong in the future. Tell him the next time he does that same act, it will be TWO WEEKS away. This will work for ANY treasured monetary item that your older child cherishes. Never withhold love or nourishment. Never INSULT the child. ALWAYS talk to the BEHAVIOR and not the child personally. NEVER call your children names! NEVER embarrass your child in front of other people. You can say, "When you do this, this, or that, it makes me feel angry (or whatever)", but DO NOT take your anger out on him/her. We are LOVING people and want to show love to our children during teaching. Reply

Lisa Providence, RI January 7, 2011

Spare the Rod? Children need discipline. They need to know right from wrong and good from bad. Many parents raise their children in accordance to how their own parents raised them, and it's not always the smart way.

Some parents are too strict to allow anything out of fear of spoiling their children. I believe children should only get what they want if they behave. If they don't behave, they should get nothing. Hitting and spanking should only be a last resort if the child absolutely refuses to cooperate.

When children know the rules and the consequences for breaking them, they're usually much happier because they know their parents care. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA November 5, 2010

Proverbs 23:13 beat him with a rod... Now THAT is why I don't take the bible literally!!!! Saying you can beat him with a rod and he won't die is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. Children die EVERY DAY from being BEATEN WITH OBJECTS. Parents go to jail EVERY DAY from child abuse. Still MILLIONS MORE get away with child abuse by either pointing to that scripture or by the DA not being able to prove it. I even reported a mom of a student of mine who beat her child while he was in a shower and caused WELTS, and even broke his rib, and SHE was not put into jail. All that happened was they said if she DID IT AGAIN, they would deport her to Mexico. It made my BLOOD curdle with anger. He had to go back to her, and I am sure that he was beaten worse for telling. This is where religion really can HARM instead of heal or help. Did you know that the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis use OUR BIBLE to justify killing and murder? All they have to do is pick out a verse here and a verse there and then embellish to justify their actions. Reply

Triple Generation Newport News, VA November 4, 2010

Be Blessed Shalom Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA November 3, 2010

Thank you so much, Triple. G-d bless you and I wish you all the happiness in the world. By the way, time-outs and grounding work at a certain age, if done in a peaceful manner. One rule of thumb is one minute time out for each year of life until a particular age. I made a mistake with time outs because I allowed computer games during them (which the kids LOVED) and reading comic books (which the kids loved). For some reason, though, the THOUGHT of being timed out was severe enough to their egos to matter to them, and they never did get into really antisocial activities like many kids do as teens. They never smoked, drank, ran with gangs, got into fights, or even swore in my house. The worst they did was to not wash the dishes when told. I consider myself very, very lucky, as I was a single parent. It was hard without a man in the house, but they came out with good characters. Reply Newport News, VA November 2, 2010

To it is ALSO written I will consider the thoughts that you have written and thank you for sharing the idea of positive reinforcement. It's very thought provoking and my mind has just been flooded with numerous ideas. Shalom Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA November 2, 2010

To anonymous, it is ALSO written a father should not provoke his son to anger. So, if you have provoked him and he becomes angry, you have NO RIGHT to rod him. BTW, discipline means more than hitting. Study up on it. Training a child also means more than negative reinforcement. It means positive reinforcement as well. Negative reinforcement is very, very, highly dangerous because you can eliminate one behavior but then it is quickly replaced by another one. Also, if the behavior was for the need to get attention, then the saga of the wet potato chip takes place in the child. That is , a child will do ANYTHING to get the potato chip even if it is wet and doesn't taste good. The child will do ANYTHING to get attention that is needed, EVEN IF it is negative attention. Do you not know this? Reply