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Sparing the Rod

Sparing the Rod

Most of us hit our children when we are angry or frustrated. We are not educating. We are venting.

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How many times did you punish your children this week?

Ideally, meting out punishment should be a rare necessity. Hard to believe, (I know -- I've been there!) but true nevertheless.

Punishment is a last resort. The first line of defense we have when our children misbehave is to speak to them pleasantly and try to educate them. Explain what they did wrong and the importance of doing better the next time. Encourage them with rewards and other types of positive reinforcement

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, a distinguished educator and ethicist in Jerusalem, explains that punishment can be destructive "because children generally operate in two mutually exclusive modes:

  • The learning mode, which is characterized by a relaxed and happy state that facilitates real change, and
  • The obedience mode, which is characterized by a nervous and rebellious state that inhibits real change.

Punishment often flips children out of the learning mode and into the obedience mode. When we punish children, we succeed in immediately stimulating the external behavior we seek, but we risk stunting the internal growth that could permanently change the child and produce good behavior over the long term" (Planting and Building: Raising a Jewish Child p.81).

Rabbi Wolbe also explains that frequent punishment raises the child's level of tolerance for punishment and parents can find themselves spinning out of control with successively harsher measures. Ideally, we want a child who is sensitive to a slight look of disapproval. The over-punished child loses his sensitivity to such subtle measures.

When talking and reasoning fail, punishments, of course, do need to be implemented.

Natural and Logical Consequences

Punishments are circumstances we impose on our children. No TV. No car keys. No going out. Before we punish we need to ask if there are natural consequences of our children's behavior that we can let happen which will have more educative value than our punishments. For example, children who do not do their homework have to deal with the wrath of their teachers. Children who do not put dirty clothes in the hamper do not have clean clothes to wear.

Whenever possible, let the child experience the natural consequences of his irresponsibility or misbehavior.

When we let our children experience the unpleasantness that results from their mistakes without comment or sermon, we are allowing them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and take responsibility for their own actions. We should not mix in to further punish them, to say, "I told you so" or to rescue them from the unpleasantness.

Whenever possible let the child experience the natural consequences of his irresponsibility or misbehavior (obviously this does not apply in all cases, such as a child who wants to run in the street or to see exactly how hot the stove really is).

If there are no natural consequences then we impose logical consequences, (also known as punishments), which ideally should fit the crime. A child who doesn't speak nicely isn't allowed to speak for a period of time. A child who throws food isn't allowed to eat more at that particular meal. A child who defaces school property has to pay to replace it with his allowance; birthday money he has saved or he should work to make the money.

GUIDELINES FOR PUNISHMENT:

  • A warning should always precede a punishment. (Sanhedrin 56 B; God never punishes us without warning and we are to emulate God)
  • Explain why you are punishing the child and let the child know that you feel sorry to have to punish him.
  • Try to match the punishment to the "crime" if possible.
  • Never give a demeaning or abusive punishment such as making a babyish child wear a diaper.
  • Try to administer the punishment without anger or other negative emotion such as revenge.
  • A punishment should not be announced and then deferred to another time. The Talmud states that a child's anxiety over this could cause him to harm himself (Semachot 2:6)
  • Be extra cautious about punishing older children. Punishments are often less effective and can cause rebellion.

Physical Punishment

Under very specific circumstances, the Torah permits physical punishment. While normally we are prohibited from striking anyone (Talmud on Deuteronomy 25:3), the Torah permits a parent to strike a minor child (Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Choshen Mishpat, Hilchos Nizkei Guf V' Nefesh).A parent is forbidden to strike an older child, above bar/bat mitzvah age, (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 240:20) because it is tantamount to putting a stumbling block before the blind. The older child will want to strike back, and we cannot cause him to transgress the Biblical prohibition of striking a parent.

Corporal punishment today is viewed as a sign of rejection and a statement of personal unworthiness. It isn't effective.

When is parent allowed to strike a minor child? Only when it is going to have educative value and only when it is not done from a position of anger. We are allowed to feign anger, but we should not have real anger. A child can only be hit with something light which will not actually hurt him, like a shoestring (Bava Basra 21 A), and not repeatedly (Even Shleimah 6:4 ).

Most of us hit our children when we are angry or frustrated. We are not in control of the situation or ourselves. We are not educating. We are venting.

I heard personally from Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, of blessed memory, that in our generation corporal punishment is actually forbidden. He explained that in previous generations children could accept physical punishment as a sign of love. Nowadays, however, hitting children is considered cruel. It is viewed as a sign of rejection and is a statement of personal unworthiness. When this is the case, hitting is not effective and it is prohibited.

Rabbi Wolbe expresses a similar opinion (op. cit.. 47) and explains that children were more tolerant in previous generations and also had a more positive self-image. Young children wouldn't think of striking back. Not so today. Our children's whole environment is suffused with rebellion. This reality must be taken in to account.

We must also take into account the permanent damage that can be done to the parent-child relationship when we try to control with force. Any kind of harshness will create an emotional distance between our children and us. Our children will be unable to learn from us when there is distance. They won't be open to our admonishments or our discussions.

Rabbi Wolbe explains that there are two rods in the verse, "He that spares the rod hates his child" (Proverbs 13:24) -- violent ones and pleasant ones. Instead of reading this verse as an obligation to punish our children, we should consider which rod is the more effective one in teaching our children correct behavior.

Our children were entrusted to us in order that we teach them the right way primarily through the rod of pleasantness. We need to have tremendous self-control and mastery over our emotions in order to be true educators and to create an environment of pleasantness that will foster their maximum growth.

Published: October 19, 2002


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Visitor Comments: 9

(9) Anonymous, July 4, 2004 12:00 AM

I used this info for my homework as I am only 13.

I belive the guidelines are correct. I have learnt alot about corpral punishments in this text and alot about the personality of the people writing. Thnakyou for this infomation as I belive it has changed my mind about corpral punishments between me and my mother and

(8) Anonymous, March 26, 2004 12:00 AM

Heller's article.

I just want to say that I enjoyed Heller's article because it made a lot of sense and it wasn't too extreme on either side. Well, it got a little bit extreme. Why bother using the "rod" physically with a shoestring? LOL.

Dispite the comments of Ketler, all liberals do not disagree with spanking. I'm one of them. I do think that it can be a good tool to use. I just don't think it should be used all of the time. Many people use spanking because they think it's the only effective discipline. They don't consider thinking or being creative about things.

I do have to state a disagreement though. I don't think it's a good idea to let a kids suffer the natural consequences of not doing their school work. My mother used that on me. It worked to an extent, but I would have been better off if I had just been punished for laziness. I would have been more willing to straighten my act up. It would have also directly taught the idea that there is a direct consequence to bad behavior (which is a rational thing to teach). Of course, if a kid is like that, it's also important to try to teach them to do the right thing when they're not in danger of being punished. I'm just stating my thoughts on this.

So, I'm in between. I strongly believe in using rational discipline, but I also strongly believe that spanking/other non-abusive punishments somethings is a good thing to do. That doesn't make me any less liberal than I already am. I actually consider myself to be a radical liberal.

(7) Darlene, January 30, 2003 12:00 AM

Comment to Sheriff

My husband is also a deputy sheriff and works nights and sees society at its worst. Most of these people do not have God in their lives. What you see besides lack of punishment is lack of love, lack of care, lack of time and lack of Godly parents. What you see is drugs, alcohol, and people beating on each other. What do you expect to see these children doing but exactly what they are see their parents doing. It isn't so much a lack of punishment as it is a lack of parents taking the responsibility of teaching their children by being adults that are not hypocritical. If the parents are living the lives they ought to be living, and loving, caring, teaching and disciplining their children the way God wants them to there wouldn't be as many of these problems. Sometimes I think it is the parents that might need a good dose of the rod (which one would work the pleasant rod or the punitive?). My question to you is which one would you want?

(6) D_KETLER, October 30, 2002 12:00 AM

SPARE THE ROD,RUIN THE WORLD

I AM COMMENTING ON THE ARRTICAL "SPARE THE ROD", I DISAGREE GREATLY WITH THE FACT THAT CORPRAL PUNISHMENT IS FORBIDDEN IN THIS GENERATION, THE ONLY PEOPLE THAT FORBID IT ARE LIBERALS.I AM A DEPUTY SHERIFF AND BELIVE ME I SEE THE RESULTS OF A SOCIETY THAT REFUSES TO PUNISH THEIR CHILDREN, THESE KIDS DONT KNOW HOW TO BEHAVE WHEN THE ARE TOLD NO, I HAVE NEVER SEEN A MORE DISREPECTFUL GROUP OF PEOPLE THAN THE YOUNGER GENERATION OF TODAY. I DO AGREE THAT PUNISHMENT HAS TO BE DONE OUT OF LOVE AND SHOULD BE USED TO TEACH THE CHILD,AND ALSO IT DOES NO GOOD TO USE CORPRIAL PUNISHMENT ON AN OLDER CHILD HOWEVER IT IS ALSO COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE TO ACT LIKE YOU RE YOUR CHILDS BEST FRIEND INSTED OF THEIR PARENT.IF WE AS A SOICETY DO NOT GET BACK TO THESE PRINCIPALS WE WILL START A DOWNWARD SPIRAL THAT WILL BE UNSTOPPABLE

(5) Dovid Ben Hershel, October 23, 2002 12:00 AM

I enjoyed Chana Heller's article and would like to know more. For example there may be an injunction to show mastery over one's emotions towards one's children when angry but is there a pasuk on how? I s there enough to repeat the need not to give into the Yetzer Hora? Speaking of which during a session of extreme naughtiness by my son aged 8 after a warning I did smack him. He rushed upstairs crying. After several moments he came back downstairs,
smiling.

"Daddy", he said, " I was going to put my boots and kick you up the bottom to show you what it feels like. But I did not want to give into my yetzer hora."

I am sure somewhere that the Sages have many things to say about learning from children.

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