Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. Proverbs 13:24

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about different approaches to discipline – positive guidance and corporal punishment. The Bible tells us that if we spare the rod we hate our kids.

So … what does that mean? I know that some people take that proverb to mean that we need to hit kids, preferably with some sort of object like a stick or a switch or maybe a wooden spoon.  But I’m just not sure that’s what the Bible is really telling us to do.

I decided to look into the ways real shepherds use their rods, and was interested to find that shepherds don’t ever use their rods to hit the sheep. In fact, hitting the sheep is quite the opposite of what they do. Good shepherds use their rods to guide, direct and keep the sheep from going astray.  And sometimes they use them to scare away predators that would harm the sheep.

So, if the rod is to be used to direct, guide and keep the sheep going in the right direction, I think it’s pretty easy to apply that thinking to parenting. We need to be aware of our kids’ thoughts, feelings and actions. What’s going on with them? What are they up to  and why? How are they getting along with others?  Are they going astray? Are they making bad choices in terms of friends, activities, behaviors? Are they “acting up” or “acting out”?  A parent who doesn’t care about his son will take no action when the child’s behavior is problematic. He will “spare the rod.” He will do nothing to guide, direct and keep his kids from going down the wrong path in life.

This is what I call “Jellyfish Parenting” I talk a lot about this in parenting workshops that are based on my book, Please Don’t Sit on the Kids. Jellyfish parents just want their kids to be happy and to love them. so there are no limits, no boundaries, no guidance. Total indulgence and lack of discipline.  Every problem is someone else’s fault and their child can do no wrong.  Jellyfish parents spare the rod.

Take a look now at the second part of the proverb. …”the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”  The English words “disciple” and “discipline” both come from the same root word, the Greek “discipulus” which means “to teach.”

So, if you don’t hit kids with an object, how do you discipline them? There is more to this than we can cover in a single post. But the big ideas include teaching them how to to get along in the world in a peaceful, productive, Christian way.  Positive guidance includes setting and enforcing reasonable, realistic limits that are consistent with the child’s age and level of maturity, following through with logical or natural consequences for their actions and always considering your child’s thoughts, feelings and needs as well as your own.  It’s what I call “Backbone Parenting” – having a spine and standing up to teach, lead and help your child learn how to live.

If you’d like to talk with me more about this and other child development topics, I’m available to you! Just stop by the Children’s Ministries office and let me know what’s on your mind. I’ve been writing and teaching teachers and parents across the United States for 40 years and would love to have the chance to help you.

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