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Spare The Rod: The Difference Between Punishment and Discipline

JACKSON, Miss– What does ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ actually mean? Adrian Peterson’s child abuse allegations have brought spanking and its meaning into the limelight. News Mississippi sought the answer. 

Mississippi is in the heart of the Bible belt. Whether or not someone goes to church or reads the Bible, the saying ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ comes into the conversation when talking about spanking your kids. “Pick a switch,” or “I’m getting the paddle,” are common sayings in Mississippi households, and some schools still use spanking, or “corporal punishment,” as a disciplinary action.

But with Adrian Peterson’s child abuse allegations, many question if “sparing the rod” is actually better for the child.

“It’s actually spare the rod, hate the child,” says Brookhaven First Assembly of God Family Pastor Matt Taylor. Taylor says spanking, like any discipline action, is meant to train and teach a child how to be part of society. Discipline is one of the main roles of parenting.

Taylor points out the difference between spanking and abuse is the intention.

“If you’re finding something to cause pain to the child, to put bruises or inflict pain because of a mistake, it’s punishment,” says Taylor “Punishment is from anger, passionate and without wisdom. That’s when you can cross the line.”  That line being the fine line between spanking to cause pain or spanking to teach.

If a child has bruises, cuts, bleeding, that’s abuse. But it also goes deeper than that.

“When a child shuts down from fear, it’s mental,” says Taylor. And he says it’s not limited to just spanking, “if you’re spanking to hurt, or even calling names, talking down to or degrading a child, you’ve crossed the line.”

So punishment can cross the line. What is discipline?

“Discipline requires patience, wisdom, and really just spending time getting to know your kids,” says Taylor.

Taylor also adds that the discipline should be tailored to the child and to the situation. Spanking may not be necessary for a particular child at a particular time.

“I was spanked minimally,” Taylor says as he reflects on his childhood.

To avoid punishing from anger as opposed to discipline, Taylor says taking a breather can help you regain your wits.

“Remove yourself from the situation,” says Taylor. Then go back in and discipline your child in the way that you as a parent sees as fitting.

Spanking can turn to abuse when the parent is acting from anger in order to punish. Abuse stems from anger. But Taylor says discipline isn’t about how angry you are at your child.

“Discipline is established to build a child up,” Taylor says, “it takes wisdom, patience, and is ongoing. Discipline isn’t instant.”

Here’s the whole interview with Brookhaven First Assembly of God Family Pastor Matt Taylor:

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