“He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” (Prov. 13:24)
Here we have several biblical principals that must be applied with wisdom.
First, we should note that some parents hit their children because their hearts are full of hatred and anger. This is called child abuse, and is at least one reason why faithful Christian parents are up against it when they seek to obey the Bible’s clear teaching on corporal discipline. And so it needs to be said plainly, that parents must never discipline their children in anger. Discipline must be calm and measured. The wrath of man does not accomplish the justice of God (Js. 1:20). In the Old Testament, God underlined this point by restricting retributive justice to “an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.” Though the principle may seem primitive or even barbaric to us today, it was in fact a radical limitation on the wrath of man. This is because when somebody knocks out your tooth, your immediate reflex is to knock off their head. The wrath of man is not measured. In our pain and disappointment, we want to give the other party far more than they have given us. This is why it would sometimes be better not to spank your child if you cannot make a calm judgment about what is fair. Related to this, I think it is often a good idea to announce the exact number of spanks the child will receive. This requires the parent to think about it and keep his or her word to the child. Otherwise, what keeps you from delivering seven spanks or fifteen? What are you measuring by?
In the same place, James says that we should be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath (Js. 1:19). This applies to training up young children as much as it applies to the rest of life. Parents must be judicious. You must not spank your child for something that you’re “pretty sure” about. The Bible requires two or three witnesses to establish facts. There’s no need to be overly litigious about this (filling out paperwork and filing subpoenas), but it should still be a known fact in your home that there must be witnesses and not just go off of what the cutest kid said or based on your hunch. Your gut might be right, but God requires more than a gut feeling for prosecution.
But “swift to hear and slow to speak” does not mean that parents should be slow to discipline. Solomon clearly insists that part of the love of discipline is its promptness (Prov. 13:24). And this is precisely where “creative” alternatives to spanking often fall short. Often, the time outs, the privilege-taking sorts of alternatives (especially when children are young) actually extend the period of time in which a child is under a black cloud in the home. Instead of dealing with sin quickly and restoring relationships immediately, the child is left in limbo. And this means that frequently mom and child are both left frustrated because the problem hasn’t actually been solved even though you did something that was supposed to help. Parents who are not swift to discipline are inviting frustration into their home. In the name of “patience” or “being gracious”, they are in fact “hating” their child (Prov. 13:24). Love sacrifices. Love disciplines promptly. Sometimes a particular problem will take multiple addresses, but every address should be swift, measured, painful, and quickly reconciled.
The point of a spank is reconciliation with God and neighbor, and when a child is young we’re talking about relatively small corrections in order to avoid the enormous chasms that can develop later on. Johnny’s little temper will grow up into passions unchecked. If he is allowed to do what he feels like now, why would he stop doing what he feels like when he’s eighteen and in the backseat of a car with Susie?
So godly discipline is love. Godly discipline should be done in love, with this aim in mind. And of course God is love Himself, which means that the goal of every act of discipline is to bring our child to Jesus, to remind them of His love for them, His sacrifice on the cross for their sin. I don’t think you can really call it love if you don’t talk about Jesus and joyfully proclaim His love to your kids. Discipline is not ultimately about getting your kids to do whatever you say. Christian discipline is about pointing your children to Jesus again and again.