Positive Parenting Books & Resources: The Basics

Here are a few sites and books that have helped me on my journey towards non-violent parenting.

The first five books below are written by Christians from varying perspectives but all of them explain ways of relating to children, teaching and training them in the way they should go, without hitting them. I do not agree with every single detail in every book but they are a great place to start reading about parenting.

I so wish I had read these books before my children were born.

  • Heartfelt Discipline
    Clay Clarkson is a father of four who believed in spanking for most of his time as a parent. Along the way, he learned about the heart of parenting which he talks about in his book. He also has a very detailed explanation of why the Bible does not teach spanking. For those who are interested, he goes into the Hebrew and explains it pretty thoroughly.

Some online resources, great for reference for specific problems.

Let me know if you have any questions, want more resources, or seek to join an online Christian peaceful parenting community!

Parenting Verses

As my children get older, I find myself repeating the same things to them over and over again. Some things I repeat without thinking but I am trying to choose what I repeat very consciously, deliberately, intentionally.

There are a lot of things I know for sure I do not want to say to them over and over again. One of those things is the Fifth Commandment. Just as I don’t think it’s appropriate for husbands to constantly quote certain verses (“Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as to the Lord.”), I don’t want to constantly be telling my kids to honour me.

Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t. – Margaret Thatcher

Being a man is the same. A man who goes around and constantly affirms his masculinity to himself and others is a truly pathetic and insecure man indeed. If my husband has to keep telling me to submit to him and respect him, he’s not being a very good husband.

Parenting is similar, too, I think. I figure that if I have to keep telling my children to honour me, I’m doing something wrong. I recite the Ten Commandments with my children all the time. We say the Fifth Commandment together, with each other, but I do not say it to them.

I only have a little over 6 years of parenting under my belt, but I have found over the past year, over and over and over again, that being gentle with my children works far better than being harsh (verbally or physically), and even if I do not get the kind of immediate, cheerful obedience that certain kinds of parents demand, I do not want to hold them to higher standards than Ben and I hold to ourselves, and it is more important to be gentle and loving and playful and patient than dole out constant threats and beatings. It is better to kneel and hug whining children, whisper in their ears, kiss them, and then hold their hand and go do together whatever I told them to do.

I cannot count how many times I’ve been told that not spanking is the easy way out. Maybe it is for some people. It hasn’t been for me. It is so much harder, so much more work, requires so much more patience, time, and effort to relate to each child individually with understanding and creativity than to spank.

These are the verses I have been saying to myself over and over throughout the day as I parent for the past year. I ask myself over and over, am I tempting my children to sin, provoking them to anger? Or am I leading my children towards God and showing them His love?

A soft answer turns away wrath: but harsh words stir up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)

… do not provoke your children to anger, lest they be discouraged. (Colossians 3:21)

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:1-4)

… do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Words Create Reality: You Speak Your Child’s World Into Existence

In the beginning was the Word. The Word spoke the world into existence. The Word gave us words to shape our reality and the reality of those around us.

When two people get married, they exchange words, then words are pronounced to declare them husband and wife. When babies are born, parents give them a word to call them by. And from that point on for the next couple of decades, every word that comes out of their mouths shapes that baby’s world.

As my children are getting more verbal, they are saying things that I never said as a child, asking me things I never asked, and I am constantly taken off guard, searching for the right words. I need to take time to choose my words, because my words have the power to show them Love.

For the next few years, my words are how they know God and how they know themselves. My words, at least during their formative years, shape their reality.

And when they fight, and hit, and bite, and do all the things that kids do, I want to talk to them. I want to talk to them about love, Jesus’ love for us that makes it possible for us to love each other, love everybody else. I want them to know that love is the most powerful thing, more powerful than hate, more powerful than the sword, more powerful than death.

(Sidenote: If words are more powerful the sword, then they are more powerful than spankings, too. God’s Word is a two-edged sword and there’s an argument to be made that the rod of correction is His Word as well, not a literal rod.)

I’ve noticed that they already know this without realizing it. When they fight, one of the first things they say to each other is, “I don’t love you.” Or when they come crying, tattling, they say, “He doesn’t love me.” And I tell them that some words must never be spoken, some words must never, ever cross their lips. “I don’t love you” is not something we say in this family, because it is not true. I tell them, “It was wrong of him to do that. But he still loves you.” (Sometimes, that’s followed by a punch and I suppress the urge to slap everyone involved or run away screaming and crying, and I have to start all over again about kindness and the Golden Rule, blah blah blah.) But usually, after I tell them they love each other and tell them to hug, they start hugging and giggling.

I haven’t yet told them that if they keep saying something, it will become true. That is the power that words hold. If someone, anyone, is told the same thing over and over again, that will become true for that person, whatever it is. That is why there are some things that I don’t let them say.

The more you tell someone, “I love you,” the more you will love that person. And the more you tell someone, “I don’t love you,” the less you will love that person.

People use words in set ways and repeat things over and over again. We were created to say the same thing over and over again. We can choose what we say over and over again.

And that is why I want to sing. Songs are glorified words, words with extra power because they are beautiful and easy to remember and repeat. I am not doing a good job of singing anymore. We used to sing every day. I need to start that up again.

There are some things I tell my children and I try to tell them every day. I didn’t get to tell them today. I was too exhausted and then they all fell asleep. But last night, this is what I said to Thane as I held him before he fell asleep. He usually loves it when I start saying this and snuggles in close.

These are the words I tell my children. These are the words I want to shape them with. As they get older, what I repeat will change and grow. But for now, I think this is what they need: love and assurance of love.

God loves you. God loves you so much He sent Jesus down to this earth. Jesus loves you so much He paid for all your sins and conquered death and Satan. (Mama! The dragon! He killed Satan! Like Saint George!) And then the Holy Spirit came down to be with us always, everywhere.

You are my favourite Thaney. You are my favourite 2-year-old in the whole wide world. I will always, always, always love you.

Daddy loves you. Mama loves you. Bubu loves you. Buddy loves you. Baby Prester loves you.* We will always love you. Always, always. Forever and ever.

*(Occasionally this section becomes really long as he starts adding grandparents, uncles, kids from church, random strangers at the park, characters from books and Netflix … “Spiderman loves me? Clifford loves me?” “Ahhh, uhhh, yeah, Thaney.” Let’s go back to “Daddy loves you. Mama loves you.”)

 

These ideas pretty nearly all came from the books by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy that my father introduced me to (I miss you, Papa!). All my books are sitting in boxes after my third move in 8 months and because Life keeps chucking things above the bookshelves in the priority on our shopping list, I can’t get to them yet so I have no quotes or anything from him.

If you enjoy having your mind blown away and then put back together in a way you could never have imagined, start reading some of his books.

You can order all his books and find out more about him at ArgoBooks and at the Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy Society.

Moulding Memories

Do you remember your childhood?

When you were a child….

  • Did you feel like you could always run up to your parents and get a hug and a kiss?
  • Did you want them to hold you for comfort?
  • Did you feel loved and secure?
  • Did you have assurance of your salvation?
  • When you sinned, were you confident of being forgiven?
  • Did you enjoy spending time with your parents?
Now that you are a parent….
  • How do you want your children to feel every day?
  • How do you want them to remember you?
  • How do you want them to remember their childhood?

What do you want your children to think about who God is and how He loves us?

To Spank Or Not To Spank … Is Not The Question

Before you read anything below, please understand that nothing I have written is to be taken as a declaration of dogma but simply my current rambling meditations as I go on my parenting journey. I am open and willing to consider other viewpoints and would love constructive interaction. I know that I do not have it all figured out and I know that I am doing all kinds of things wrong every single day.

Feel free to agree or disagree, let me know or not. If it helps you, that’s great. If not, well, I hope you find something else that does.

What I have written below is some of what I currently believe in a quite disorganized (and perhaps incoherent, definitely incomplete) form but I needed to write it down even if I don’t have time to write it perfectly and have it edited perfectly. I pray that God will have mercy on all of us parents whatever we end up doing in our day-to-day practice.

 

Where I’m Coming From

I grew up being spanked and until I had children of my own I fully planned to spank them as I believed the Bible required. My husband also believed the same. After personal examination of the Bible over a few years, my husband and I and various friends (some of them online friends whom I’ve never even met), almost all of whom started off studying assuming that spanking was biblical and required by God, separately came to the same conclusion: that while it may be possible to use spanking as a tool in Christian parenting, it is not a biblical requirement. Some of us are still working on detailed papers with all the passages and proofs.

Meanwhile, I think these sites are valuable resources.

  • Parenting Freedom
    While I do not agree with every single thing on this page, the sections called “Is Spanking Really in the Bible?” and “Child (Na’ar) in Proverbs” and the sections about the rod are very helpful, well-researched, and well-thought out.
  • Get Off Your Butt Parenting
    Get off your butt parenting! Sometimes, spanking is just plain lazy parenting. I love this site!
  • Mothering By Grace
    A site with a lot of information about Christian positive parenting.

 

What Is The Real Question?

Let me make it clear that my main contention is not with spanking per se but the attitude or misplaced emphasis of truths that seems to accompany it in certain conservative Christian circles. To spank or not to spank is not really the central question at all. Spanking is a side issue in the larger topic of parenting, and how we parent is part of the even larger issue of what we believe about who God is and how He relates to us.

Here are the questions I believe are more relevant to the broader issue.

  1. What does it mean to have authority? Lording it over those under us? Ministering unto them patiently?
  2. How do we primarily view our own children? Precious lambs and covenantal children of God? Vipers in diapers whose sin needs to be stomped out?
  3. How do we want our children to primarily view God? Sinners in the hand of an angry God? Young lambs in the hand of a tender, protective shepherd?

 

Authority

There is so much to be said about authority and so many conflicting views. I think Jesus summarizes it perfectly here.

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28

Those with God-given authority (parents, pastors, etc.) are abusing their authority unless they are serving, literally, being like slaves to those who they have authority over. As parents, that does not just mean holding down a job and coming home with a paycheck, doing the laundry and cooking, it means serving them instead of lording it over them in every area of our interaction with them.

 

Shepherding & Rods, Wrath & Comfort

To be a parent, to be a shepherd, we need to understand the weaknesses of those under us, be patient with them, and love them unconditionally and self-sacrificially. A shepherd serves the sheep, guides them to water and pasture, and protects them from predators.

The shepherd does not use the rod against his flock. He uses it to protect the flock from predators. That is why it is so comforting. I have seen dogs who flinch at the sight of a rolled-up newspaper, even if they are with a new owner who has never abused them. I have seen children who flinch in fear when their parents simply raise a hand to put their hair behind their ears. Yes, it is good to have a healthy fear of God. But I do not think a healthy fear means living in constant fear of His wrath. Healthy fear should be overshadowed by assurance of unconditional love.

Children should know that God is full of wrath against unrighteousness. But they should also know that He is full of love towards those who repent. When they sin, they should have more remorse because it saddens Him than fear of His wrath against them for sinning.

Physical beatings do not usually fill children with remorse. It can change their behaviour to what you demand, it can make them compliant to your will (or “obedient” if you prefer). But it often fills them with helplessness and terror, and rage born of that fear, none of which they can express because they are too afraid of the beating they will get if they express it.

If shepherds beat their lambs on their backs with those big rods, there would be mass lamb slaughter, not flocks full of obedient lambs. How often does God beat us for all the things we do wrong every day? How often does He give us what we deserve?

 

Are They Elect?

So, are our children primarily precious little lambs or vipers in diapers? I know that the question is setting up a false dichotomy because both are true to a degree but where we place our emphasis on what they are is important and will affect how we relate to them. I definitely do believe in original sin. However, at the same time, as a covenantal paedocommunionist, I believe that when God placed children into our families, He did so trusting us to treat them as little believers, precious lambs of God, already saved, presumed elect unless proven otherwise.

 

Focus & Emphasis: Cross or Resurrection? Death or Life? Sin or Forgiveness? Fear or Assurance?

Supposing children are elect, when they sin, instead of focusing primarily on the sin itself and God’s hatred of it, what needs to be emphasized is God’s love and forgiveness and how He welcomes sinners always, anywhere, anytime. When speaking of Jesus, instead of focusing on His death on the cross because of our sin, what needs to be emphasized is His resurrection, His love for us and His power over sin and death, how He is with us all the time, everywhere, and has given us His Spirit to indwell us.

God invites us into His House week after week to tell us that He loves us. He wants us to come to Him, eat with Him, make our peace with Him. No matter what we have done, He welcomes us with open arms and forgives us every time we ask for it.

No matter how we treat Him, He is faithful every day. He shows us the wild glory and beauty of the sun and the rain, the wind and the snow, the moon and the stars, and every night we go to bed never doubting that the sun will rise in the morning because He loves us constantly, consistently, unwaveringly.

I believe that is how we should treat our children. We should treat them so they want to come to us no matter what they have done. They should have full and complete assurance that we love them no matter what they have done. There is something wrong if children hesitate to approach their parents because they think they might get a beating.

 

Presenting God To Children

Our children are born trusting and loving us. That is how God created them to be. He gave us to them to show who He is through how we treat them. When children misbehave, we need to tell them about God’s love and remind them of the Cross and Resurrection, remind them of the Body and the Blood. We as parents misbehave and disobey God every single day. We fall short every single day. God does not “spank” us daily for our infractions. That is not how He loves us.

When I think about how God loves us from day to day, it seems to me that he covers our sins and forgives us of them before we even repent or realize them and embraces us lovingly from day to day.

 

God & His Smitings

In the last few years, I’ve seen adults treat each other unspeakably terribly countless times, I’ve seen parents mistreat their children, I’ve seen pastors abuse their flocks, all these things justified using the name of God, and God seems to do nothing about it. He is patient with them. He is gentle. I wish He’d zap them with lightning or maybe open the earth and swallow them whole, or at least strike them with some kind of non-serious, temporary disease, but no, they walk around every day in fine health and continue to do these things.

If children are spanked for every infraction, does that teach them who God really is? Does that teach them about how the world works? I used to think so. I’m not so sure anymore. When I was a child, I thought God was waiting up in heaven with handfuls of punishments just waiting to be hurled down on people. Then I grew up and kept waiting for Him to punish people, squash them, humiliate them, or at the very least stop them from hurting other people … and it just hardly EVER happens.

 

Welcoming The Prodigal

I think many Christians would follow the kind of advice Dave Ramsey (whom I truly admire, by the way) dispenses on his radio show to parents of prodigals: turn them away and let them figure things out on their own. After all, he squandered his entire inheritance, presumably on wine, women, and song.

In Jesus’ story, the parable He told us to teach us how to treat our children, the father of the prodigal son did not spurn or curse him. He could have been a good ol’ American dad and shown his son some tough love and turned him away to teach him a lesson. He could have put him on trial at the gate with the elders and have them condemn him to a public beating as was his right as a Jewish father. But what he did was run to his son with open arms and welcome him and kill the fatted calf and throw a feast for him.

That is how God loves us, day after day. If Jesus tells us it was good for the father to welcome his horrible prodigal son that way, what does that mean for us? None of our young children sin as horribly as the prodigal did.

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 15:7 ESV

In many situations with children, I think a hug and a good, long talk is more appropriate than a spanking. Or for young babies (under age 2, for example), a nursing is usually more appropriate than a spanking.

 

We Are All Babies

We sit in God’s lap and spit in his face. He does not spank us. He wipes His face and kisses us back. I have learned to do that with my babies when they spit or claw at me. Instead of pushing them away or spanking them, I have learned to delight in their chubby fingers that are learning to grasp, in their little curved lips that are learning to spit and sputter. And I kiss them. The same patience and love that is so easy to show to our babies, we need to show to our toddlers and children throughout their childhood, all the way to adulthood.

From God’s infinite perspective, no matter how wise we get, we are no different from our babies in wisdom and self-control.

 

God Used To Kill People, Therefore We Spank Our Children … Really?

In the Old Testament, there are many instances of people being struck to death by God. I really do not see how that can be an argument for spanking young children. It seems rather irrelevant to me.

I think it is far more telling that there is not a single instance of a baby or child being spanked in the Bible. Not one.

If the State has the power of capital punishment, the Church has excommunication, and the Family has the rod, an illustration I’ve heard quite a few times, then it just goes to show that the rod is something to be used only in the most extreme circumstances and not something to be used daily.  It is so bizarre to me that advocates of “biblical spanking” (though there is no such thing as “spanking” in the Bible anywhere, I’m not kidding) often bring up capital punishment in their arguments.

 

Conclusion

To summarize, spanking itself perhaps can be a tool in Christian parenting for some people but it is one that can be very easily abused and is very often abused in the name of God, touted as a biblical requirement when in fact spanking small children is not a biblical requirement at all.

In the spirit of the God’s law that allows some murderers to go free instead of damning all suspects to death, I believe it is far better to err on the side of spanking too little than too much.

It is far better to “err” on the side of too much grace and patience … like God does with us every day.

 

Additional Information

The Bible commands us to train up our children. It commands us to discipline them. Any profession requires those things. Electricians, doctors, computer programmers, carpenters, no matter what you do, you need training to learn to do it and discipline to keep at it. None of them require physical beatings. It is possible to train and discipline children without beatings as well.

I plan to write more about this later but here are some Christian sites with a wealth of information.

Positive Parenting

Spanking Info

How Spanking Can Cause Sexual Arousal In Children And Affect Them In Adulthood

This was not written as an attack on anyone but written to inform in the hope that it can promote grace and help prevent grief, guilt, and regret.

For some people, spanking can cause sexual problems that are irreversible or very difficult to reverse. I personally know several people, both male and female, who have had sexual problems because of spankings they received as a child. This post is for them and for all of us who love God and love our children.

I know the parents of these people never meant to abuse them in any way, certainly not sexually. I know these parents spanked in love believing it was what God commanded them to do. They had no idea they were hurting their children and causing them long-term psychological pain and damage.

There is a wealth of material which explains this phenomenon online but a good deal of it is vehemently anti-Christian so I thought maybe information presented from a Bible-believing Christian who used to believe the same thing would be more easily palatable.

Spanking a child on the buttocks, especially if naked and repeatedly, brings a rush of blood to the entire genital area which can cause involuntary sexual arousal. As the children are spanked over and over again, some children’s brains become hardwired to associate terror, shame, guilt, and physical pain with sexual arousal.

As children are spanked after they have a sense of shame, if they are spanked on their bare bottoms, it increases the sexual shame they feel.

Some people learn to disassociate these feelings later on in life. But others never do.

This means when they see or hear violence (other children getting spanked, see images of pain/torture such as an Auschwitz documentary, etc.), they become automatically aroused. This can cause years of confusion because children do not know why they feel this way but they know something is very wrong.

During adolescence, when they realize that these feelings are sexual arousal, it makes things even worse and the confusion turns to self-loathing. Many times, they have nobody to talk to about these feelings, especially if they are living mostly in a Christian context (home schooled, etc.). Seeing and hearing these types of things still bring on arousal even decades later in adulthood.

Many of these people who become aroused by hearing or seeing spankings or aroused by seeing pain and torture become convinced they are perverts because they do not know the cause: the spankings they received as children. Some of these people choose not to marry because they are so afraid and ashamed of themselves.

Some do get married and when they are with their spouses, they are filled with feelings of terror, shame, and guilt when they get aroused. Or when they are aroused, they involuntarily, instinctively find themselves wanting to have pain inflicted on them. Women with this problem often have trouble with getting beyond the first stages of arousal.

When they become parents, some find themselves horrified at becoming sexually aroused when they spank their own children.

Spanking in the context of sexual abuse is a problem that is not “kosher” to talk about in conservative Christian circles but it is a problem that definitely exists and it is not incredibly rare either. Most Christians with this problem feel too ashamed to admit it at all and if they do they are very reluctant to talk about it in public. None of the people who have talked to me about this feel ready to speak up publicly because they do not want to hurt their parents or they fear other repercussions. Some of them are closet non-spankers because their churches teach that it is sinful NOT to spank.

To be truly faithful to the Bible, beatings should be done on the back (not the buttocks) with big, thick wooden rods. The Bible doesn’t say to use your hand or a paddle or a switch or a spatula on a baby or a young child’s butt. The area that is supposed to be beaten is the back. Arbitrarily deciding to change things around is not being faithful to what the Bible says.

“Well, obviously, children would DIE if we actually used rods or whips on their backs so we’re just going to use a paddle on their bottoms instead.”

Click here for more information about why spanking is not actually commanded in the Bible.

I can understand how people get there because I used to be in the same place myself. They are simply obeying the teachings of people they trust. But as adults, we can’t afford to just believe everything we’re told. It’s time to for Bible-believing Christians to rethink extra-biblical, cultural teachings such as spanking.

Just because some or even most children do not have adverse results from spankings (or at least are reluctant to talk about them) and remain in the faith is not proof that spankings were instrumental in that and it certainly does not mean spanking itself is a biblical.

Sexual stimulation can be cross-wired with spankings. Here is a testimonial written by a girl who grew up in a Christian family who finally decided to go public about her experiences.

 

Additional Information

The Bible commands us to train up our children. It commands us to discipline them. Any profession requires those things. Electricians, doctors, computer programmers, carpenters, no matter what you do, you need training to learn to do it and discipline to keep at it. None of them require physical beatings. It is possible to train and discipline children without beatings as well.

I plan to write more about this later but here are some Christian sites with a wealth of information.

Positive Parenting

Spanking Info