Posts Tagged ‘strong-willed child’

Hi, Folks! About to head out on vacation here, but just wanted to pop in and share a few links about an author I’d like to read!

Some of you may have heard of him, Samuel Martin. I just learned about him through the GCM board. A true, modern-day Biblical scholar! I’d really love to see his writings hit mainstream, as I believe they’d really mark a turn in how we interpret the rod verses and treat children, as a culture.

I have not read him myself, so I’m not sure what other topics or ideas he represents. But, here are a few links to get you and me started. Two of these links contain excerpts of his writings. Samuel Martin on Biblical/Hebrew interpretations of child discipline and spanking:


Happy Summering!!



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It was brought to my attention recently by one of my readers that my comments about Solomon in the post, “Grace”, may seem to discredit the Bible as God’s Word, or may indicate that I don’t believe the Bible is entirely true. The same reader was also concerned that my letters to Dobson were disrespectful to him, and posting them here was slander, not in keeping with the Biblical mandate to approach our brothers and sisters directly to resolve conflicts.

I appreciate her thoughts on the matter, and understand her concerns. It is never my intention to cause anyone to be stumbled by my writings. I do believe the Bible is entirely God’s Word, and I tried to approach Dr. Dobson in a loving, Biblical manner.

My goal with this blog is to present a more Biblically accurate approach to child discipline than what has traditionally been taught in our culture, by Dobson and others. I don’t believe any if them have meant any harm to children. But, unclear interpretation of Scripture, combined with the natural sinfulness of man, can become Satan’s playground.

Following are excerpts from my reply to her.  I hope it may clear up any confusion I may have caused for others:

On reading 1 Kings chapters 11 and 12, we find the accounts of Solomon’s rebellion against God, and Solomon’s son, Rehoboam’s, slander against his father. While I DO believe that the whole Bible is God’s inspired Word, I am thankful God sees fit to tell us the whole story. Solomon, in all his glory and God-given wisdom, in the end, did not make wise choices.

If the proverbs literally mean we’re suppose to beat our (adult) offspring, then these fall under grace, as do the commands to stone, as Jesus illustrated with his parable of the prodigal son, and also with his treatment of the woman caught in adultery.

While I do hold Solomon’s wisdom in high regard, because he was inspired by God to write them, I still hold the direct teachings of Jesus above all.

There is no record anywhere in the Bible of someone actually beating a child with a rod. Solomon is the closest example we have, and it seems his sons didn’t hold him in high regard, neither did they seem very merciful. They seemed to be following in Solomon’s footsteps, to whip and scourge the people of Israel.

However, inspired by God’s wisdom through the Proverbs, I take seriously the wisdom to be a constant source of authority for my children.

Although I did not write directly to Dr. James Dobson, I got about as close as possible. My real hope was that the letters would make their way into his hands. Since there’s no way to call him up on the phone, writing to his organization is the closest I can get to confronting him directly.

I am writing on behalf of all families who’ve been negatively affected by his teachings on child discipline. I felt, then, that it was appropriate and helpful to also allow families like ours, access to the responses I received. Affected families, as they so choose to seek websites like mine, may choose to also share the letters on their own blogs.

I do not feel that I have slandered Dr. Dobson in any way. I mentioned more than once the positive influence he’s had on my marriage. I simply reiterated the facts as they unfolded for my family.

It could be argued that the practice is in direct disobedience to everything Christ teaches. I can conclude since He spared stones, He would also likely spare the rod. It is dangerous for Christian organizations to create a whole system of “Biblical” spanking, based on unclear interpretations of a few Proverbs taken out of context.

It’s important to note, sparing the literal rod does not mean we spare the figurative rod. Children need discipline. It is has been through loving, Christian approaches, such as those described on gentlechristianmothers and goybparenting, that we’ve found ways to truly disciple (the root of the word, discipline) our children.

By openly talking about these difficult experiences in our lives, we pray to influence Christians to turn way from these damaging practices, so others can avoid the same mistakes. We are aware that many people were spanked and turned out just fine. I’m one of those. However, for every person whom God’s grace allowed a good outcome, there are countless other families at their wits end because of spanking. Marathon spankings are not uncommon, even among loving families. It is especially the spirited, lively, intense kids who suffer. I’m certain FOF does not intend these outcomes, but it’s important they’re aware it’s happening.

I appreciate the time anyone takes to write me, and pray my answers have been satisfactory.

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I received another reply from FOF, below. I’ve prayed and thought for several weeks now, and just have no inspiration to write them again at this time. I’ve accomplished what I set out to do, which was to be a voice for other families out there like ours, by giving them an honest, unbiased account of our experience with their teachings. To reply to them again would require me to argue points they’re well aware of already; one being that, yes, Dr. Dobson’s books DO most certainly imply that spanking should be our primary discipline tool because, he teaches, it is mandated by God in the Proverbs “rod” verses. They’re really in denial of this point, whether intentionally or not, but no one but the Holy Spirit can convince them otherwise. I pray I’ve at least given the staff members who read my letter reason to toss and turn on their beds at night. Perhaps this small influence can make a small change, which may lead to bigger changes. This is my prayer. 

I assure you, if I am ever inspired to reply again, you will be among the first to know.

Their reply:

Dear [my real first name],

Thanks for responding to Debbie Lynnewood’s e-mail message of January 12. I trust you’ll understand why I’ve been asked to reply on Debbie’s behalf. In an organization the size of Focus on the Family, where mail is received at the rate of several thousand pieces every day, it is not always possible for a given staff member to follow up on every contact he or she has had the privilege of handling in the past. I’m happy to be able to serve you in this capacity.

You are entitled to your opinions, [my first name], and we’re genuinely grateful to you for taking the time to share them with us. But we also feel constrained to point out that you have seriously misinterpreted Focus on the Family’s perspective in several important details. Most importantly, you do us a grave disservice when you represent us as telling parents that they “must spank to obey God.” This is not and never has been our position. On the contrary, we view appropriate corporal punishment as one potentially helpful component within a broad, varied, and comprehensive discipline plan. We consistently tell moms and dads that spankings should be applied only in cases of willful disobedience or defiance of authority, that they are most effective with children under three years of age, and that they should eventually be replaced with other types of consequences, such as taking away privileges. If you go back and re-read Debbie’s e-mail, I believe you’ll find that she states all of this in clear and unmistakable language.

If you feel a need to discuss this subject at greater length with a member of our staff, we’d like to reiterate Debbie’s invitation to call and speak with one of our counselors over the phone. We have a feeling that this would be a much better way of providing you with a detailed overview of our perspective. You may call weekdays from 9:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. (MT) at 800/A-FAMILY (232-6459). Just ask for our counselors’ assistant, and don’t be discouraged if she requests that you allow a counselor to call you back. One of them will contact you just as soon as possible. Both this service and the return call come at no cost to you; please accept them as a demonstration of our concern for you.

Thanks again for caring enough to write back. We hope this reply has been helpful. Don’t hesitate to let us know if we can be of any further assistance. God bless you. 

Timothy Masters
Focus on the Family

[Oh, and I have no intention of calling their counselor hotline. If I contact them again, it will continue to be by prayerful, graceful, truthful responses, by email.]

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My Reply

(Note before you read: Although I am very concerned about the results in any family who is spanking, my main concern in communication with FOF is their faulty teaching)

Thank you for your response. You are right, I do care very much about this topic, and about the impact FOF is having on the Christian community and the world at large. I am not a person who enjoys the “Mommy Wars” found so often in online communities. My main concern is not the parents who are carrying out corporal punishment in a “perfect” manner, because they so choose. My concern is for those who’re preaching that parents must spank to obey God, and for the imperfect parents trying to carry out these practices, fearing God’s displeasure if they do not discipline in this specific manner. This is what I find so dangerous, because a) parents are not perfect, and will not carry out this punishment with perfect control everytime, and b) if they fail, or the discipline doesn’t work to correct the behavior, they may continue it anyway, out of fear of disobeying God.

You stated in your response to me that, “a parent who is denied the use of [spanking] during this [early] phase of the confrontation may find that irritation, frustration, and anger increase as the problem continues unresolved”. As a long-time follower of Focus on the Family, I need you to be aware that the same thing occurs (mounting irritation, frustration, and anger), even when a parent starts out early in the confrontation with spanking, in the manner set forth by Dr. Dobson, if it does not resolve the behavior. Then, what has developed is an angry parent, with hand raised, not knowing what to do next. It is a very frightening, and very common, situation! Add to this the fear of disobeying God, and you have a parent repeating this tactic, with the same results, and no end in sight. The household can become a battleground. A family should not be so!

A major turning point in thinking for my husband and I was when we viewed a DVD set by the Rainy’s (which was purchased from Focus on the Family, if I’m not mistaken), entitled “Beginning at the End”. You may be familiar with the principle behind the title, which is, to think in the beginning of parenting, what kind of adult you want your child to become.

Towards the middle to end of the set, Mrs. Rainy related a time in their parenting years when spanking became so frequent, that she was becoming exhausted. (I should mention here that both Dr. Dobson and the Rainys suggest spanking harder, and more frequently, when the spanking doesn’t correct the behavior the first time.) At this point, she’d been spanking harder and more frequently, until, for the peace of their home, and to prevent further exhaustion on her part, they compiled a list of alternative discipline tactics to use instead of spanking, and posted it on the refrigerator, for use on such trying days.

It became quite obvious to us what we needed to do for our son and our household: begin at the end. That’s when we began searching for alternative discipline tactics. It makes me very sad for Mrs. Rainy that they did not do this in the first place. I can’t imagine the hurt a mother must feel at spending days on end in such a battlefield against her own child. It truly breaks my heart for families.

When we started researching other tactics, they were surprisingly difficult to find! Especially on Christian websites! Which is how we happened upon gentlechristianmothers.com. From there, we found GOYB Parenting.com, (which has by far been the most helpful tactic), ways to sooth a tantrum, teach our child (and ourselves) better ways to handle anger and calm down, ways to recognize the underlying need causing the behavior, and ways to model and teach the right way to behave instead. This is the kind of adult we want to see our child become.

I completely agree with you that there must be consequences for misbehavior. We believe the consequence must make sense, and hitting never really made much sense in any circumstance. (We’ve never had a problem with our children hitting other children, either.)

In the history of our country, the Bible has been misused, intentionally and unintentionally. I do not believe it is the intentional purpose of Focus on the Family to misuse Scripture, but that is what I see happening. There are verses in the OT which state that if a slave owner beats his servant to the point of death, they should be punished. People used to think this meant it was okay to own slaves, and beat them, as long as they didn’t die from a beating. If we were to follow the rod Scriptures exactly, we would literally need to beat our children with literal rods. But, we don’t, because we’re willing to admit it should be taken somewhat figuratively. (There is some doubt cast on if the verses refer to actual children, or adult offspring in rebellion.)

As I mentioned before, Christ showed us a different way, other than stoning, for women caught in adultery. We also know that, in the OT, adult children were commanded to be stoned, if caught in rebellion. But, Jesus gave us the parable of the prodigal son. Surely, if you cannot accept a figurative interpretation of the rod verses, you can see that Jesus meant for us to handle things in a different way.

When else in life is it okay to hit people? It’s only “okay” to hit children because they’re smaller than us, and we can get away with it? My children, including my very spirited, strong-willed son, have learned to obey, without us hitting them.

Again, I don’t presume to change the minds of our culture about spanking, but I beg of Christian ministries to stop teaching as though it is, without a doubt, God’s best plan for discipline. As Christians, we ought to be coaching parents on ways to control their anger, and disciple their children to obey, in effective ways. Instead, Christians everywhere are hitting their children in the name of “love”. It may “work” for some families, but we have to accept it may not really be what God meant for us to be doing, and it doesn’t always work, ESPECIALLY for strong-willed children.

Again, I love Focus on the Family ministries. It has been the light on my path for ten wonderful years of marriage. But, I am repeatedly dissappointed and ashamed of Christians telling other Christians that they must hit their children, because God says so. It is, in my opinion, the “gateway drug” to abuse in families. So, I just need you to know, in love, it doesn’t work, and it isn’t right to keep telling parents they must. In a way, I view Dr. Dobson as a loving “grandpa” in my life, with whom I’ve had a disagreement. I pray he’ll do the right thing.

With Sincerity of Heart, and Christian Love,
[My Real Name]

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Their response:

Thanks for your e-mail, [addressed me by first name]

It was good of you to contact us with your thoughts on the subject of spanking. We appreciate your sharing specifically from your personal experience as a mother. Honest feedback like yours is always welcome here at Focus headquarters. Because of the importance of your concerns, we want you to know that we’ve asked our professional staff of licensed therapists what they would advise in response to inquiries like yours. Here’s what they wanted us to pass along to you.

We are familiar with philosophies of discipline that regard corporal punishment as inappropriate under any circumstances. With all due respect, we find them to be unbalanced and reflective of a fundamental misunderstanding. As we see it, the key to effective child discipline is the implementation of immediate, significant, and consistent consequences. When delivered in the right way, a spanking can serve as a meaningful negative consequence in cases of undesirable behavior.

It goes without saying that child abuse is a very real and persistent problem in contemporary society. In no way do we wish to minimize or make light of this tragic situation. At the same time, we would insist that corporal punishment in the hands of a caring parent is altogether different in purpose and practice. Rather than an expression of hostility, it is an act of love by which harmful behavior is inhibited.

We’ll go further and suggest that the perspective which excludes spanking altogether or uses it as an absolute last resort may inadvertently contribute to violence against children. During the early stages of a conflict, when parental emotions are under control, corporal punishment may easily be applied with restraint, love, and good sense. But a parent who is denied the use of this tool during this phase of the confrontation may find that irritation, frustration, and anger increase as the problem continues unresolved. The result may be an uncontrolled explosion of emotion, leading to physical abuse.

The key is to avoid extremes on either side. Control must always be balanced with love. Too much or too little discipline can have a serious effect on a child. When in doubt, it’s generally safe to take the route closest to the “middle of the road.” It should be obvious that spanking for the slightest disobedience is not “the middle of the road;” it is a dangerous detour.

It’s vital to add that a spanking is not the only tool that’s useful for shaping a child’s will, nor is it appropriate at all ages or in all situations. It tends to be most beneficial — and necessary — when a child is under 3 and a half years of age. That’s because reasoning and taking away privileges simply don’t work with very young children. With kids from three to five years of age, parents can use spanking and time out as part of a comprehensive discipline plan, but they should also begin to work with other types of consequences, such as taking away privileges. If mom and dad rely solely on one method, it will become less and less effective as a child grows and matures. For many school-aged children, the removal of pleasures or privileges is actually more “painful” than a spanking.

However, when it comes to a strong-willed child, it’s vital to remember that every child with this type of temperament is unique. That’s why there is no single book or parenting program, no comprehensive curriculum package, no one individual’s advice that can solve all the discipline problems and provide all the answers you need. In the final analysis, it all comes down to finding the energy to hang in there, stick to your guns, and win your battles one day and one step at a time. We are glad that you and your husband found an approach that worked well with your son.

Generally speaking, we take the view that corporal punishment should be applied only in cases of willful disobedience or defiance of authority — never for mere childish irresponsibility. In no instance should it be administered harshly or capriciously. We also believe that spankings are not appropriate for children younger than 18 months old. Conversely, spanking an adolescent is almost always a serious mistake.

If you need further information, feel free to call our Counseling Department Monday through Friday between 6:00 A.M. and 8:00 P.M. (MT) at 1-800-A-FAMILY (232-6459). Our counselors would be more than happy to discuss your concerns with you over the phone.

We hope this reply has been helpful. Thanks again for caring enough to contact us. We always appreciate hearing from our Focus friends. Don’t hesitate to let us know if we can be of any further assistance. God bless you and yours!

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My Letter to Focus on the Family


I am a long time listener and supporter of Focus on the Family. From the time I was a teenager, I listened to and from school and college, collecting much wisdom for the path ahead of me. A strange thing for a teen to do, I guess. But, I truly love the Lord, and wanted His best for my future. I hold a high respect for Dr. James Dobson and his marriage advice. I’ve been very happily married for almost ten years.

However, when I had my first child, Dr.Dobson’s advice nearly broke my heart. I’d always assumed I’d spank, and followed his advice for my spirited 2 year old. I cannot express to you in words how wrong it felt. The spirit of God was convicting me, and this precious son, whom I’d nursed for 21 months, and had continued a very close, in-synch relationship with, even through the addition o a new baby, when he was 28 mos….become afraid and distrustful of me. Not only that, it wasn’t working to improve his behavior. He fit the bill for “strong-willed”, certainly. But, could he be beyond hope, since the very method tailored to his personality wasn’t working?

With much prayer, my husband and I began to research other discipline methods. I came across gentlechristianmothers.com in my search, and discovered some very eye-opening statements about Biblical discipline.

Out son is now 4 yrs old. We are complimented often, at church, by family and friends, and even by strangers, on how happy and well-behaved our children seem. Life is not perfect, and he’s not a perfect child. But, we are a much more peaceful, loving family since learning to discipline with the Grace of Jesus.

What I see lacking on your website is acknowledgement that these verses in Proverbs may not mean what we think they mean. You can do the research yourself and find that there are many reasons to doubt that these are commands to hit children. More than likely, they are wise principles for being a constant source of authority for our children. The OT has many things to say that are covered under grace. Another good example is the treatment of women caught in adultery. We all know how Jesus chose to react. This should be the ultimate example, among many in the NT, of how to apply grace.

I write this because the advice from Dr. Dobson about strong willed children is at worse, very dangerous advice for new parents. And, at the very least, it is impractical and unecessary. I say dangerous because it’s using God’s Word to convince parents they must hit their children. I believe there are FAR more Biblical principles we can apply to child discipline, besides a few commonly misunderstood proverbs, written by a king who ended his life in such disgrace against God, and was held with such irreverence by his own sons  (Solomon). Let’s instead apply the wisdom of Christ, Himself.  How did He disciple? How did He view children? What principles of love, forgiveness, reproof, and correction can we glean from the NT church?

I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind completely about spanking. It is so ingrained in our culture, most people don’t think twice about NOT doing it, as I once thought. However, I hope my letter will at least open the eyes of Focus on the Family and it’s wide-spread influence, to impact the world with Christ’s love.

My husband and I have experienced a total life change, and it has not been easy in the face of criticism. But, thus far, it has been one of the best decisions of our young life. It is my prayer that one day, Dr. Dobson will realize his mistake and change his heart on this subject.

Many Prayers,
(My Real Name)

I’ll keep you posted if I receive a reply.

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