We have two children, a 6-year-old and a 2-year-old. The 6-year-old tends to express his emotions through hitting. What do you recommend? Our 2-year-old is beginning to follow in his footsteps.
Barbara: When our kids were growing up, we had some who would hit other kids, although it never really got out of control. Children will express their anger in various ways, and some are inclined to be more physical than others. The first thing we did when a child began hitting was to discuss together that hitting is something that is absolutely not permitted in our family. We talked about the source of the hitting, which is anger.
Dennis: One of our children expressed her emotional hurt by biting. At our house, a spanking is the automatic punishment for biting. If you have a child who is hitting or biting, you need to clearly state what the consequence will be for that behavior. Then you need to do what Barbara mentioned: Help your child understand why he wants to hit, why he wants to bite. Begin to help him identify his emotions.
We need to have realistic expectations at this point, though. A child who understands his emotions will not necessarily stop biting or hitting. Our assignment as parents is to tenderize the child’s conscience to the Holy Spirit and to the law of God. You may have to repeatedly train and discipline a child for the same offense. Through the process, you are maturing the child emotionally and developing his character.
Q: You are training a child not to hit by spanking him? Isn’t that a contradiction?
Dennis: Spanking and hitting are very different, and a child will be able to distinguish between them. A parent who is not out of control, who understands what he is doing, and who does it with a proper motive is lovingly administering physical discipline. The child is not going to associate that kind of discipline with hitting. Instead, the child will associate it with the consequences for a wrong choice. He will recognize it as the cost of his behavior and the pain that results from disobedience to authority.
Barbara: I completely agree. The difference is that the parent is in control when administering discipline to a child for behavior that was out of control. When a child is hitting another child, he is not thinking through why he is hitting or what the consequences will be. He doesn’t have the maturity to do that, but is acting on impulse and pure emotions.
From a biblical perspective, we need to instruct our children in right and wrong. We need to train them. Although spanking seems to be frowned upon in our culture, it is a biblical form of discipline.
Dennis: The Bible is very clear about spanking. Numerous verses in Proverbs talk about this form of training a child. It is not the only form of training a child, but it is one form that you can use and that I think you should use, sparingly, in your child’s life.
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