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Spare The Rod, Spoil The Child


When I was growing up, and even some times today, I hear someone say, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”   It’s used to explain or rationalize disciplining a child, and was backed by people saying the advice is from the Bible.  What it meant to me growing up was, “If your kid is bad, you need to bust his ass.”  When it comes to relationships, it’s not a bad idea to follow what the Bible says, but does it say that really?  Where did “spare the rod, spoil the child” actually come from?

It’s Actually From A Poem

Samuel Butler was a 17th century poet who actually coined the term, “spare the rod, spoil the child” in his poem titled Hudibras.  Here’s a piece of the poem:

If matrimony and hanging go

By dest’ny, why not whipping too?

What med’cine else can cure the fits

Of lovers when they lose their wits?

Love is a boy by poets stil’d;

Then spare the rod, and spoil the child.

This poem is actually about two lovers, Hudibras and a widow he longs for.  They are about to start a love affair but the widow wants Hudibras to commit two twisted acts to show his commitment to her.  As you can see, this really has nothing to do with disciplining your child.  Then how is this confused with a Bible verse?

Proverbs 13:24

In the King James translation of the Bible, Proverbs 13:24 says, “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: But he who loves him chasteneth him betimes.”  The interpreted intention is to discipline our children in the sense of guiding them in right from wrong and going the right path.  Parents are meant to guide their children as a shepherd guides their sheep, as in the way Jesus guided his flock.  A shepherd uses a staff (or a crook), and a rod to guide his sheep.  The crook is the curved end of the staff used to pull sheep’s head up when they fall into a pit or lose site of the flock, so they can see the flock.  The rod is used to keep the sheep in line with the flock when they tend to wander off a bit.

What Does This All Mean Then?

From my research and my experience, this phrase doesn’t mean you should physically discipline your children to keep them straight.  It means we should try to teach our children right from wrong by helping them understand that when they do wrong, they have to deal with the consequences.  The consequences can be some form of punishment or in helping them understand that what they’ve done has negative results that they have to live with.  Just like society punishes a criminal who does something wrong, as parents, we need to discipline our children by helping them understand that they are responsible for their actions and have to live with the consequences of those actions.

We do need to use the rod to guide them on the right path.  But that rod is not a stick or belt or some other physical form of punishment.  That rod is guidance to help them understand right from wrong.  Now, it’s true that toddlers can’t really understand that something is hot and shouldn’t be touched, so I’ve seen parents give them a tap on the hand.  Personally, I don’t see a problem with this because there are times where you just can’t explain something to a child.  But we should try our best to guide our children with love and understanding, avoiding physical discipline as much as possible.

The Takeaway

“Spare the rod, spoil the child” has been misinterpreted for many years and confused with a verse in the Bible.  The phrase is NO where to be found in the Bible, but the intent and understanding of it is necessary, regardless of where it comes from.  The intent is not to physically discipline our children when they do bad.  The intention is that we need to guide our children through life much like a shepherd does a flock.  Shepherds use their rod to guide them along the right path, much like parents need to guide their children on the right path, teaching them right from wrong.  When it comes to disciplining your children, and building a strong relationship with them, guide them with love and understanding, not physical discipline and anger.  Punishment is necessary at times, but physical discipline should be avoided at all costs.  Guide with love, not anger.

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