Relating the past to disciplining a child

Published 5:55 pm Saturday, November 30, 2013

QUESTION: Would you comment, please, on the phrase “spare the rod and spoil the child” in terms of needed discipline in a child’s life?

ANSWER: The phrase is based on Proverbs 13:24 in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word “shabat” (rod) is used in both Proverbs and the 23 Psalm — “thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

A shabat is specifically the rod used by a shepherd in caring for sheep. The shabat has five common practical uses: 1. It is the symbol of the shepherd’s guardianship of the sheep. 2. It can be thrown with great accuracy just beyond the wandering sheep to send the animal scurrying back to the flock. 3. The shabat can be used to ward off an intruder and protect the sheep from any animals which may attack. 4. The sheep are counted as they “pass under the rod.” 5. It is used to part the wool in order to examine the sheep for disease, wounds or defects that may be treated. There is no evidence that the rod is ever used to physically strike the sheep.

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Consider relating the five uses of the shepherd’s shabat into parenting guidelines. First, there is security: a child knows he/she is loved, cared for and accepted. Second, there is guidance: the attentive parent will commit himself to thinking ahead as his child develops, continually preparing his son or daughter for the future and intervening when necessary if he/she is at risk. Third, there is protection: the parent will not let outsiders hurt her child. Fourth, there is evaluation: the child will be “counted” and progress will be monitored. Fifth, there is diagnosis: the parent will look for signs of anxiety or pain in his/her child and seek out treatment and healing.

The rod is a comfort to the sheep. Loving, firm discipline is a comfort to children. Also interesting is that the Hebrew word for chasten is “yasar,” which is accurately translated to “disciplines.” Yasar has two interpretations, each equally balanced. It means to correct or punish, and it also means to instruct and build up. The message is clear. Correction must always be balanced with encouragement. That is a good principle of child psychology. It is also a basic principle in Jewish and Christian teaching.

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