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Spanking Children In Literature

Updated on August 7, 2017

Growing Up in a Culture of Spanking

It may be showing my age when I say I was spanked as a child. Not often, but when I'd really done wrong, there it was, the threat of it lurking in the background. My parents weren't mean or strict, they'd been spanked themselves as children, as had their parents - a solid and accepted tradition of hitting children to get them to either do or stop doing what what you wanted. It was part of America's Bible-influenced culture and back then something kids my age had in common.

My father was the disciplinarian, although my mom wasn't unknown for a few swats to my leg and behind with a fly swatter (more of an "eww" than an "ow"). I was even spanked at school by my teacher for tearing a girl's name on her desk. Teachers had paddles and would use them. Being "sent to the principal's office" was a scary thing for any child and held the real fear of being spanked by him. Most kids in my neighborhood and school shared the common bond of the fear of being spanked.

Looking back on it all, I see more clearly how spanking children was a part of America's Euro-Christian culture. Those fleeing the churches in Europe brought their strict discipline of children (ie: the Puritans) with them to the new land that would be the United States. Children growing up being hit by larger, stronger adults continued the cycle when they had their own kids.

British and American nursery rhymes and children's stories show plenty of examples of how much it was accepted as a part of growing up.

Photo Courtesy of Curious Pages from "The Lonely Doll" by Dare Wright.

Misinterpreting Bible Verses

The Church's Mistranslation Caused Pain, Trauma, and Sometimes Children Beaten to Death

The Bible is the number one book used by generations of Christians as their reason for spanking their children, fearing "spare the rod, spoil the child". That particular quote isn't even in the Bible.

Here are four of the "rod" verses frequently used by those who try to justify spanking:

"He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him." (Prov. 13:24)

"Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him." (Prov. 22:15)

"Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death." (Prov. 23:13-14)

"The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to itself disgraces his mother." (Prov. 29:15)

These verses were translated from Hebrew to Greek, the Romans translated from Greek to Latin, and early priests translated from Latin to English. After so many languages removed from it's original, the actual meaning was replaced. The Hebrew word for "rod" in these verses is "shebet". This was no rod of "smiting".

The two most popular meanings were as a rod of leadership - in which the leader could be identified in a group of strangers. Another meaning meant using the rod - not to hit your livestock and livlihood - but protect that flock from predators and pull wandering sheep back, guiding them to the right path using the crook.. It was a comforting thing representing guidance, authority, protection; "Your rod and your staff, they comfort me." - Psalm 23:4. There is no mention of children actually being beat with a rod in the Bible. If sheep were too valuable to damage, of how much more value was your child?

These verses helped cause generations of children suffering pain, humiliation, resentment and anger over something misunderstood or ignored by early priests in the Church.

Historically, Jews who read Proverbs in it's original Hebrew have not seen anything in those references to justify hitting children. Other cultures and non-Christian countries throughout the world don't spank or whip their children, and these children grow up respectful of their elders and the rules without it (ie: Japan).

Photo Courtesy of wikimediacommons

Were You Ever Spanked As A Child?

Were you ever spanked for punishment as a child?

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Favorite Books

Children's Books With Spanking, References or Threats of Spanking

Don't get me wrong. These books are great children's stories, some have won Newbery Medals. Most of you will recognize these books. I'll say it again, these are wonderful children's books!

My point is in these childhood classics, we see echoed a culture that accepted spanking as a normal trial of childhood.

The Story of Ping - Marjorie Flack - (Ping is a little duck who runs away to avoid being spanked for being last),

Bedtime for Frances - Russel Hoban - (A badger wanting to prolong bedtime is threatened with a spanking if she doesn't go to sleep).

Little House in the Big Woods - Laura Ingalls Wilder - (A girl is whipped by her father)

The Tale of Benjamin Bunny with Peter Rabbit - Beatrix Potter - (Bunny is whipped with a little switch by his father).

My Father's Dragon - Ruth Stiles Gannett - (A boy is spanked by his mother for disobeying).

The Elephant's Child - Rudyard Kipling - (A baby elephant is spanked by each from whom he asks questions, until his nose is long and he in turn, spanks them - illustration of how children learn by example).

The Lonely Doll - Dare Wright - (A doll is spanked).

Ramona and her Father - Beverly Cleary - (A young girl is threatened with a spanking from her father).

Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary - (Ellen notices, "trotting on a horse hurts worse than getting spanked").

The Whipping Boy - Sid Fleischman (The spoiled prince, Brat, is not allowed to be punished, so Jemmy is the one who takes his whippings).

Prince and the Pauper - Mark Twain - (The prince gets a spanking from the pauper's father; the pauper meets the prince's whipping boy who takes the prince's punishments).

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle - Betty MacDonald - (A parent says of their daughter, "I've spanked her seven times since breakfast").

Pig Will and Pig Won't - Richard Scarry - (Pig Won't gets a bare-bottomed spanking from his father for not listening, also called a "bad pig!" for not following directions).

Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain (Tom's Aunt comments, "he knows if he can ... make me laugh ... I can't hit him a lick").

Tom Brown's Schooldays - Thomas Hughes (A young boy is caned harshly due to a false accusation).

David Copperfield - Charles Dickens (A boy is whipped with a belt).

Oliver - Charles Dickens (A young boy is wrongfully and harshly whipped).

Photo Courtesy of wikimedia

Have You Ever . . .

Have you ever spanked your child?

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Nursery Rhymes

Silly nursery rhymes are a part of childhood. Here are a a couple that mention spankings, whippings, beatings - whatever they chose to call it, it was common place.

Photo Courtesy of wikimedia

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.

She had so many children she didn't know what to do.

She gave them some broth without any bread,

And whipped them all soundly and sent them to bed.

Tom, Tom the Piper's son

Stole a pig and away he did run.

The pig was eat, and Tom was beat,

And Tom went crying down the street.

Hush-a-bye baby On the tree top,

When the wind blows The cradle will rock.

When the bough breaks, The cradle will fall,

And down will fall baby

Cradle and all.

(O.K. it's not about spanking, but it's still disturbing).

Can you think of any other nursery rhymes involving spanking?

Some Sites With Helpful Information and Alternatives To Spanking

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Guestbook Comments

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    • KimDaphne LM profile image

      KimDaphne LM 

      7 years ago

      I agree with the misinterpretations done by many churches on the Bible verses it seems that before, most of the people interpret these verses literally which led to the practice. I am one of those kids before who experienced spanking as well and the one reason that I can get from my parents is the fact that they were also spanked when they were young. I on the other hand do not plan to do that to my children in the future as I personally advocate against corporal punishment.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      @anonymous: I meant to type "I would NOT have" thought of it.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Very original. I can honestly say that I would have thought of this as a topic for one of my lenses. Well done!

    • lesliesinclair profile image


      7 years ago

      This is a thought-provoking article, as a reminder of what is really important - imparting values, not licks.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      "Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me." These words of King David from Psalm 23 could hardly describe a beating. The 'rod' was comforting. This word is actually a word from shepherding â from tending sheep. The last thing a shepherd would ever do is strike one of his sheep. For one thing, it causes bruising and damages the wool. For another thing, it imparts fear in the animal and, at first opportunity, that animal will leave the fold and belong to another. The use of a rod in shepherding is to gently guide the animal. You touch the left side of the sheep's neck to send the sheep to the right, and the right side to turn him to the left, and so forth. But the shepherd's rod is never used to strike the animal. And, yes, the rod is used to guide the sheep to "still waters", because sheep, unlike goats, are not very bright and must be led, even to water, and to a safe watering place. (I used to own a small flock of sheep and goats.)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Interesting. I've never thought about this before. I agree with the mistransaltions in the bible. Well-done. I enjoyed your lens.

    • waldenthreenet profile image


      7 years ago

      Valuable topic. There is now new knowledge as to how kids learn, not from punishment but creating a culture of learning both at home and in school. Tough road ahead for America to implement new knowledge in the next decade ! Thanks.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      8 years ago

      So glad that spanking isn't as common these days.

    • gottaloveit2 profile image


      8 years ago

      I was hit only one time in my memory - I was 16 and sassed my Mom. My Dad reached out, very calmly slapped me in the face, told me to apologize to Mom and that was that. I never did that again...

    • jdwheeler profile image


      8 years ago

      Very interesting topic. I enjoyed reading over this page.


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