Amish children learn obedience from a young age
In order to achieve this, Amish adhere to the “spare the rod, and spoil the child” admonition of Solomon. Spanking and corporal punishment are used to maintain order in schools and teach good behavior in the home.
When do Amish begin disciplining their children?
Amish feel that children should be disciplined as soon as they exhibit a strong will. In The Riddle of Amish Culture, sociologist Donald Kraybill cites an Amish leader who explains that “By the time the child reaches the age of three the mold has started to form and it is the parent’s duty to form it in the way that it should go. When the child is old enough to stiffen its back and throw back its head in temper it is old enough to start gently breaking that temper” (Riddle, Kraybill p. 33-34).
Amish recognize the importance of proper discipline to their children’s future development. Yet it is generally recognized that spanking should not be done in anger, but out of love with the goal of teaching the child.
Discipline in Amish schools
In some cases, teachers in Amish schools will be expected to make use of corporal punishment to discipline children as well. Karen Johnson-Weiner notes that use of spanking varies among Amish schools. Johnson-Weiner finds evidence that corporal punishment is applied in conservative Swartzentruber Amish schools, though this does not necessarily mean that teachers enjoy it.
Johnson-Weiner cites one Swartzentruber teacher: “If you don’t spank the children that need it, you could lose your job. The school board wants discipline.” (Train Up a Child, Johnson-Weiner, pp 46-47). Even teachers in progressive Amish schools use physical discipline on occasion. A teacher in a progressive Amish school admitted that “We do resort to the paddle if need be and depending on the offense. Not the most exciting job, but it brings amazing results. In my six years I’ve spanked only once…and I hope I won’t have to again” (Johnson-Weiner, p148).
A paddle may be used to administer discipline in Amish schools. Other forms of discipline may be less harsh. Teachers may talk with students to explain the reasons and need for punishment ( Johnson-Weiner, p 119). Students may be required to sit inside during recess, or to write lines of handwriting (Johnson-Weiner, p 91). Amish teachers may enlist the help of parents to maintain order with children.
The Amish approach to school discipline, including physical punishment now extinct in modern public schools, reflects the role of the Amish community in raising children to exhibit Christian values. Amish stress disciplining in a spirit of love rather than anger. Though Amish parents and teachers typically consider it unpleasant and difficult to discipline children, they know that neglecting to do so would mean neglecting the child’s well-being.
Behavior of Amish children
Amish children are generally well-behaved. Though there are always exceptions, generally they know to speak when spoken too, and typically remain quiet in the presence of outsiders. Amish children quickly learn that disobedience is dealt with, and Amish use of corporal punishment helps to shape the character and behavior of their children. Children being children, Amish parents may need to resort to punishment more than once to instill the proper message.
In some instances, Rumspringa-age Amish youth may exhibit wild behavior when out from under the direct influence of their parents. But generally, the lessons of obedience and submission learned in youth stick with Amish as youth and adults. These values help them to be better church members and, the Amish believe, better Christians by following Christ’s dictates to obedience and submission.
For further information, see:
The Riddle of Amish Culture, Donald B. Kraybill
Train Up a Child: Old Order Amish and Mennonite Schools, Karen Johnson-Weiner
Amish Society, John A. Hostetler
Looking for more good reading on the Amish? Check out our list of best Amish books.