If you spare the rod you spoil the child.

Does this sentence mean that if a child or student do anything wrong, we have to punish him by beating with a stick, smacking him/her or maybe punching, or does it have other connotations?

If it applies to my description, has it been practiced in Western countries?

  • 4
    This is an old saying. It would be a mistake to judge contemporary western standards by it. It means that repeated failure to use corporal punishment will ruin the child's character. The "rod" was a slender stick used (in previous centuries) to deliver painful whacks on the child's legs and rump, and sometimes the back.
    – TimR
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 16:13
  • What does the word spare here mean? Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 16:16
  • If one is sparing in one's use of something, for example, spices or condiments, one uses it very little or very little of it. To "spare" the rod means to use it very little, to avoid using it.
    – TimR
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 16:17
  • @Laila it means to willingly miss the opportunity to do something, by pity, laziness or whichever reasons Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 16:18
  • 1
    @Gandalf: I thought you were pushing 11,000?
    – TimR
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 18:00

2 Answers 2


The normal phrase is 'Spare the rod and spoil the child'. It means that if you do not beat a child, it will never learn the proper way to behave.

'Spare' here means to refrain from using.

This is no longer commonly believed, and beating children is illegal in many Western countries.

  • 1
    I think you're taking the saying far too literally. If you told me you saw someone beat a child, I would picture abuse, not something that didn't harm the child like a swat on the butt. Regardless, the 'rod' can mean any sort of discipline, not just physical: phrases.org.uk/meanings/328950.html
    – ColleenV
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 17:11

Well, this sentence was surely taken from the old habits the teachers and parents had, to beat the children with a stick if they behaved badly.

But nowadays, its meaning lies much more on what's implicit. If bad behaviours or bad events happen unpunished, they will happen again, since the one who behaved badly or caused the event thinks they will be always free of punishment.

  • Nowhere in that saying does it mention bad behaviour of the child. It just says that not beating children enough is bad for their character.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 21:34
  • @gnasher729 Popular sayings are meant not only to literally say what they mean, but to imply some further meaning, as a background morale lesson, that can be interpreted looking at the cultural scene it's inserted on. In a nutshell, they use metaphors to pass knowledge ahead. Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 3:43
  • @gnasher729 And, for what it's worth, I think no one beats children for no reason, but it's my culture. In my country it's illegal to beat children up, even if they behave badly. So, for me it's wrong to think that not beating children enough (I'm still trying to figure out what would be enough in this case) will damage their character. Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 3:47
  • @gnasher729 - No, it doesn't mention the bad behavior of the child – but that's implied. We don't use the proverbial rod when the child is behaving well.
    – J.R.
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 9:27

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