Punishments OR Positive Reinforcements. Which one works?

Many tutors, relatives and parents find themselves battling with ways of modifying behavior in children. A lot of us think that going down the ‘tough’ route always does the job…..not always I may say. 

The best way to reduce misbehavior is to provide abundant positive reinforcement for good behavior. Punishment in the form of unpleasant consequences might stop misbehavior, but it often has undesirable side effects. A child whose behavior is punished excessively may react emotionally, strike back or avoid the person delivering the punishment. Instead of excessively punishing misbehavior, use firm reinforcement to get your child to do good. Tell her that you appreciate what she’s doing, and do so frequently and consistently. At the same time, make sure misbehavior doesn’t pay off by enabling your child to avoid homework or chores OR to gain attention. Ignore any temptations to give in to their desires at this time.

The most common type of positive reinforcement is praising children after they demonstrate a desirable behavior while negative reinforcement occurs when the child is made to remove all unpleasant stimulus. Most punishments aim to deter repeating negative behavior; but is this a possibility through and through?

Reinforcement must be immediate, frequent and enthusiastic. Everyone should use eye contact and explain CLEARLY the behavior being rewarded. Eye contact is something that one should develop with the child as it also fosters bonding.

What about Timeouts?

Timeouts have become a quite common disciplinary action for children, but do you know that overuse can decrease its effectiveness? If the time period is too short, it belittles the punishment, and if too long can cause isolation and ultimately more negative behavior. It is a delicate balance which must be used carefully and be tailored to age/individuality. I have seen children and teenagers who are just super excited to be in their space during timeouts so you may want to try another type of reinforcement or punishment that could be in form of periods of deprivation from what they enjoy doing. At least, a four-minute timeout is most effective for elementary school students. However you should explain any kind of reinforcement used. Children need to understand why they are being punished because this helps them to identify consequences of their acts before entering into timeout. In groups e.g at home with siblings or with school mates, younger children tend to observe an action by peers, see it praised and then imitate the action hoping to receiving praise also.

Do you know that punishment does not exactly provide an appropriate model of acceptable behavior in the way that positive reinforcement does? Approach punishment from a calm, centered place instead of reacting in angerHarsh and severe punishments will actually increase the likelihood of a child developing a habit of lying. Consequences to bad behavior is crucial, but it is also just as important to keep a level head when communicating it to your kids. Remember behavior modification is not meant to strictly create obedient children, but rather help children understand right and wrong and the consequences of their behavior.   

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  1. One of my favourite sayings is, “let the punishment fit the crime”… In disciplining children, you have to know the type of child you are dealing with. How does he/she react when given a particular type of “punishment”? Adopt a balance between reprimanding, spanking and reinforcement.

  2. There should be a balance with the two, they both ve their place . Punishing a child in anger and frustration will only lead to rebellion . Positive reinforcement promotes good behaviour but must be managed wisely.

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