The Best Advice You Could Ever Get About Punishments V/S Reinforcements

If you are upset about your child’s behaviour, your first reaction would be to punish the child. Obviously, you want them to stop behaving the way they are. Punishment is a method used to decrease or eliminate undesired or unacceptable behaviour. That sounds like a fair point. But what is your reaction – when they are behaving in a desired and acceptable manner? No reaction or simply unnoticed – almost every time.

Ignoring a child is fruitful only when you wish to stop the behaviours that they might be using to get your attention, e.g., throwing tantrums, or interrupting your conversations and work. But again, why is the child using these methods to get your attention. Because not noticing the child’s good behaviour and always only reacting to their bad ones makes them feel that’s the only way to the parent’s/caregiver’s attention. So, technically, we adults are increasing their bad behaviour.

Well, what can be done then? You don’t want them to behave badly but you can’t ignore them.

So, what is the right way to punish them? Let’s find out.

There are two types of punishment –

❖ Positive Punishment
➢ Do or add something unpleasant to the situation to decrease behaviour.
➢ E.g., scolding, extra chores, forcing them to do things they dislike, etc.

❖ Negative Punishment
➢ Take away something pleasant to decrease the behaviour.
➢ E.g., Take away their favourite toy, remove screentime, etc.

It works most of the time but it will also accompany another tantrum followed by extra work and patience required on your end. To avoid this chaotic situation, alternatively, you may try reinforcements. Unlike punishments, reinforcements help increase the desired behaviour and similar to them there are two types of it.

❖ Positive Reinforcement
➢ Doing something pleasant to increase good behaviour.
➢ E.g., Praising, extra screentime/playtime, rewards (to be used wisely)

❖ Negative Reinforcement
➢ Adding something unpleasant to increase good behaviour.
➢ E.g., Adding pressure to perform well.

There is a thin line difference between Positive Punishment and Negative Reinforcement. In Positive Punishment, the child has to face an unpleasant situation after an unacceptable behaviour while in Negative Reinforcement, the child is already facing or may face a displeasing consequence that they can avoid by displaying good behaviour. In other words, it’s enforcement (unlikable) on the child until you get the desired results.

Let’s take a scenario – You want your child to finish their homework, but they are busy playing a video game and just disinterested in the task.

What are the ways can you handle this situation?

❖ Positive Punishment – Scold them, “Why can’t to finish your homework? How many reminders do you need? Shut your game down and pick your book.”
➢ Result – The child would toss the pencil away, throw a tantrum, and might as well talk back or shut down to your yelling.

❖ Negative Punishment – Make it unpleasant for them, “I am taking away your video game because you are not finishing your homework.”
➢ Result – The video game is already gone, and so are the chances of finishing the homework. Unpleasant for them or unpleasant for you?
❖ Negative Reinforcement – Try to come up with a midway solution, if it’s a 2-page homework, then maybe ask them, “Finish one page of homework and then you may go may play your video games”. Or “Finish your homework, until then I will pause your game, you can restart after the work is done.”
➢ Result – This time probably, your child will half-heartedly finish the work. But the chances of increasing the desired behaviour rise.

❖ Positive Reinforcement – “I see you are playing the video game now but that will leave you less time to finish your homework. Won’t it be better if you finish your homework first then you can take the rest of your time to play the game freely.”
➢ Result – Helps the child think and analyse the situation. There are no threats, no scolding but a peaceful scene. Both your child and you come to an amicable resolution. Also, this method will have long-term benefits since the child will start analysing future situations and have better decision-making skills.

To sum it up –

Positive Reinforcement helps your child relate their activities to the consequence. It would mostly tend towards a desirable outcome for both the child as well as the parent. It also means associating good behaviour with rewards. Intangible rewards are gratifying and influence the mind for a longer period compared to tangible ones. For e.g., getting praised or extra playtime will always feel good since that is what a child wants regularly. But when we try to replace these with tangible rewards like stars or coupons or candies, it becomes less interesting after a certain time. Also, candies are unhealthy.

While having said that, Positive Punishment is a common and first sought-out method because it’s easy for the brain to work up when you are annoyed. Parenting can be frustrating and we parents are normal humans who can get irritated running behind a tiny human. But, remember to take a deep breath every time your brain pushes you to yell at the child. Take a few seconds to imagine the scenario, is it going to help you? If not, then again take a deep breath and think what can be the best way to deal with it. Without engaging your mind in the thoughts that make you angry, think of a conflict-free way to manage the situation.


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