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Using Punishments Effectively

Do Not Punish to Embarrass
Punishment should not embarrass, humiliate, or degrade children. Punishment is meant to teach your child that misbehaving is not a good decision and behaving is a good decision. When punishment embarrasses your child, it creates unhealthy feelings. The embarrassment will only cause your child to think of you as mean or unfair. When this occurs, your child will not learn to make better decisions. He will not learn cooperation. Your child may strike back in anger, which can start a negative cycle.

Do not punish your child in front of other children. Take your child aside. Tell him what he has done and that he will be punished. Talk about it later, when the two of you are alone.

Use Punishment Consistently
Punishment must be administered consistently. Once you decide to punish a misbehavior, do so always. If you punish only when you feel like it, you will make the problem worse. Once you tell your child that he is going to be punished, follow through. You must use punishment consistently, even after you have had a long, miserable day. You can never miss or let the misbehavior slide-not even once. Many parents make this mistake. Children love it. It motivates them to test you-to see if you will punish them this time.

Angela wanted to know why punishment did not have any effect on her son, Bryan. She explained that she "tried everything. Nothing bothers him. He never does what I ask him to do." After more discussion, I learned that Angela punishes Brian once or twice a week, while he did what he pleased all the other times. Angela did not follow through consistently; Bryan could misbehave several times a day and only be punished once or twice a week. This is a tradeoff most children would make gladly. Angela and Bryan were trapped in a pattern. She did not punish consistently because she believed it did not work. He continued to misbehave because he got away with it most of the time. Angela worked out a plan that used positive feedback and punishment, and emphasized cooperation and good decisions. She used small punishments, but she used them consistently. As Angela's behavior improved, Bryan's behavior improved.

Be Reasonable
Punishment must be reasonable. Short and simple punishments are more effective than harsh punishments. React appropriately to the size of the misbehavior. Do not restrict your son for a month because he did not finish his vegetables. Take away his dessert. When punishments are reasonable, children learn what behaviors are important.

Punishment should be administered as soon after the misbehavior as possible. The more immediate, the more effective the punishment will be. This is especially true with young children. The only exception to this rule occurs when you are angry. Do not punish immediately when you are angry. Wait until you settle down, just as Linda did when she caught Nancie skipping school. You might say, "You will be punished for this, but I have to cool down first."

With misbehaviors that are recurrent, punishment should only be used after you have tried several positive remedies. Most adults think of punishment first. Most adults think that you always treat a misbehavior with a punishment. You can improve misbehavior by using positive feedback to strengthen the opposite of the misbehavior. Your two children argue constantly. Instead of saying, "If you do not stop fighting, you will both be grounded for the weekend," point out the opposite. The opposite of arguing is cooperating. Use encouragement and positive feedback when they are cooperating and sharing: "It's good to see you having fun. You should be proud of yourselves for the way you are sharing the computer." Immediately resorting to punishment traps many parents. No one likes how it feels. One way to escape this trap is to focus on positive behavior.

Your Turn
Pam cannot understand why Steven will not behave. Pam wants to be more positive but sometimes forgets. Steven is a very active child. He gets into things he is not supposed to touch. Whenever Steven does not mind, Pam becomes upset and frustrated. Pam yells a lot. She spanks, too. Nothing seems to work. What can you tell Pam about her behavior?

Pam needs to realize that her style of punishment is not working. Steven has become immune to the yelling and the spanking, and his misbehavior is not improving. Pam needs to control herself. Getting angry and frustrated is only aggravating the situation. Her anger may be rewarding to Steven. Most of all, Pam must remember to be positive. The strongest tool she has is positive feedback.

Punishment works, but it is not easy to use. Positive feedback is much easier to use and more fun to use. Positive feedback creates internal motivation in children. It teaches self-discipline and promotes a healthy and pleasant family climate. Successful parents emphasize the positive. Positive feedback, extinction, and punishment are always in effect, whether you are conscious of them or not. The key to successful parenting is to be aware of these principles and use them to your advantage.

Parents who are only interested in controlling misbehavior will punish. Parents who want children to be cooperative will balance positive feedback with extinction and redirection and use a minimal amount of punishment. If you emphasize the positive, you will only need a minimal amount of punishment.



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From How to Behave So Your Children Will, Too!. Copyright Sal Severe, 2000. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, click here or on the book cover. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.


August 30, 2014



Keep it hot (or cold)! No one likes cold soup or warm, wilted salad. Use a thermos or ice pack in your child's lunch box to help keep his lunch fresh until it's time to eat.


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