Oct 30, 2006

Every child responds differently to discipline. Some children are naturally more defiant and require more creative strategies, while others obey with very little effort. The key to effective discipline is finding a good fit between the child’s personality & currency and your discipline approach.

From a behavior modification model, the three types of discipline are positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement and punishment. Positive reinforcement is rewarding a child for a desired behavior immediately to encourage that behavior more frequently. Negative reinforcement is encouraging a desired behavior by the removal of something unpleasant to the child. Punishment is any change in environment for the child after a behavior that decreases the frequency of that behavior.

While punishment is the least effective method of behavior modification, it is the most widely used technique by parents. Positive reinforcement has been shown to yield the most success, and eliminates the need for spanking and groundings.

In learning how to positively reinforce children, however, it is important to be aware of what exactly you are reinforcing. If a child cries about not being able to understand his homework and you promise to buy him a toy if he tries, you may be reinforcing solicitation of rewards. In the future, he may say he can not do it again, hoping you will promise another toy.

Here is a practical example of how positive reinforcement works:

Your child is always reluctant to complete his chores. He never gets around to finishing the jobs he starts, and then gets in trouble at night when they are not done. You tell him for every chore he completes, he gets a 15 minute computer break. (Your child would need to value playing on the computer for this to work- this is called your child’s “currency”. In other words, what does your child consider a payout that motivates behavior?). When your child is positively reinforced with a reward, he is likely to complete another chore to get more computer time.

Negative reinforcement is also effective, and works for more defiant children. Here is a real-world example:

Your child never wants to go to bed at night and then is exhausted at school the next day. You also expect him to make his bed before school each day, which he hates. You tell him that if he goes to bed on time, he will not have to make his bed in the morning. When your child is negatively reinforced by removing an unwanted stimulus (making the bed), he is more likely to go to bed on time.

Punishing children is very common, but often creates defiant and resistant children. It is important to recognize that punishment is useful when the behavior is being punished, rather than the child. This is easily confused, and often results in humiliation and belittling of children. Most researchers agree that punishment temporarily changes behavior, but does not carry over into longterm results.

Here is an example of punishment, for comparison rather than implementation:

Your child talks back to you frequently. She is mouthy and does not listen to rules. You ground her from talking on the phone and seeing her friends for two days. She changes her behavior so that you will give her freedom to do what she likes again, but once she is no longer grounded, she is mouthy again a few days later.

Positive and negative reinforcements are relatively basic ideas that can be implemented easily into existing patterns of discipline. Discover what your child’s currency is, and whether or not rewarding good behavior will be effective. If not, figure out what you can remove from them that will encourage the behaviors you desire.

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