Disciplining Children: Is Punishment Or Reward More Effective?

    Disciplining Children: Is Punishment Or Reward More Effective?

    If you’re a millennial or a member of an older generation, your parents probably disciplined you with punishment growing up. But as we become parents ourselves, we wonder if there’s a more effective way to discipline our own kids. We often ask which is better: punishment or reward? In this article, we will discuss the two methods and try to determine which we should be using to train our children.

    The psychology behind changing behavior

    In 1948, American psychologist B.F. Skinner theorized that behavior could be molded through reinforcement and punishment. Reinforcement encouraged a person to repeat the behavior, while punishment aimed to lessen it. Knowing both will help us understand how punishment or reward works.

    Positive reinforcement (or reward) adds a consequence of good behavior. For instance, if your kid finishes their homework, you give them TV time. Negative reinforcement, meanwhile, removes a consequence to encourage that behavior. An example: If your kid finishes their homework, they don’t have to do chores.

    Like positive reinforcement, positive punishment adds a consequence, but this time to discourage the behavior. For example, if your kid doesn’t clean their room, they get spanked. Negative punishment is taking away something as a result of that behavior. In this case, if your kid doesn’t clean their room, you take away their phone.

    According to experts, in the case of punishment or reward, the latter works better and faster to change behavior.

    When to use punishment or reward

    Punishments aggravate problems and shut down learning. It triggers a fight or flight response, bypassing complex thinking in the frontal cortex to make way for basic defense mechanisms. Instead of eliminating the behavior, punishment makes the child focus on simply not getting caught the next time. They also feel negative emotions like anger, shame, and defiance.

    However, here’s what we have to keep in mind when thinking about punishment or reward.

    Experts say that rewards benefit kids in a number of ways. It can help boost self-esteem, for one. Hearing constant negative feedback can mess with their self-confidence and they become wired to think they can do no right. It improves the relationship between parent and child, because both are happy. However, rewards don’t always have to be objects. It can come in the form of affection, praise, quality time, and attention.

    But rewards can also have effects on a child’s internal motivation and creativity. A study showed that rewarded children tended to reduce their motivation to do a certain behavior. Another study found that participants asked to perform a task using creative thinking took longer when they were told that they were going to be rewarded. In this case, the reward itself became the end goal instead of the task at hand. It made them less engaged in the activity.

    A note on physical punishment

    Child behavior experts warn parents against physical discipline because it poses serious risks to their child. Spanking and hitting can result in greater aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury, and mental health problems. It is simply not possible to “beat out” the behavior you do not want.

    Key Takeaway

    Instead of using punishment or reward as our main tools of discipline, we can instead try to address the underlying reasons for their behavior. We can also motivate instead of rewarding them; the difference being that you impart a sense of confidence and trust in your child that they will do the right thing. Similarly, we can help them instead of punish them. When they’re showing an undesirable behavior, you can help them understand why they shouldn’t do it, instead of automatically punishing them without telling them why it was wrong.

    In disciplining our kids, we have to let our unconditional love for them rule above all. When we show empathy and really take the time to listen to them, the higher the chance that they do the same and listen to us. Children need help understanding and controlling their emotions. It’s our job as parents to help them do that.

    Learn more about Parenting here.

    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Fact-checked by

    Kristel Lagorza

    Written by China Logarta · Updated Apr 29, 2022