Reward and punishment – what is the correct balance?


You need a license in order to fly an airplane or to drive a car, but there is no such requirement for parenting. Yet, the result of our actions as parents will strongly influence our children’s behavior and state of mental health.

Today’s tip will focus on shaping behavior by providing appropriate rewards and punishment, and adjusting for anything that comes in the middle.

1. Rewards

One of the most common mistakes parents make is not to acknowledge the small steps children take towards exhibiting our desired behavior. Offering simple verbal praise will motivate children to to go all the way. An example of this would be when you would like your child to keep his/her room tidy. Even though the room is not quite how you would like it to be, you could say, ‘Thank you for tidying your desk. That makes me happy’.

2. Punishment

A good plan should aim to punish the behavior and not the person. It is also essential to explain why you are upset, and to have the child participate in the learning process. One way to do this is to change your face when your are upset and to re-enact the situation with the correct behavior. An example of this would be teaching a child not to throw trash on the floor. With a frown on your face, say why you are upset, then replay the scene and allow the child to throw away the trash correctly. Then you may reward the child.

3. Flexibility

Despite our commitment to provide a consistent reward and punishment environment for our children, sometimes you should allow for times when you either do not reward good behavior or punish inappropriate behavior. These are the times your child will be able to figure it out for themselves.

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