Child Discipline: Negative Reinforcement Traps

The negative reinforcement trap frequently occurs between a mother and her son, although it can certainly happen with daughters too. The negative reinforcement trap occurs when a parent makes a request to their child and instead of following the request, the child negotiates or pleads their way out of fulfilling that request.

The negotiating and pleading is certainly not the behavior that the parent wishes for, but to put an end to the endless pleading they drop the request. The child then learns that to get out of complying with a parent’s demands, they simple need to wheedle their way out by complaining or begging.

Stop the Vicious Cycle From Happening
So how do you stop the negative reinforcement trap from occurring? Well, be firm with your child as to their need to comply with your demands. This means that when you do ask something of your child, it’s an important enough demand that complying is necessary. In other words, don’t put too many needless commands on your child or they won’t take your demands seriously.

What if you’re already embroiled in a negative reinforcement trap with your child? Then just start taking your discipline efforts seriously. Emphasize to your child that they can’t negotiate about issues like doing homework or performing household chores. Be gentle but firm. If your child at first has trouble following your demands, then use appropriate punishment, such as time-outs. For more information on discipline and your child, read our rewards and punishment article.

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