Parenting Tips to Using Rewards and Punishment

While the idea of rewarding and punishing a child for good or bad behavior seems fairly straightforward, there are many snares that parents fall in to. Learn about how to effectively use reinforcement and punishment when trying to influence your child’s behavior! It’s one of the top parenting skills you can learn!

Rewarding Kids for Good Behavior

  1. Type of Reward: Remember that there are many types of rewards, including anything from verbal praise to a sweet treat.

  2. 2. Appropriate Reward: Whatever reward you choose, remember that the reward needs to be appropriate. Decide how important the good behavior you are rewarding is and then try to think of a reward that is of parallel importance to your child.

  3. Be Specific: When you reward your child for good behavior, remember that you need to offer specific information about why they are being rewarded. This will help them increase the exact behavior you want them to.

    - ‘Sarah, thank you for sharing your toys with your little brother. I’m so happy to see how caring and responsible you are!’
    You have offered verbal praise and been specific about what exact behavior you are happy about.

  4. Be Timely: Offer the reward directly following the good behavior.

Punishing Children for Bad Behavior

  1. Punish Right Away: Just as with rewards, punishment has to be immediately administered. The importance of this can’t be emphasized enough. Countless studies have shown that bad behavior is stopped when punishment is immediately administered.

  2. Be Consistent: The bad behavior you’re trying to eliminate has to be consistently punished, not just usually or occasionally.

  3. Always Explain: It’s important to explain to your child why they are being punished. Discuss that in the future they can prevent punishment by stopping that behavior. Basically, you’re ‘reasoning’ with your child as to why they’ve been punished.

  4. Be Responsive: Punishment works better when there’s already a warm and caring relationship between you and your child. Learn more about being responsive in our parenting styles article!

  5. Help Build New Behaviors: Help your child to explore different ways of handling the situation that leads to bad behavior. If you punished your sons for fighting about control of the television, then help your sons figure out a way to solve their future television disputes (maybe taking turns).

Time Out
Punishment has one serious drawback. Often, children are so upset at receiving a punishment that they can’t focus on your explanation for that punishment. Some punishments in themselves are also unproductive, such as spanking. Remember that children imitate behaviors, and children may lash out violently to ‘punish’ their peers or siblings if that is how they are punished.

Time outs are a good form of punishment. The time-out location should be quiet and relatively free from stimulating toys or activities. Children’s bedrooms usually work, unless the bedroom contains your daughter’s favorite My Little Pony Palace. It’s punishing to the child because it interrupts whatever fun they’re having. The quiet gives them time to reflect on the bad behavior and the punishment. It also lets them calm down so that you can come in and talk to them after five minutes. During your talk, reason and explain why their behavior was punished. Then patch things up and never bring up the episode again.

Now that’s good parenting!