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Concerned about punishment to child causing behaviour problems

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Practicing since : 1981
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I am concerned that his punishment is causing his behavior problems
Posted Tue, 17 Jul 2012 in Growth and Development in Children
Answered by Dr. Anil Grover 2 hours later
Hello there,

Thanks for writing in.
I am a medical specialist with an additional degree in cardiology. I have done a certificate course in behavioral sciences therefore feel qualified to answer your question. I read your mail and noted that age of child is three and a half year. I will divide my answer in three parts:
First Part is:
To punish or not to punish, that is the question
It is really difficult to talk about punishment these days, but it is important to do so. One problem in discussing punishment arises from the strong feelings and values associated with punishment that are based on thousands of years of traditions. Another problem arises from confusing two distinct concepts of punishment: the traditional concept and the more recent concept in behavioral psychology.

Traditionally, punishment is something that someone in authority imposes on someone else as a penalty for a misdeed. It is something that is done to people to make them feel punished enough to pay for their misdeed. We all know that traditional punishments are not always effective in changing behavior. In, your case some unwarranted behavioral changes are occurring which you think are as a result of punishment.

Meanwhile, psychologists found a neat way to make sure that punishment is always effective in changing behavior – by definition. In psychology, any stimulus that reduces the strength of a behavior in some measurable way is a punishment for that behavior. Punishment is something that happens to behavior rather than something that is done to a person.

The similarities between these two concepts make it difficult to understand the differences. Both involve unpleasant consequences. And traditional punishments sometimes XXXXXXX the criteria for punishment in psychology by changing behavior. It is easy to believe that we are applying behavioral principles when we impose traditional punishments on children, that we are “doing behavior modification.” When we succeed in making children feel punished, we sometimes mistakenly believe that we are punishing their behavior. Even when our punishments are not producing results, we persist, secure in the knowledge that behavior will eventually change. I have seen trained and well meaning psychologists fall into this trap and admit to having done so myself. But just because children feel punished does not mean that we have succeeded in punishing their behavior.

Traditional punishments make children feel punished even when having little or no effect on their behavior. In psychology, punishment is always effective in changing behavior, even when children don't feel punished. Not only is it possible for children's behavior to be punished without punishing children, it is possible for their behavior to be punished while at the same time being nice to them. How can this be? You can prevent misbehavior by more creative innovative ways:

Preventing the misbehavior. The misbehavior can be prevented by not allowing the child to go out to play after school. He can't be late if he's at home when dinner is served. The consequence is not designed to impose punishment on the child but to be sure he's home when dinner is served. A minor difference to be sure. But children can appreciate it, especially when they are allowed to use the phone, have friends come to the house, play outside in the yard, watch TV, and play video games. Mom might even take time to play a game with him. The message is, “You don't seem to be able to be responsible for coming home on time, so for the time being, you must remain at home. You're not punished. You just can't leave the house or the yard before dinner.” Of course, if he's not allowed to go out for weeks, it begins to feel like punishment. Using this strategy for a few days then letting him try again and repeating it whenever he is late will eventually be effective. He has to learn a new skill — being aware of the time.

Correcting problems caused by the misbehavior. One of the problems caused by the misbehavior is that mom doesn't finish cleaning up dinner in time for her TV show. “You know, when you are late for dinner, I don't get out of the kitchen until after 7:00 o'clock. You can solve that problem by taking responsibility for cleaning up dinner whenever you are late.” A very unpleasant consequence that has nothing to do with punishment. Mom is just asking her child to be responsible for his behavior.

Traditional punishments involve taking away something the child likes or imposing something the child doesn't like that have nothing to do with the behavior, but rather with punishing children. Logical consequences may also involve taking away something children like, but only something logically related to the misbehavior, something children are not yet able to handle responsibly. Or they may involve imposing something children dislike, but only something logically related to the misbehavior, usually by having children take responsibility for correcting the problems they have caused. Logical consequences are an effective means of teaching children responsibility.

With Best Wishes. If there are any questions I will be most happy to answer.

Dr Anil Grover,
M.B.;B.S, M.D. (Internal Medicine) D.M.(Cardiology); Certificate Course in Behavioral Sciences.
http://www/ WWW.WWWW.WW
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