I was born to a United States Marine Corp officer and this is where my love for behavior began. Both my parents taught my brother and I that for every action there is a reaction. Meaning, if we knew what the reaction was going to be – could we not control our world by changing our actions and producing the reactions we were looking for?
This was my first behavioral lesson. My second came when I worked at Juvenile Hall as a unit coach. This experience demonstrated the effects punishment has on our children. There is no doubt parents produce replications of themselves in the children they raise. Parents influence religious preferences and behavioral habits including how someone copes, expresses love, eats, exercises, and lives!
Every single day, with exception to Saturday – Juvenile Hall was something. Kids who acted like adults, yelled every cuss word, spat, flick things, threw things, and typically acted distant and removed from the world. Something special happened on Saturday though. These adult-like children developed a sense of respect and manners on Saturday – the day their parents came to visit them. The change was truly significant and definitely noticeable – an effect of punishment - proven by the change of behavior as a result of the presentation of a parent.
Punishment is not a form of changing behavior. Punishment aims to stop behavior and as a result causes some very significant reactions. First, punishment builds resentment in those who are being punished. Typically this is because the behavior which is being punished has been done many times and only now are they getting caught – and sometimes others (including the parents) are doing the same thing and not getting punished. As a result, resentment builds out of a sense for the lack of fairness in who/what is being punished. Second, punishment teaches no new behavior – it simply attempts to stop a behavior which is occurring. If someone behaves, they have a need too. The question is not how do we stop a behavior – rather how do we replace an old behavior with a new behavior that is more acceptable. Finally, punishment hides true behavior. It broke my heart to hear parents tell me that thier child would have never done this behavior if they were around. EXACTLY! They were right to say that because punishment suppresses the behavior only around the punisher. Once the punisher leaves, the behavior which got these kids in trouble starts all over again.
Our children will make mistakes and so will we. In my opinion, punishment should only be used if a child is behaving in a life-threatening way. To say STOP (playing in the busy street) may be appropriate, but only when followed by START (playing in the back yard). Failure to utilize START after STOP means your child will play in the busy street only when you are not around - hense increasing their overall risk because you will not be there to assist should an incident occur.
Stay tuned - my next blog will be on negative reinforcment - differtiating punishment and reinforcement strategies for behavior change. If you are not punishing you are reinforcing - and trust me reinforcement is the way to go!
As always, if you have any comments or questions – please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.