Punishment: You may get what you want, but not like what you get.


A common phrase I hear in my travels in schools, “what is going to be done about this behavior?”. What this typically translates into is, how is this kid going to be punished? Although most people these days appear to be strong proponents of positive reinforcement, punishment stills seems to be the more preferred form of consequence used in schools as a behavior management system. Don’t get me wrong, punishment has does have a place. However, along with punishment, there are certain unintended side-effects about which you must be aware and must take into consideration. To ignore them will be your undoing.

Punishment’s behavior reductive power is evident, therefore it is so easy for us to revert to punitive strategies when it comes to problematic behaviors. However, unlike positive reinforcement strategies, punishment strategies
cannot be used to teach new behaviors. Punishment does not exclude all the possible alternatives to the punished behavior, only the one targeted for punishment. So when you yell at those students to stop running in the hall, you have not punished all the other possible behaviors such as walking quickly, or putting hands on the wall, or spinning as they walk down the hall. Therefore, the problem with purely punitive strategies lies in that you are not teaching kids what you want them to do.

When punishment procedures are used consistently and repeatedly over time teachers and administrators should be mindful that unintended side-effects could occur. Other unintended side-effect include escape and avoidance behaviors. Ever feel like kids are saying and doing what you want only to pacify you, not because they truly want to comply. This is not a behavior analytic term, but some people call it pseudo-compliance. Eventually students will get to the point where they will engage in behaviors that merely avoid having to hear your requests and commands because they have been conditioned as negative experiences. I like to use note passing as an example. Making students stay after class doesn’t necessarily stop students from passing notes in class. It just stops the way they were passing notes in class. It does not exclude other possible ways of exchanging notes in class. Similar behavior, but all in attempt to avoid being caught, and thereby being punished. Now you have behaviors developed in your classroom which you did not intend.

So, what are we going to be do about this behavior? A common expression I use when referring to punishment procedures is, you may get what you want, but you may not like what you get. Well my suggestion is teach and reinforce what you really want. If your child or student is doing something you do not like, teach them the proper alternative and reinforce that behavior when they do it. Punishment may still seem to be a more preferred form of consequence used in schools as a behavior management system because of it’s behavior reductive power. Again, I do feel punishment has does have a place. However, we must remember that consequences must also teach. Below are a just a few resources the check out. Love and Logic is by far one the best teaching and parenting philosophies out there in regards to using consequences that help children learn and not just react.

Consequences That Teach

Love and Logic

Using Logical Consequences to Teach and Guide

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