Yale Parenting Center
Making Families Stronger January 2017

From Alan Kazdin

Happy New Year

As the new year is beginning, many of us begin to think about what changes we can make in our lives.  Parenting is such an important job, and we often hope that we are being the best parents we can be. 

Punishment for misbehavior comes so naturally to us.  We barely even think about it in part because our brain is hard wired to pick up negative behaviors (not listening, arguing) and do something about them, much more than it is to notice positive behaviors (following directions, playing nicely) and do something about those. Despite our inclination, punishment is not very helpful in accomplishing our goals as parents (or in society) when that goal is just to get rid of some behavior.

Maybe the single most helpful parenting resolution you can make this year is to rely less on punishments as a response to your children.  Punishment alone does not work to change behavior.  It may stop the behavior in the moment, but it fails to eliminate it long term.  We hope this newsletter provides you with some helpful information on the topic of using punishment to change your child's behavior.  

For Parents

Myths of Punishment

For many parents, punishing the negative is their go to reaction.  There are some myths of using punishment that come from years of studying parents, children, and punishment rather extensively. 

Myth #1:  Punishment Will Teach the Child to Do the Behaviors I Want

Actually, we know that is not really true.  Punishment very temporarily stops the behavior, usually just at that time, but the behaviors you want do not pop up just because you punished the ones you do not want.  So if you punish your children with a reprimand or lecture because they are arguing, that could stop the arguing right then—it probably will.  But that does not increase the likelihood they will speak nicely to each other.  That would have to be praised separately.  Punishment is just not a good way of getting the positive behaviors you want or even reducing the behaviors you do not want beyond that moment.

Myth # 2:  More Intense or Longer Punishment is More Effective

Naturally, we think, “Maybe if up the ante and really increase the punishment such as longer periods of time  or more severe shouting and even spanking, now the child will learn his or her lesson.”  Actually, we know this is not really true.  More intense punishment does not increase the effectiveness in getting rid of a behavior.  In fact, children adapt quickly so the new punishment, even if it leads to more crying and being more upset, it does not actually have any more effects in changing behavior.  

Myth # 3 Explaining and Talking to My Child About the Misbehavior is Effective in Changing Behavior

Explaining things to a child is really beneficial.  It teaches thinking and language, shows how to be reasonable (because you are modeling that), and builds your relationship in a very positive way.  As part of child development and socializing, explanations are great.  However, explanations are not very good at all as a behavior-change technique.  That is, having the child understand does not translate to changing behavior.  We know that from our own behavior related to diet, exercise, smoking, and the list goes on—knowing and doing are just not very connected in human behavior.  Think of the surprise parents show when they say to their child, “If I have told you once, I have told you a thousand times not to . . . . “  We are frustrated as parents—after all the child “knows” not to do something  but does it anyway.  In psychology, the technical term for that is “normal.”  Explaining is great but not as a way of changing behavior.

So now what? If you are interested in learning more effective ways to change your child's behavior contact us or check out our streaming videos.

Click here for more information on streaming videos for parents.  

Mild Punishment Can be Effective

If you are already using positive reinforcement on a regular basis, a mild punishment technique can be effective to reduce negative behaviors.

Here are some tips

Stay calm.  Avoid yelling when your child misbehaves.  Instead calmly tell him what privilege he has lost.

Keep it short.  Keep the restriction only to the day of the misbehavior or even shorter.  Longer is NOT better and can make the behavior worse.

Avoid a wrestling match.  If you are taking something away and the child has a hold of it, choose something else to take away. 

Use it only for aggression.  Do not use a punishment for non compliance or whining.  Reserve it for more serious instances of physical or verbal aggression.

Praise all the other times.  When your child is talking nicely, playing nicely with siblings, and keeping his hands to himself, praise with enthusiasm.

Professional Interest

How to Help Parents Reduce Punishment

When working with parents of children with behavioral difficulties, it can be hard to reduce the amount of punishment a parent may be doing.  Often, parents are not sure what else they should do when their child misbehaves.  As you are teaching them effective positive reinforcement techniques, they still may be continuing to use punishment even if you have advised them not to. 

One tool to help with this dilemma is to use shaping.  Have parents choose one day a week when they commit to using the positive techniques and do not use punishments.  If they are able to do this, you should cheer their success.  You can add more days after a couple successful times.  This in combination with helping parents to use praise or point charts will really make a difference in the child's behavior and in the whole family.

Professional Video Streams

It's easy and convenient to get trained in the evidenced based Kazdin PMT.  You can watch pre-recorded webinars from the comfort of your home or office and even receive continuing education credits!

Click here for more info on the video streams webinars for professionals

What's Happening at the Center

Attention Connecticut Parents

Is your child struggling with behavioral difficulties?  We are open for enrollment in our new study.  Qualified parents will receive our evidence based treatment at no cost. 

Click here for more information on how to enroll

Dear YPC

My eleven-year-old child is really giving us a hard time.  He can be very rude to us and is always talking back.  We have been very consistent with him.  Each time he is rude he has a consequence.  Sometimes we take away all electronics for the week.  Other times we have tried taking away basketball practice.  Right now he hasn't used his phone in over a month because he just hasn't shown us that he can be respectful.  Nothing seems to work.  He continues to be disrespectful and actually gets worse even when we consistently take something away.  What should we do?
Sincerely, Dave

Dear Dave,
Thank you so much for writing us.  It can be really hard when your child is disrespectful at home.  Although being consistent in your responses is important, you may want to re think what you are consistently doing.  If you respond to disrespectful behavior with a punishment, you are not doing much to change that behavior.  You are just teaching him that if he is rude, he will lose something.  It is more effective to strengthen the behavior you want instead of the verbal aggression.  You want him to speak nicely to family members and stay calm.  The best way to get rid of the disrespectful tone and words, is to reinforce speaking respectfully.  Start by praising him every time he talks nicely to you.  Maybe set up a a little program where he can earn some special privileges for doing so.  This approach will create a more dramatic and longer lasting change.  Good luck!

Winter Recess

The Yale Parenting Center is now open after our winter break.  We look forward to hearing from you!
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