Is it Better to Reward or Punish?

Whenever possible, reward rather than punish. Rewarding children’s positive behaviors gives you reasons to tell them they are okay, and they are getting better, which helps build up their self-confidence and motivation to keep trying. Paying too much attention to negative behavior digs in deeper children’s notions of being a failure and never doing anything right. Punishment can also lead to emotional side effects such as guilt, frustration, fear, and withdrawal, which could evolve into more serious behavior problems.

Structuring a behavior modification program around rewarding positive behaviors is, however, easier said than done. Most programs are aimed at reducing negative behaviors, rather than encouraging positive behaviors. This is partly because wrong behaviors stare you in the face; they demand you do something about them, Now! Right behaviors, on the other hand, do not compel you to do anything. So if Tony does something right at the same time that Derek does something wrong, you’re more likely to walk in Derek’s direction than Tony’s.

This was supported in a study showing that teachers spent 77 per cent of their interactions with hyperactive children in negative controlling behaviors, and only 23 per cent in positive attending behaviors. When teachers increased their approval ratios, hyperactive children’s attention to schoolwork went up 62 to 96 per cent (Weissenburger and Loney, 1977).