How do you discipline your child? We asked 24 parents, and 20 of them admitted to spanking their child at least once. In behavioral studies, 3 approaches to eliciting a desired behavior can also be found in parents’ discipline styles: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, and punishment.
Positive reinforcement entails providing an event (like a reward or praise) that increases the probability of the desired behavior being repeated. With negative reinforcement, a desired behavior is drawn out through the elimination of an averse event (e.g. child learns to wake up earlier for school every day because getting caught in traffic makes him nauseous). Punishment, often confused with negative reinforcement, involves increasing an averse event to decrease or stop negative behavior.
Child experts agree that, of the 3, positive reinforcement is the best way to draw out positive behavior in children and even keep negative behavior in check.
Positive reinforcement vs. bribery According to Leah Ibañez-Yumul, educator and child development specialist at The SchoolRoom, Inc. in Ortigas, some parents mistakenly associate positive reinforcement with bribing or giving material rewards. “In bribery, you promise something bigger and more valuable than the behavior you are expecting,” she says, “You also tend to negotiate or beg, even increasing he value of the prize just to make sure that the behavior you wish is performed.
“Giving a child verbal encouragement or small tokens after they exhibit a certain desirable behavior does not qualify for bribery.”
Other parents steer clear from positve reinforcers for fear that they might spoil their child. However, Ibañez-Yumul says that it is far from spoiling if the reward given is commensurate to the positive behavior exhibited by the child. Material rewards need not be expensive things; small tokens like stickers or erasers are hardly decadent. Non-material reinforcers are highly recommended: a hug, a wink, a compliment for a job well done.
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