Reinforcement or punishment as behavior management strategies in children - Nayi Disha
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Can the negative behavior of a child be managed with easy-to use strategies, to see visible changes?

The short answer is yes, but the means to it is a much longer journey the parents need to take with the child.

1. Positive or negative reinforcement
Reinforcement
can be positive or negative, both of which serve to increase behavior positively or negatively. Positive reinforcement can be used to increase a desired behavioral response. For example, complimenting your child with a treat for sharing his/her toy with a sibling can increase the likelihood of the child repeating the behavior. Negative reinforcement can be used to increase a behavioral response (a positive one) by indirectly having the child drop an associated negative action. For example, repeatedly asking your child to clean up their play area may get him/her to clean it, in order to avoid being constantly reminded to do so. This negative reinforcement (nagging by the parent) served to increase the likelihood of the child cleaning up (positive behavioral action) after play.

2. Positive or negative punishment
Reinforcement must not be confused with punishment which serves to decrease a behavioral trait by positively or negatively influencing the child’s behavioral action. Punishment is a process by which a consequence immediately follows a behavior which decreases the future frequency of that behavior.   Positive punishment works by presenting a negative consequence after an undesired behavior is exhibited, making the behavior less likely to happen in the future. For example, scolding a child for breaking a toy in front of his friends. The act of publically scolding the child may stop him from repeating the act due to humiliation in front of his peers.
Negative punishment on the other hand happens when a certain desired stimulus is removed after a particular undesired behavior is exhibited, resulting in the behavior happening less often in the future. For example, when two children are fighting over who gets to play with a toy, are punished by the parent taking their toy away. The loss of the chance to play with the toy by the parent taking it away may stop them from repeating the act. Punishment as a behavioral management strategy may not necessarily work to help modify recurring behavioral responses for the long-term in a productive manner.

3. Mindfully ignoring the child’s actions, and engage them in purposeful actively by keeping them preoccupied.
A simple yet effective way of behavior modification is accompanying praise while ignoring a child’s negative behavioral action. The fine balance between praise and mindfully ignoring the child can help alter the child’s compulsion towards negative behavior. For example, if a child is caught hitting his/her playmate, the key to handling the situation skillfully is by ignoring the act i.e. hitting, and taking the child being hit, away. Immediately divert the child who was hitting into harnessing their energy on something productive(e.g. painting), accompanied by showering praise on the child on their work of art. This balance when maintained over time will divert the child into not seeking attention by hitting his/her playmate.

4. The key is in being consistent
Be immediate and consistent with situations or people involved. After a behavioral action has occurred, ensure both the parents involved respond immediately and consistently. For example, it is counterproductive if the father gives chocolate to a child who is adamant about eating sugar, while the mother dons the role of a strict parent. A situation such as this fails to be consistent in regulating the child’s stubborn response to desiring chocolate when it needs to be avoided. An exercise such as this maybe daunting when the child is being raised in a large family where it is equally daunting to get all the care givers to be consistent with their response to a child’s behavioral action.

DISCLAIMER: Please note that this guide is for information purposes only. Please consult a qualified health practitioner for safe management.

Use the ABC chart template to record your child’s behaviour challenges and address it in a context-dependent manner.

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