Are you a parent or an educator?
You may find yourself wondering: should we punish our children or our students for negative behaviour?
The answer is not simple; on the one hand, some educators and psychologists believe that we need to punish negative behaviour, for children to learn how to behave. On the other hand, others appear not so sure of the advantages of punishing.
A revolutionary idea
Since the time children first went to school, even up to the mid 20th century, punishment was in the foreground. Teachers believed that a child could learn to behave if he got punished, and parents supported this idea. In those years, punishment was mostly corporal; most teachers were using the cane, even for less important reasons. They believed that this was the best way for children to learn, and corporal pain would establish in them what was right and what was wrong.
Of course, things have changed a lot since then.
Education nowadays doesn’t accept any corporal punishment, considering it physical abuse. Not all countries embrace this idea, though; Kenya, for example, is known for using corporal punishment in schools, even though the government has banned it. It’s a habit that slowly dies off, but it’s still practised in some schools, especially in rural areas.
In the West, this strategy of behaviour management has died off. Teachers are not allowed to touch a child, let alone hurt him. Behaviour management is based mainly on reward and punishment.
According to B.F. Skinner, psychologist and behaviourist, a negative behaviour which is rewarded tends to be repeated. On the contrary, a negative behaviour which is punished tends to be avoided.
On this line, when a child acts in a positive and expected way, the teacher praises or gives him a reward to encourage this behaviour. However, when a child behaves negatively or has been disruptive, the teacher tends to take away an object or an allowance as a consequence.
Pros for punishment
According to some educators, when a child behaves negatively, punishment can be useful if the teacher intends to teach him to be responsible and the existence of consequences in our lives. In this way, he will reflect on his behaviour and try to improve it.
Some of the advantages of punishment are the following:
– It can shape behaviour. When the child gets an allowance away because of harmful behaviour, he will learn what’s unkind, disrespectful or dangerous to do. It will teach him what’s acceptable and what’s unacceptable behaviour.
– It can teach responsibility. The child learns to take responsibility for its actions and accept the consequences.
– It can teach respect. The child learns to respect the people who surround him (teachers, parents, classmates, friends).
Cons for punishment
– It can traumatise the child, especially if it happens often and with no particular reason. It can hurt its mental health.
– It can teach the child fear. Fear is not respect. If a child fears a teacher because she punishes him, the child will not learn respect.
-It can lead the child to the assumption that he is a bad person and everything he does is wrong. Children can easily believe that a teacher punishes them and not their behaviour.
– When punishment is shown with shouting and violence, it can encourage the child to adopt the same practice with others. In this case, we teach him violence.
-It can impact on their learning, increasing the achievement gap in the curricular areas.
So, should we punish negative behaviour?
My answer is that discipline while educating or raising a child is necessary for behaviour management. It’s essential for children to learn respect, boundaries, and be able to identify positive from negative behaviour.
To achieve this, it’s crucial to use punishment with caution and help children to see it as an opportunity to take some time and reflect on their behaviour.
Restorative approaches are, also, essential. It would be best if we kept in mind that it’s important to punish the behaviour and not the child and follow-up. To go back and talk to the child, listen to his thoughts and help him to identify his feelings; to explain the reason we took away that toy or that allowance; to communicate how we/the affected person felt; to help him think of strategies to solve the problem.
It’s far more effective to help our children or students learn to control and manage their emotions and make better choices.
Sara Tsompanidi is a content writer, based in Edinburgh. Her educational background in primary teaching and her multicultural experiences have given her a broad base to approach education topics. She especially enjoys sharing her experiences and providing practical advice to educators, who are making their first steps in Scotland.
(You can contact her here: firstname.lastname@example.org or find more about her here: https://twitter.com/STsompanidi)