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6 reasons to avoid using punishment

It is tempting to think that using punishment will solve a behaviour problem. These behaviours need to be change but most do not need a heavy handed approach. There are some people that think using punishment is the way to go, including using physical punishment. The problem with this is:
  1. Punishment often teaches aggression. The use of verbal and physical aggression as punishment role models that aggression is an okay way to respond to situations. When anyone receives punishment they learn to be aggressive through observational learning.
  2. Punishment causes greater intensity of responses. The emotional and physical response to punishment is greater than that of other approaches. This increase in intensity creates situations where the person learns to become increasingly more and more aggressive.
  3. Punishment tends to produce only temporary results. Generally the behaviour is stopped for a short time because of the punishment. It then reoccurs and needs ongoing monitoring and more punishment. It just makes more sense try and get a more permanent solution.
  4. People learn to avoid both punishment and the people who punish. Punishment can make people learn or improve skills that can help them avoid being punished. They can learning to tell better lies, become more secretive and blame others. Those getting punished can begin to avoid the people who punish them. This means the punisher looses the chance to control any undesirable behaviour or to teach desirable alternatives.
  5. Punishment can create wrong, negative emotions. First, it can create negative emotions for the wrong situations. Punishing a young child for running onto the street can instil a healthy fear of traffic which is the emotion desired. But it might create fear of the parent which is not helpful or the emotion that was wanted. Second, if punishment is used frequently, it can create general emotional responses such as anxiety, shame, guilt and poor self-worth.
  6. Punishment can affect other behaviours as well. If punishment is given for lots of different behaviours, people can generalise the punishment by relating it to every behaviour. Afraid of doing the wrong thing, they don’t do anything and become inhibited. This can lead to them being afraid to speak up, make a decision or do things because they do not want to be punished for doing something wrong.

There is over whelming evidence that punishment has poor results and fails to bring about the change in behaviour desired. Those that talk about back when I was a kid I got my fair share of belt and it didn't do me any harm seem to forget one thing. That they learnt from their parents that it is okay to hit someone and physically hurt them if they have done something wrong. I see that as a harmful attitude as it promotes the idea that the strong can dominate the weak and violence and aggression is a good thing.

So focus on rewarding and encouraging appropriate behaviour as much as you can and try to avoid using punishment. If it is bad behaviour use consequences but never physical punishment or verbal aggression.

(Refer to any book on introductory psychology to check out the evidence on punishment. I used Behaviour Principles in Everyday Life, 3rd ed. by Baldwin, John. D. & Baldwin, Janice. I. published 1998 by Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, USA as my reference for this post.)
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