The Differences Between Positive and Negative Punishment

Punishment is a technique that is often used to modify children's behavior. However, there are two types of punishment: positive and negative. Learn about the differences between the two in the following article.
The Differences Between Positive and Negative Punishment

Last update: 22 November, 2019

Parents often use punishments to try to correct their children’s bad behavior. However, most parents use this method without knowing the differences between positive and negative punishment.

Punishment is the least recommended behavior modification technique and should only be used in extreme cases. This is because it’s a measure that doesn’t allow children to learn what mistakes they’ve made nor improve their behavior.

“The worst thing is to teach using methods based on fear, strength, and authority, because you destroy sincerity and trust, and only achieve false submission.”

– Albert Einstein –

The differences between positive and negative punishment

We use punishment so that undesirable conduct doesn’t reoccur, or at least to prevent it from happening as often. There are two ways to implement this method: through positive punishment or negative punishment. We’re now going to explain the differences between these two types of punishment.

Positive punishment

Before we go any further, we should make it clear that the word “positive” isn’t used here as something beneficial – it refers to carrying out an action. When applying a positive punishment, the parent gives the child something unpleasant in order to penalize inappropriate behavior.

The Differences Between Positive and Negative Punishment

This unpleasant stimulus that’s used to punish bad behavior can consist of carrying out an action, giving an object, transmitting an emotion, and so on. Some examples of positive punishments would be:

  • Shouting
  • Hitting
  • Making the child face the wall
  • Reacting angrily
  • Insulting
  • Threatening

However, experts don’t recommend this form of education, as it incites violence, aggressiveness, revenge, among other things. We should, therefore, avoid using these methods.

Negative punishment

Again, the word “negative” here implies that you’re taking something away, it doesn’t refer to whether it is beneficial or not.

Negative punishment consists of eliminating something that the child enjoys doing when he or she behaves badly. As in the previous case, you can withdraw an object, an action, or something the child enjoys, etc. For example, some common negative punishments often given to children are:

  • Not allowing them to watch TV
  • Grounding them (they can’t go out)
  • Not letting them play
  • Taking away their favorite toy or game
  • Not letting them have their favorite dessert
  • Sending them to their room

The consequences of this type of punishment

It’s very important to keep in mind that this behavior modification technique should only be used when other correction methods have already been put into practice and none of them have worked, such as:

  • Using dialogue and reflection
  • Providing positive reinforcement
  • Changing the situation
  • Ignoring undesirable behavior
  • Offering time and distance
  • Proposing different choices to solve the problem

In addition, when you decide to impose a punishment, you must apply it immediately after the problematic behavior arises. You must, at the same time, explain the reason for your actions, and keep calm at all times.

The Differences Between Positive and Negative Punishment

It’s also very necessary to always reward and reinforce (with a compliment, a loving gesture, etc.) a child’s good behavior after they’ve previously misbehaved. For example, if they’ve been punished for not picking up their toys, then, when they finally pick them up, they must then be praised for doing the right thing.

Undesirable consequences

In short, in order to educate your children well, you should avoid the frequent use of these punishments. This is because they can create different negative effects on children and their relationship with those around them. For example:

  • Fear
  • Insecurity
  • Stress
  • Social and coexistence problems
  • Anxiety
  • Submission
  • Low self-esteem
  • Aggressiveness

So, if you’re a mother or father who uses traditional punishment as the main method to correct your child’s behavior, then it’s time to change! Try to learn and practice more positive alternatives to punishment!

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.