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Dr David Coleman: What to do when punishments and rewards no longer work in encouraging good behaviour in kids

When children are no longer deterred by punishment or swayed by incentives, parents can be at a loss. But there is a better way to encourage proper conduct

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Acknowledging and appreciating kids’ efforts is better than paying them to do chores. Photo: Getty/picture posed

Acknowledging and appreciating kids’ efforts is better than paying them to do chores. Photo: Getty/picture posed

Acknowledging and appreciating kids’ efforts is better than paying them to do chores. Photo: Getty/picture posed

What do you do if your child laughs in your face, or doesn’t seem to care, every time he or she gets corrected or told to do something they don’t want to do? Another reader recently asked me this, and again it reminded me that I may not have addressed this here. Like this reader, many parents may feel that their child has become inured to every consequence or punishment that may previously have been effective in getting them to change their behaviour.

This is, in fact, a common outcome of applying behavioural principles to children’s behaviour. Behavioural theory suggests that when we positively reinforce a behaviour (reward or praise it) we are more likely to see it occur again. When we negatively reinforce a behaviour (punish it or apply some consequence) we should see less of that behaviour. These are the principles most parents apply to dealing with their children.


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