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Why timeout and sticker charts don’t help… (in the long run).

By Nicki Dawson

Timeout and sticker charts, and sometimes even smacks, are some of the most highly recommended discipline strategies. The fact that they have gained such popularity is in large part due to their short-term effectiveness.

These techniques come out of the field of behavioural psychology. This field of research started with animal experiments, and found that both punishment (like smacking or time-out) and rewards (like sticker charts and treats) can influence animal behaviour – causing animals to stop or repeat a behaviour as punishments or rewards are dished out. These finding were applied to child development and child discipline strategies – and showed similar effectiveness.

But a recent wave of research from neuroscience (brain) research and relational psychology has found some interesting things that shed new light on punishment and reward-based parenting approaches:

  1. Punishments and rewards diminish in their impact over time. This means that the punishment or reward needs to become bigger and bigger to have the same effect over time. Eventually punishments and rewards lose their power.

  2. While punishment and reward-based discipline does reduce the likelihood of a child repeating the behaviour in front of the parent (or discipliner), it increases the likelihood that the behaviour will be performed in secret or when away from the parent. This means that children are learning not to do the behaviour in front of parents, but not necessarily learning not to do the behaviour at all.

  3. Punishment-based discipline can reduce empathy and remorse. Such approaches to discipline can increase a child’s belief that they didn’t do anything wrong, and foster thoughts that the parent is “the bad one”.

It is, of course, still very important to intervene and teach our children appropriate, safe and kind ways to behave. And it is important to clearly communicate to children what behaviours are and aren’t acceptable, and to enforce these rules.

Through relationship-based approaches to parenting, we can appeal to our child’s empathy and desire to learn in moulding their behaviour. The result – a child that is more likely to feel empathy and remorse, and to behave appropriately even in our absence.

To find out more about relationship-based, positive parenting approaches give Ububele a call.

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