That's what I'd like to know. Sound familiar? Parents and teachers often ask themselves this question when they feel at a loss to effectively discipline children. The difficulty lies in how discipline is most often expedited: Punishment. When it comes to consequanting behavior, punishment is the overwhelming favorite in our society. In contrast with reward: it is never perceived as "bribery" and there is always ample time for it. As a parent or teacher, can you remember not punishing a child because you were too busy? Unfortunately, to many adults, it is of little consequence that this consequence is ineffective by itself, at producing and maintaining desired change.

In principle, a punishment is any consequence that reduces the occurrence of the behavior it follows. So if a kid does something, and then you impose a consequence, you need to wait and see what happens to the frequency of that behavior in order to determine whether or not what you used was, in retrospect, truly a "punishment." Apparently, many people are unfamiliar with this systematic and precise definition. They will instead DECIDE what is a punishment and use it freely whenever a child does something deemed undesirable, REGARDLESS OF the punishment's EFFECTIVENESS. For example, a child who is frequently late or "cuts" classes is suspended (think about that for a moment!). A letter home from school is what follows a child's failure to perform in some way...again and again; forgetting to perform designated house chores repeatedly results in the routine removal of television time. Delayed bedtime inevitably brings "the lecture", or an argument-- and at times, a lot of begging! And then, of course, there is the spanking... Clearly, to discipline children effectively, the parent or teacher needs to be in charge. To be perceived this way, they need to intervene in ways that produce desired outcomes, not repeated failures.
To elicit behavior change in children, it is prudent for adults to model that behavior. When something you are doing fails, stop immediately! Do something else. If a child who is losing weeks worth of t.v.: (a) still fails to turn in homework assignments, (b) continues staying up over an hour past his (her) bedtime, or (c) routinely forgets to clean his room, maybe you need to change...so he can change.
To begin the change, change the beginning. Rather than directing a child's attention to what will happen if something else does NOT happen, consider at the outset what behavior you DO want. Then inform the child what could happen if he DOES behave as desired. In other words, think positive for a CHANGE! Some common situations using this principle:

  1. Putting bedtime "to bed". Children love to stay up for many reasons: You do it, and they equate it with being grown-up. By staying up, they won't miss any of the good stuff that may happen. You, on the other hand, have a different agenda. To avoid the endless dispute, try making "going to bed" it's own reward. Give the child a choice of options such as reading, t.v., a light snack, etc., for being in bed (distinguished from asleep) at a certain time. Moreover, perhaps he (she) can earn "points" for being in bed on-time weeknights toward a later bedtime that weekend.
  2. Attendance, and attending to schoolwork. What happens to the child who turns in homework correctly and on-time. Is there a letter home for that? Suppose a child who is frequently absent were to learn that the class did something interesting, creative, rewarding on a day he missed. Maybe a day where recreation was combined with learning; or a fun "role-playing" experience occurred, or class was held outside. And everyone who participated received an "A"; and this would happen twice more during a particular marking period...at a moment's notice!
  3. Turn off and tune in. Mother's often ask, "How do I get my (child) to turn off the t.v. when I ask?" Rather than viewing t.v. as evil, consider that a child watching t.v. frequently is telling you what he is willing to work for! Take charge by setting limits, not punishments. A limit is a measure of what CAN occur. Then establish a contingency in which something less likely to occur can be followed by your limit of t.v. "Billy, you may have one-half hour t.v. time for completing each of these daily: Cleaning your room, finishing your homework, reading a book for a half-hour, or preparing for bed (all observable and defined)." Take charge and make your great expectations a reality.