Being a psychology major, I have learned some things about the development of children. I, also, have learned some discipline techniques that are shown to work. Having two children of my own, ages seven and one, there is one disciplinary technique that I have learned that is the most effective. That one technique is known as operant conditioning.
Operant conditioning is known as the learning technique designed for behavioral modification. Behavioral modification is a formal technique of increasing wanted behavior and decreasing unwanted behavior (Feldman 26). Formulated by B.F. Skinner (1904-1990), an American psychologist, operant condition is a suitable way to developing desirable behavior in children as well as adults. The principles of operant conditioning consists of reinforcement, extinction, and punishment; I will discuss all principles in more detail.
Reinforcement refers to a consequence of behavior that will result in the likelihood that behavior will be repeated in the future(Papalia, Olds, and Feldman 34). Reinforcement is most effective when it immediately follows a behavior. Behavior that is not reinforced, or is punished, will likely result in extinction, or the gradually disappear of the behavior(Papalia, Olds, and Feldman 34).
There are two types of reinforcement, positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement refers to the giving of rewards or praise when desirable behavior is displayed(Sdorow 246). For example, when a child comes home with a good report card, the parent may show positive reinforcement by congratulating the child or giving the child a special treat, thereby encouraging continual work towards getting good grades. Negative reinforcement involves the taking away of an unwanted stimulus in order to achieve desirable behavior(Sdorow 251). For example, when a child has a toothache, the parent may take the child to a dentist, which is sometimes a terrifying experience for the child. After the dentist takes care of the tooth ache, it may encourage regular dental visits, which is a healthy behavior.
Punishment and negative reinforcement are often confused with one another. While negative reinforcement is the taking away of an unwanted stimuli, punishment is the taking away of a wanted stimuli or bringing on an unwanted stimuli(Papalia, Olds, and Feldman 34). As does reinforcement, punishment has two types. There is positive punishment and negative punishment. Positive punishment is the bringing on of an unwanted stimuli to suppress behavior(Sdorow 252). For example, spanking a child when he gets out of line with his parents could be a demonstration of positive punishment. Negative punishment is the taking away of a wanted stimuli(Sdorow 252). For example, the taking away of a child’s favorite pack of crayons for coloring on the wall is a good demonstration of negative punishment.
I believe that using this technique of operant conditioning will effectively modify bad behavior and encourage good behavior. Whenever a child gets out of line, immediately exercise the technique of punishment, whether it may be negative or positive. This will start to shape and mold behavior into the desirable behavior that you desire. However, always be sure to use reinforcement, whether it may be positive or negative, whenever the child displays proper behavior to ensure that behavior will be repeated in the future. Arguably, operant conditioning may be the single most effective way to discipline children.
Feldman, Robert S. Child Development. 3rd ed. New Jersey: Pearson Education, 2004
Papalia, Diane E., Sally Wendkos Olds, and Ruth Duskin Feldman. Human Development. 9th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004.
Sdorow, Lester M. Psychology. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998.