‘Punishment has to be severe, consistent and immediate to effectively stop challenging behaviour in the long term.’
Of course, anyone who deals with children will know that each of these 3 factors is a handful in their own right:
Punishment administered has to be severe enough to cause the child distress to deter future challenging behaviour.
I don’t know about you, but I myself have never been comfortable with intentionally trying to cause a child distress. Secondly, every child is unique, so what’s distressing for one child will have little effect on another. Additionally, children will get used to the punishments, so the severity of the punishment will have to rapidly escalate in order to effectively ‘distress’ the child each time!
Unless you have a machine for delivering increasingly ‘non-harmful’ electric shocks, it’s actually impossible to distress a child to the same level whenever you feel like it.
Punishment has to be consistent each time it is administered, so that the child can build an understanding that challenging behaviour will result in the same undesired consequences each and every single time.
If there’s no consistency, then a child will have difficulty understanding the consequences of his challenging behaviour. He will also try to get away with it now and then, as well as frequently testing the boundaries.
But how do you be consistent in the level of distress that each child feels with each punishment, especially when you’re dealing with a room full of preschoolers? And how do you ensure that different people administering the punishments are consistent in their approach?
This may sound like the easiest of the 3 to achieve, but that doesn’t mean it’s simple! Punishment for a challenging behaviour has to occur immediately, otherwise a child will have difficulty linking the punishment with the behaviour (especially true for younger children, as their attention tends to wander very VERY quickly).
Unless you’re a parent/carer with the luxury or focusing on just one child 24/7, you’re not going to be able to instantly deal with a child’s challenging behaviour the second it surfaces!
One approach is by encouraging positive behaviour in children. Rather than focusing on dealing with negative behaviour, we try and promote positive behaviour, in the hopes that the positive behaviour will gradually replace the negative behaviour. It’s a whole lot more fun than being a punishment-maniac, and the long term results are much better! I also find that it’s a great way of dealing with exceptionally challenging children, who, shall we say, have ‘gained resilience to punishment’.
I’ll write another post soon, on how I encouraged positive behaviour in the children I was working with. Meanwhile, please share your thoughts in the comment section below!