12 Examples of Positive Punishment & Negative Reinforcement

positive-punishmentYou might be thinking that “positive punishment” sounds like an oxymoron, after all, how can punishment be positive?

Not many people “like” punishment, right?

The disconnect in understanding this concept comes from the usage of the word “positive;” here at PositivePsychology.com, we generally use the term “positive” to refer to things that are inherently good, things that are life-giving, and things that promote thriving and flourishing.

The concept of positive punishment comes from a very different era and a very different perspective on psychology; namely, the 1930s and behaviorism.

So, what actually is positive punishment and how does it relate to parenting, teaching, and even the workplace?

Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our 3 Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology including strengths, values and self-compassion and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your children, clients, students or employees.

What is Positive Punishment in Psychology?

Positive punishment is one of four (positive parenting) methods of modifying behavior according to the theory of operant conditioning (Skinner, 1971). The four types are:

  • Positive punishment
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Negative punishment
  • Negative reinforcement

These methods are categorized based on two factors:

  1. Whether you are trying to encourage (reinforce) or discourage (punish) behavior.
  2. Whether you are adding something to influence behavior (positive) or taking something away to influence behavior (negative).

Although it can be difficult to see “positive” as discouraging behaviors and “negative” as encouraging behaviors, it’s easy to catch on when you realize that, when it comes to operant conditioning, the terms “positive” and “negative” are not used in the manner we generally think of them. In this theory, “positive” doesn’t necessarily mean “good” and “negative” doesn’t necessarily mean “bad.”

B.F. Skinner’s Operant Conditioning Theory

The theory of operant conditioning was developed by famed behaviorist B. F. Skinner (1971). If you’re not familiar with behaviorism, it’s definitely worth a dive into the literature; however, for the purposes of this piece, we’ll give a brief overview.

Behaviorism was the guiding perspective on psychology for several decades, from around the 1930s to the 1960s. It was championed by John Watson, but Skinner is the psychologist most often associated with behaviorism thanks to his many theories and experiments (GoodTherapy, 2015). The general idea behind behaviorism is that people (and animals) are heavily influenced and directed by outside factors. In the “nature vs. nurture” debate, behaviorists fall firmly on the “nurture” side.

The more hardline behaviorists believed that humans are born as “blank slates” with virtually no pre-existing programming or inherent characteristics. According to them, just about everything that you could use to describe yourself—whether that is traits, skills, titles, or preferences—comes from your environment. In this view, we are all born with roughly equal potential, barring genetic disorders and other physical limitations or advantages.

It was in this vein that Skinner developed his theory of operant conditioning. This theory holds that classical conditioning—the phenomenon by which Pavlov discovered that we associate things that happen sequentially as causally related—is too simplistic to explain how behavior is usually influenced, particularly the more complex behaviors (McLeod, 2018).

Operant conditioning is built on the foundation of rewards and punishment: when our behavior is rewarded, we are encouraged to repeat or continue that behavior, and when our behavior is punished, we are discouraged from repeating or continuing that behavior.

We form an association between the behavior we exhibited and the consequence, whether good or bad. When we are encouraged and rewarded for a behavior, that behavior is reinforced; when we are punished for a behavior, that behavior tends to die out (McLeod, 2018).
The 4 Elements of Influencing Behavior

As we noted above, operant conditioning outlines four ways of influencing behavior based on the consequence and the desired result:

  • Positive punishment: something is “added” to the mix that makes the behavior less likely to continue or reoccur (i.e., an unpleasant consequence is introduced to the subject to discourage their behavior).
  • Positive reinforcement: something is added to the mix that makes the behavior more likely to continue or reoccur (i.e., a pleasant consequence is introduced to the subject to encourage their behavior).
  • Negative punishment: something is “taken away” from the mix that makes the behavior less likely to continue or reoccur (i.e., something pleasant is removed from the subject to discourage their behavior).
  • Negative reinforcement: something is taken away from the mix that makes the behavior more likely to continue or reoccur (i.e., something unpleasant is removed from the subject to encourage their behavior).

Some examples of these methods of influencing behavior will be outlined below.

Positive Punishment vs. Negative Reinforcement

Positive punishment is an attempt to influence behavior by adding something unpleasant, while negative reinforcement is an attempt to influence behavior by taking away something unpleasant. Both methods are employed to influence behavior, but positive punishment looks to remove or decrease a “bad” behavior while negative reinforcement seeks to encourage or increase a “good” behavior.

For example, spanking a child when he throws a tantrum is an example of positive punishment. Something is added to the mix (spanking) to discourage a bad behavior (throwing a tantrum).

On the other hand, removing restrictions from a child when she follows the rules is an example of negative reinforcement. Something unpleasant (a set of restrictions) is removed to encourage the child’s good behavior (following the rules).

Positive Punishment vs. Positive Reinforcement

father and kid - examples positive punishmentPositive punishment differs from positive reinforcement in only one aspect: whether the behavior is encouraged or discouraged.

In both cases, something is added to the mix, whether it is something pleasant (positive reinforcement) or something unpleasant (positive punishment).

As listed above, positive punishment involves adding something unpleasant to discourage a behavior. Positive reinforcement involves adding something pleasant to encourage a behavior.

For example, treating a child to an ice cream cone when he stays quiet and obedient during a shopping trip is positive reinforcement. The child’s behavior (being quiet and obedient while out shopping) is reinforced by adding something pleasant (an ice cream cone). Hopefully, the child will understand that he is getting an ice cream cone because he behaved himself on the shopping trip, and he will be more likely to behave himself on the next shopping trip.

For more on this, please see positive reinforcement for kids.

6 Examples of Positive Punishment in Practice

There are many more ways to use positive punishment to influence behavior, including:

  • Yelling at a child for bad behavior.
  • Forcing them to do an unpleasant task when they misbehave.
  • Adding chores and responsibilities when he fails to follow the rules.
  • Assigning students who forget to turn in their assignment extra work.
  • Adding extra sensitivity training to employees who offend or harass someone at work.
  • Implementing more rules and restrictions when a teen misses curfew.

Not all of these punishments are necessarily good ways to discourage behavior, but they are examples of the concept of positive punishment.

6 Examples of Negative Reinforcement in Practice

There are also many examples of negative reinforcement in practice (with varying degrees of effectiveness), including:

  • Removing strict parental controls on the internet or tv when a child proves herself responsible enough to handle more mature content.
  • Allowing a child to go out without a chaperone when she stops pushing the boundaries of her parents’ rules.
  • Removing responsibility for a household chore in order to reward a child for completing her other chores to her parents’ satisfaction.
  • Removing the curfew when a teenager has proven she is responsible and practices common sense.
  • Removing obstacles to autonomy (e.g., rigid timelines or prescribed ways of carrying out tasks) when an employee successfully completes an important project.
  • Abolishing the practice of clocking in and out when employees have proven they can be trusted to accurately report their time worked.

The Positive Effects of Punishment

Although “punishment” sounds inherently negative, it’s not necessarily a negative thing. In operant conditioning, punishment is simply the discouragement of a behavior; it can be as benign as sitting a child down and explaining to them why they should no longer engage in a bad behavior.

The positive outcomes of using punishment include:

  • The child is informed that their behavior is not acceptable, and now knows what not to do in the future.
  • The child is given a punishment or negative consequence, which teaches her that behavior has consequences and will hopefully help her associate the two.
  • The child is given a good reason to behave more appropriately in the future, and eventually should be given an opportunity to do so.

Of course, there are some downsides to punishment as well:

  1. Punished behavior is not necessarily forgotten, just suppressed, meaning that it may return when the punishment is no longer implemented.
  2. It may cause increased aggression and teach the child that aggression is a good way to solve problems (only with certain types of punishment).
  3. It can create fears that generalize to other situations (e.g., a child who is punished for being disruptive may withdraw and begin to fear social situations).
  4. It does not always guide the child toward the desired behavior; it tells the child what not to do, but may not tell the child what he or she should do instead (McLeod, 2018).

Ideally, a child would be raised with both reinforcement and punishment in a healthy mix—receiving rewards for good behavior and being corrected for bad behavior. Often, both are vital pieces of parenting and each can accomplish what the other fails to accomplish.

For example, reinforcement is a great tool for encouraging good behavior, but it gives the child no feedback on bad behavior (although sometimes the bad behavior is simply the opposite of the good, like adhering to the curfew vs. breaking the curfew). Likewise, punishment is good for discouraging bad behavior, but it has the unfortunate flaw of telling the child nothing about which behavior is actually desired.

Of course, these flaws in each method largely disappear when parents employ both methods and are communicative about what they expect to see and what they expect not to see from their child.

Using Positive Punishment with Children7 Positive Punishment Guidelines

Positive punishment can be an extremely effective tool in the parents’ toolbox, and as we learned above, it doesn’t have to be physical. Positive punishment describes any situation in which parents add something that is undesirable to the child in order to encourage them to refrain from a specific behavior they do not consider appropriate or acceptable.

There are many ways to do this. James Lehman, social worker and expert on working with troubled youth, offers these seven guidelines for using positive punishment:

  1. Use consequences that have meaning.
    They should be unpleasant and attached to the behavior they exhibited and the lesson you want them to learn (e.g., being rude to someone may result in having to write a letter of apology for being rude and an explanation of what they will do next time they get angry instead of lashing out).
  2. Make consequences black and white.
    Show your child that behavior A leads to consequence B, no matter why they engaged in behavior A or how they feel about the fairness of consequence B.
  3. Have conversations about problem-solving.
    Depending on the degree of unpleasantness, this may be punishment in itself, but it can be used as a supplement to a punishment as well (e.g., a teenager is punished for missing curfew, but the parents also have a discussion with the teen about their options next time they are tempted to stay out late or in a situation where they may end up breaking curfew).
  4. Don’t get sucked into an argument over the consequences.
    Be firm in your decision and don’t be swayed by a young child’s tantrums or a teenager’s (supposed) apathy about the punishment.
  5. Engage your child’s self-interest.
    You can do this by encouraging them to answer the question “What are you going to do so you don’t get in trouble next time?” Children will never want positive punishment (unless it’s an inherently ineffective punishment), so getting them to think about how to avoid that punishment will help encourage better behavior.
  6. Hold your child accountable for their own behavior.
    Even if they don’t seem like they care about the punishment, it is their behavior that is important, not how much they seem to care.
  7. Don’t show disgust or disdain or be sarcastic with your child.
    The point is to teach your child, not demean or discourage them (Lehman, 2012).

However, there are limits on how and when to use positive punishment; according to James Lehman, grounding your child will only teach them how to “do time,” but it doesn’t actually show them how to improve their behavior (Lehman, 2012). Kids that are frequently grounded will eventually get used to it and learn to cope with it, but they won’t necessarily learn what you’re trying to teach them (see our post on building resilience in children).

Instead of providing them with instruction on appropriate behavior and a chance to do better, grounding a child restricts their behavior and keeps them from even having a choice about whether to behave in the desired manner or not. They may feel so restricted that it leaves them with no opportunity to evaluate their choices and make better decisions, giving them no room to grow.

Research also shows that positive punishment does not always weaken a person’s behavior when punished, it may simply suppress it. If a child fears being punished, they may continue to engage in the bad behavior while they are away from the parent(s) who punishes them. Children will behave when you are looking because they don’t like the punishment, but they may still enjoy secretly engaging in the behavior itself (Smith, 2012).

Applying Positive Punishment in the Classroom

teacher and two kids - Applying Positive Punishment in the ClassroomPositive punishment can also be used in the classroom, but the same guidelines and caveats listed above apply here as well.

There may be less leeway since teachers generally do not have the same authority over children that their parents do, but there is also an added element that can help or harm efforts to use positive punishment: the presence of their peers.

Peer pressure is a highly impactful factor that can be harnessed to normalize and encourage good behavior, but punishing children in front of their peers can also cause shame, embarrassment, and seething resentment when applied incorrectly.

One of the most important rules to follow when it comes to positive punishment in the classroom is to refrain from using shame or embarrassment as a tool for learning; if a child is embarrassed in front of her peers, she is not likely to think of it as a positive learning experience and may become openly hostile instead of being encouraged to evaluate her own behavior and make better choices.

Along with this important rule, follow these six guidelines to ensure positive punishment is used effectively and appropriately in the classroom:

  1. Pair positive punishment with positive reinforcement to provide encouragement for desirable behaviors with which students can replace their bad behavior.
  2. Use the mildest punishment techniques that are likely to be effective; start off with less intense punishments and work your way up as needed if the mild techniques are ineffective.
  3. Do not deprive the student of key opportunities to build their social and academic skills; for example, avoid reducing recess time or handing out suspensions if the child is already awkward with peers or finds it difficult to make friends.
  4. Allow students to provide input on any behavior plans being developed; this way, the students will feel they have a voice and will be more likely to accept any punishments they earn.
  5. Make sure your plan for encouraging good behavior and discouraging bad behavior is congruent with:
    a. Your country, state, or territory regulations, and
    b. Your students’ parents!
  6. Monitor the effects of your behavior plan to ensure it is working and troubleshoot anything that is not working (Intervention Central, n.d.).

Positive punishment can be a very useful tool in the classroom when applied conscientiously and with careful consideration.

Positive Punishment in the Workplace

Punishment doesn’t necessarily stop when we become adults.

The idea that punishment can be effective in stopping undesirable employee behaviors, such as tardiness and absenteeism, is a popular one. It’s something you’ve likely seen in your own workplace, either directed towards yourself or someone else.

For example, these are all instances of positive punishment at work:

  • Being verbally scolded by your boss, or perhaps by your Human Resources department.
  • Being assigned extra training when you break the rules or behave in an unprofessional manner.
  • Being assigned the tasks no one wants to do for failing to produce quality work on time.
  • Receiving an official warning for calling off work too often.

In some cases, these forms of punishment can be extremely effective. Sometimes all it takes to discourage bad behavior and encourage good behavior is a “talking to” from your manager. Other times, it’s not so effective.

Research has shown that positive punishment doesn’t always bring about good behavior at work; sometimes, it only temporarily stops one bad behavior from happening and may also lead to fear, psychological tension, anxiety, and other undesirable outcomes. These emotional and behavioral responses are likely to negatively impact work productivity and work behavior (Milbourn Jr., 1996).

Similar to the consequences of overzealous or unnecessarily harsh parenting techniques, employees who feel as if they have no choice or control over their work may begin to act out, repress their true intentions, or even engage in more nefarious behavior like embezzling, sabotage, or otherwise undermining their employer.

Positive punishment at work may be effective in some cases, but like positive punishment for children, it should be used sparingly, appropriately, and in conjunction with reinforcement techniques.

Common Criticisms

As we covered earlier, there are some definite downsides to positive punishment; it can confuse children about what they should be doing instead of the bad behavior, cause them to develop fears or other maladaptive habits or feelings, cause anger or rebelliousness, and may only lead to suppression of the behavior instead of true “extinction” of the behavior.

These are some common criticisms of the effectiveness of positive punishment, but there are also some quite strong aversions to positive punishment for another reason: whether it is ethical or not.

Many modern parents are averse to any type of positive punishment that involves unpleasant physical consequences, and for good reason—a large body of research shows that physical punishment may not only be ineffective in many cases, it may also result in unintended consequences or even backfire on the parents (Cherry, 2018).

A recent meta-analysis of several decades’ worth of research on spanking and other physical punishments largely considered not to be abusive showed that these punishments made a child significantly more likely to display undesirable and unintended consequences, such as anti-social behavior and mental health problems (Gershoff & Grogan-Kaylor, 2016). In fact, the effects of spanking and other “non-abusive” forms of physical punishment were observed to be almost as detrimental as physical abuse.

As Alan Kazdin, a psychology professor at Yale University and expert on parenting notes:

“You cannot punish out these behaviors that you do not want… there is no need for corporal punishment based on the research. We are not giving up an effective technique. We are saying that this is a horrible thing that does not work” (Smith, 2012).

A Take-Home Message

The bottom line is that, like many other techniques and methods, positive punishment can be very effective or very ineffective depending on how it is applied.

Positive punishment that is appropriately targeted and matches the level of the infraction can be a great tool to discourage or extinguish behavior; inappropriately targeted and mismatched positive punishment can result in everything from failing to teach the lesson you want to teach to mental health problems and the continuation of parenting styles that simply do not work.

If you use common sense and follow the easy-to-understand guidelines in this article, you should have no major trouble using mild, effective positive punishment to encourage good behavior.

What do you think about positive punishment? Do you find it effective for your children, students, and/or employees? What are your go-to punishments or reinforcements? Let us know in the comments!

Want to keep reading? Check out: Positive Parenting Books, Training and Resources

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our 3 Positive Psychology Exercises for free.


  • GoodTherapy. (2015). “Behaviorism”. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/behaviorism
  • Gershoff, E. T., & Grogan-Kaylor, A. (2016). Spanking and child outcomes: Old controversies and new meta-analyses. Journal of Family Psychology, 30, 453-469.
  • Intervention Central. (n.d.). What every teacher should know about punishment techniques and student behavior plans. Retrieved from https://www.interventioncentral.org/behavioral-interventions/challenging-students/what-every-teacher-should-know-about…punishment-techni
  • Lehman, J. (2012). Kids who ignore consequences: 10 ways to make them stick. Empowering Parents. Retrieved from https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/kids-who-ignore-consequences-10-ways-to-make-them-stick/
  • McLeod, S. (2018). Skinner – Operant conditioning. Simply Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html
  • Milbourn, Jr., G.. (1996). Punishment in the workplace creates undesirable side effects. Wichita Business Journal. Retrieved from http://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/stories/1996/11/18/focus3.html
  • Skinner, B. F. (1971). Operant conditioning. The Encyclopedia of Education, 7, 29-33.
  • Smith, B. L. (2012). The case against spanking. American Psychological Association 43(4), Monitor on Psychology, 60. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/04/spanking.aspx


What our readers think

  1. Zerihun Negesa

    This research is clearly posted. thank you very much

  2. Gloria

    This article is well researched. Thanks a lot

  3. Pat

    Referring to Jeff’s comment about grounding, by definition, being a removal, I’d like to point out that a child confined to his room, a classic “grounding” can easily be a the definition of a positive punishment because confinement is added. Unlike math, this real world example, it adding confinement with nothing to entertain can also easily be both an added restriction or confinement as well as a removal of normal freedoms, diversions and privileges. A number cannot be both 3 and -3 but a consequence can be something added and something (the opposite opportunity) removed. It is the nature of language that descriptions can have ambiguity with regard to this strictly operant-conditioning definition of the words “positive” and “negative.” I content this is why these ideas are so commonly misunderstood, difficult to correctly apply and falling from use.

  4. Ravinder

    Thanks for posting this article let. Nicely written and very understandable to everyone. Very useful one. PL keep writing.

  5. Folake

    Thanks, it is helpful

  6. Joshua Jonathan

    thanks for nice and fantastic lesson about punishment;

  7. Mobile Training Course in Delhi

    Looking forward to reading more. Great article post.Really thank you! Really Cool.

  8. Mark Stephen

    Usually, I never comment on blogs but your article convinced me to comment on it as is written so well. And telling someone how awesome they are is essential so that on my part I convince you to write more often.

    • Craig Smith

      Thanks for the feedback Mark, it’s greatly appreciated!

  9. Simson

    Great work. You made confusing concepts rather easily understandable.

  10. Jenny

    Praise and blame are both forms of control used to limit and inhibit freedoms. In order for us to fit the ideals of those who follow the rules of “polite society” as children we are manipulated, bullied, chorused and controlled to fit a mould that serves the masses yet can very much destroy the spirit of an individual.
    No longer are we humans born into free will. We are animals, born to be domesticated in order to politely serve without disobedience in the big machine.
    In other areas of psychology we are told that no one can make us do or feel anything. That it is our own choice and interpretation of others behaviour or demands that give us the freedom to choose.
    But it’s little wonder that depression and anxiety are the worlds biggest epidemics when we spend the entirety of our formative years being beaten out of the concept of free thought.
    Don’t get me wrong. Chaos and anarchy don’t seem to be much fun either but I can’t help thinking there could be a better way than forcing our will on our newest arrivals, just because that’s what we’ve always done, in order to uphold a set of schemas dictated to us a long time ago by people other than ourselves who decided for us what life should look like.
    Some interesting philosophical books that look at this are “ The four agreements “ by don Miguel Ruiz, “the way of the peaceful warrior” by Dan Millman and “Lost Connections
    Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions” By Johann Hari

    • Michele Madrigal

      I love your comment! What are some suggestions that you can offer? I’ve just finished reading The Four Agreements again and am trying to figure out ways to help my 7 year old who’s in second grade. He hates the traditional ways of learning like handouts and writing and such. I’m blessed to be at a charter school who’s willing to work with us. I’d love to hear some suggestions. Thanks!

    • Terry Rosen

      The article does provide a wonderfully clear examination of the terms. Michael Wu provides a related, and very clear description of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation that anyone interested in this article should also read: https://community.khoros.com/t5/Khoros-Communities-Blog/Intrinsic-vs-Extrinsic-Rewards-and-Their-Differences-from/ba-p/128969

      However, both view are fundamentally flawed. Not incorrect, but flawed. Skinners theories are based on animal behaviors, and in order to render them with clarity, animals that were food deprived in order to enhance the results of his studies. Applying his ideas to humans, or more specifically children, is inherently fraught with unmeasured risks.

      Dr. W Edwards Deming, (world famous quality improvement guru), used the term overjustification. Alfie Kohn’s works are descriptions of the risk involved in treating children as though they are starving animals. Deming analyzes it in finer detail pointing out that most punishment from managers to line workers is misguided if not completely foolhardy.

      Kohn provided fantastically rich, and finely researched arguments for his views. Dr. Deming refers to Kohn’s work, as well as decades of his own experience in industry.

      One such idea: The more you reward a behavior (or punish it), the more the behavior is associated with ‘the reward’ than with ‘joy of learning’.

      If I reward my son for mowing the lawn, each reward will reduces or eliminates the possibility that he will ever mow the lawn without the reward.

      As an educator I have seen multiple times how the strict control of a teacher’s work time during the day reduces or eliminates their will to continue working after hours,(outside of contracted hours). Of course, this is widespread, if not ubiquitous.

      All this is related to Skinner’s world view, that we are all little behavior animals, not essentially discounts our having a higher self, self awareness, or any cognitive function beyond the rat’s.

      Consider this

      What happens when you pay two monkeys unequally? Watch what happens.
      An excerpt from the TED Talk: “Frans de Waal: Moral behavior in animals.”

      Even untrained capuchin’s can discern fairness. How does a 2nd grader, receiving less stars for completed work internalize this situation? Even adults will resent being treated unfairly. Where does this fit in to Skinner’s system?

      The ideas here are not wrong, but their use, in lieu of other important research, is misguided at best.

  11. Anonymous

    Thank you so much for your amazing work! This helps me gather further understanding in my personal and professional settings. What can you do with a co-worker that no matter what type of enforcement is used, nothing seems to sway their hostile and negative behaviors? Look forward to hearing your ideas…

  12. Ang Honeybourne

    Not impressed with the scientific/evidentiary base of the authors work.
    Yelling at a child can never be positive, it immediately signifies to the child (& anyone else in the vicinity) that you have lost control of the situation. The child stops hearing your words instead their ‘fight/flight’ mode is activated & their main aim is to get away from the situation ASAP.
    As a Behaviour Therapist with over 20yrs experience of supporting both children & adults with developmental delay/ challenging behaviour & autism I would not recommend her work as it currently is presented.

    • Courtney E. Ackerman

      Hi Ang, I’d like to direct you to the sentence directly after the only mention of yelling in this article:
      “Not all of these punishments are necessarily good ways to discourage behavior, but they are examples of the concept of positive punishment.”
      I am certainly not suggesting that anyone should yell at a child. However, yelling is indeed a form of “positive punishment” in the sense of positive as introducing something and negative as removing something.
      Please ensure that you have correctly understood the ideas presented before disparaging the author.
      Hope that helps! Thanks 🙂

  13. Alfonso Domínguez Reyes

    all the opinions giving before, show the behavior the children and teenagers in demand of better “maybe” more attention at home.
    at home:
    – maybe parents work very late
    – maybe they get divorced
    – maybe they are alone
    and so on, it could be successful if all parents get courses in how to lead their children and teenagers, before get married.

  14. Irene

    Why not try to find out why the child doesn’t want to do the homework and work through that, rather than making their life even more miserable?

  15. Irene Hogan

    The thing that gets me about ‘positive reinforcement’ is, that if that positive reinforcement is NOT given, ie, if the child does not comply and do what is requested from them then they do not get the reward, then that is in essence also a punishment. While academically we may say it is not, the child will see it as a punishment because what was promised them has now been taken away.
    And even offering a reward as payment for behaviour demanded is in a sense a punishment. If the child does not want to do that behaviour but is being forced into it by a bribery – a ‘reward’ – then it is still punishment.

    • Andrew Michaelis

      Irene Hogan, I know I am a year late, but for future readers, I think this comment might be useful. You are right in assuming it is a punishment to not give a promised reward. However, the reward itself is NOT a positive reinforcement. The act of telling the child about the reward is the positive reinforcement. (The reward is no longer a positive reinforcement itself. However, if the child’s perception of the reward before receiving it is less than they actually get from it, then the actual stimulus can be another positive reinforcer.) The moment the child processes what the reward means to them, it no longer becomes an inforcement. Something needs to be done to it to create a punishment or reinforcement. Thus, removing it after announcing it makes the action a negative punishment. If you want it to remain a positive reinforcement, you need to not let the child know there is a reward. Simply give it to them when they perform the action you want them to do.
      Note: I am not a professional in psychology, but I feel I understand this topic after review and have studied it several times in the past.

  16. Semba Roberts

    great educational information. Necessary for working with individuals with developmental disabilities (autism, ADHD, etc.)

  17. Amel Abouelhassan

    Amazing Article. Love your work. Thank you very much.

  18. alli p

    super tired of hearing how spanking is horrible and does not work. it sure the heck does work, and it worked very well on me as a deterrent. i NEVER wanted to be spanked. i knew it would be a consequence. that kept me from otherwise acting out. i’m not mentally damaged, nor do i think my parents didn’t love me or some other foolish notion. sounds to me like the ‘researchers’ themselves are emotionally damaged. getting a few swats on your butt is not going to ruin someone’s social emotional foundation. good grief! get a grip already!

    • Dee

      It’s not that spanking is horrible or doesn’t work, it’s that there is research-backed proof that there are more effective ways to discipline a child over spanking or other physical punishments. Just as this article stated, this added-on feature of spanking may stop them from continuing the bad behavior, but doesn’t leave much room for learning a better behavior. Also, some parents don’t want to have that relationship with their children where the child doesn’t do something in FEAR of pain inflicted by someone they love. Just because it worked great for you doesn’t mean it’s the greatest discipline tool, ESPECIALLY for children who have developmental issues. Thankfully “researchers” do this work for us so we can make better educated choices regarding how we want to raise our children, not just go based on what happened to us in our life.

    • AmandaMarie

      Reflect on how you wrote that versus how everyone else here has written. While the majority of people here are sharing ideas on a neutral level even if they may disagree, look at how your reaction differs. From your own post I’d say the that’s proof enough spanking didn’t work for you.


    Great article! Thank you for sharing these points as they have helped me understand your blog better. Your writing skills make things extremely clear, while I was reading the article I felt as if someone was teaching me, everything is explained very well. Kindly share more write-ups as these help us a lot and such articles add on to our knowledge. Thank you!

    • Craig Smith

      HI SHAHNAWAZTOMAR! That’s great to hear, I really enjoy Courtney’s writing too and have learned a lot from her articles!

  20. Jenny Ochoa

    Amazing work!

    • Craig Smith

      Hi Jenny, Craig here from the program! Thanks for the vote of confidence 🙂

  21. Anonymous 2

    It’s all a matter of framing. If my child throws a temper tantrum in the aisle of the grocery store because he wants a candy bar, giving him the candy bar would be negatively reinforcing for me (I’m removing the stimulus that increases the likelihood of the behavior occurring again in the future). Definition debates are obnoxious but necessary to ensure fluency in the subject matter. The author of this article seems to require additional education.

  22. Jeff

    Holy cow. Were do I start? Ok. Positive refers to adding and negative to removing. Punishment refers to the act of reducing a behavior and reinforcement to increasing a behavior. So, a positive punishment is the addition of something that is intended to reduce a behavior. Spanking is positive punishment. Grounding is the removal of things (toys, tv, freedom) to reduce a behavior and therefor NEGATIVE PUNISHMENT.
    I am blown away how many people just cannot get the concept that grounding is negative. I’ve heard “parents are adding grounding, so it’s positive”
    Uh…. NO. Grounding is by definition the removal of something. So if you’re adding a removal, that is just a fancy way of saying you’re removing it. If you add a negative number, it is subtraction. 5 + (-3) and 5 – 3 are both equal to 2. They are both removing 3.

  23. Anonymous

    A child uses positive punishment to control his parents. For example, a child does not want to do their homework so they start to throw a tantrum. If the parent lets the child get away with it the child will definitely do It again in the future. To the child he is positively reinforced as his behavior will increase. To the parent, they are positively punished because thei child’s behavior will decrease the demands of the parent telling the child to do his homework, right?


Let us know your thoughts

Your email address will not be published.


Read other articles by their category

3 Positive Relationships Exercises Pack