Reward & Punishment Programs
Do they work?
Children want to do well, they are willing to do the right thing, yet sometimes they need to learn some skills that they don’t have to do well. When a child is explosive, they are not choosing to be explosive, that is not the way they want to have your attention, and they are not trying to manipulate you with such a behavior. An explosive child does not like being explosive.
Does a reward and punishment program help the child with his or her anger explosions? Absolutely NOT!!!
That is because these programs do not help the child learn and develop the necessary skills to cope with frustration and be flexible. These programs actually make the child’s frustration worse since they do not know how to handle the situation that triggers these undesired explosive reactions.
When they lack the skills that they need to cope with those situations, it is likely they will have the undesired explosion; and with the reward-and-punishment program they get even more frustrated as they will not get the desired reward plus they are punished for something (exploding) they didn’t even want to do.
In addition, these reward-and-punishment programs make the adults inflexible, just the opposite example for a child who needs to learn to be more flexible!
The increased frustration from this reward-and-punishment program plus the opposite example of inflexibility by adults provoke more explosive behavior and end up worsening the relationship between the adults and the child.
Let’s take a look on a typical situation with a reward-and punishment program intended to help a boy deal with explosions:
Let’s imagine a boy who explodes when frustrated, and something happens that makes this boy frustrated… His mother perceives the frustration in the boy, so she reminds him of the consequences in the reward-and-punishment program. In this case, let’s say he earns points and when he accumulates 10 he can exchange them to be taken to the movies. The boy obviously wants to go to the movies but knows he doesn’t know how to control himself when frustrated, so he gets more frustrated, he feels uneasy, his anger starts to get to his whole body, his thinking mind becomes increasingly unavailable, and the control over his words and actions is almost completely lost: he has an explosion… The mother believes the boy is trying to have her give in to the boy’s desires and starts getting angry herself… the boy starts screaming… the mother gets even more angry and wants to set up things right by punishing the boy… The boy, already out of control, resists the punishment and the mother gets even angrier and enforces the punishment in a stronger way, forcing the boy into a time-out.
Once time has passed, and the boy starts to calm down and regain control over himself, his thinking mind becomes available and regrets what happened.
The boy did not plan to explode, he didn’t have any premeditated purpose for exploding, he did not want to not-comply with his mother’s request of not exploding, he did not want to defy his mother, he did not plan to explode with a specific purpose in mind: he simply did not want to explode. He just did not have the skills to cope with frustration, he does not know how to be flexible in those situations.