Parenting is a challenging task that is filled with many grey areas.   There is a lot of advice on parenting and shaping children’s behavior.  As you explore how to guide and shape your children consider the differences between these two concepts: consequences and punishment.  I would like to start by defining both with a dictionary definition followed by psychology’s definition.  Then I will talk about how each can be used to guide your child on a healthy path to citizenship.

Definition

Consequence: a result or effect of an action or condition

Punishment: the infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offense

Psychology Definition

B.F. Skinner (a Behaviorist) defines Operant Conditioning.  Skinner said that the rate at which a behavior occurs is not determined by what precedes the behavior but what happens as a result of the behavior.

A Consequence in psychology is a response to behavior that modifies the behavior.  Punishment is one type of consequence, but there are several others including reinforcing behaviors that increase the likelihood of behaviors.

A Punishment in psychology is a type of consequence that is designed to reduce an undesired behavior.

Using consequences and punishments may feel like manipulation, and in fact it is.  Children do not know what decisions to make in life, so by providing consequences, parents guide and shape them (which is a benevolent form of manipulation) to understand how to make choices that will get them desired results.

Here are examples of consequences and punishments that can be used for parenting:

Consequences:

  • High-five your son for treating his younger sister well.
  • Extend bedtime because your son earned an A on a test.
  • Remind your daughter that she overspent on Wednesday, which is why she no longer has money to go bowling with friends on the weekend (reinforcing saving).

For all of these, the goal is to increase a behavior.

Punishments:

  • Time-out from play for hitting or yelling
  • Taking video games away for staying up too late.
  • Taking driving privileges away for smoking a cigarette.

For all of these the goal is to stop a behavior.

Shaping behavior can be complicated.  Sometimes consequences and punishments do not appear to produce the desired result.  There are many reasons this can occur.  To learn more about shaping your children or teens in positive ways, talk with a counselor.