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Who's in the Video
Alan Kazdin is the John M. Musser Professor of Psychology at Yale University, and the director of the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic. His work focuses primarily on child[…]

The idea that punishment teaches a kid not to misbehave is a myth, pure and simple. Here are three steps for actually changing your kid’s unpleasant behavior.

Alan Kazdin: Punishment--mild, severe, abusive--changes behavior only at the moment it is delivered.  It doesn’t change the overall level or rate of the behavior.  So if you have a child that is doing something horrible and you smack them, it’ll stop it for the moment, but it won’t decrease the number of times they do the horrible thing.  

"The Positive Opposite" 

So there's an alternative.  Decide what behavior you want, sometimes called the positive opposite and praise or encourage that.  That makes the negative behavior drop out.  You can actually eliminate a behavior by rewarding or praising the opposite behavior.  Punishment won’t do it.

So, for example, your older boy is always picking on his younger sister and you go to this boy and you grab him by his shoulder and you say, “you stop bullying her, you stop doing that or I’m going to hit you.”  The child stops at the moment and then it still continues for the rest of the day or the rest of the week.  And the parent runs in and says, “If I’ve told you once I’ve told you 1,000 times, stop hitting your sister!”  That’s all going to fail.  We know that from decades of research now.  

What to do?  The boy and the girl are interacting nicely, you run in there and you say, “You are playing so nicely, that is really great.”  And then you touch them.  Do that once a day, three times week, you’ll change the fighting that goes on between them.  

"The Punishment Trap"

Perhaps the worst thing is that punishment traps a parent.  You hit or you shout at a child, they stop instantaneously, that locks it into your repertoire.  Even though intellectually you know it doesn’t work overall, it works on that moment and it locks it in to you as a parent.  I see parents who abuse their children all the time and they invariably know it is not helping at all, but it doesn’t stop them. 

How Not to Punish

1.  Identify the Positive Opposite Behavior

2.  Praise Effusively

3.  Touch

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd