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Negative Punishment in Parenting

Tips on how and when negative punishment should be used to reinforce good behaviors.  

As a parent, it can sometimes be difficult to balance positive and negative reinforcement for your children. In an ideal world, parents would only have to use the positive parenting approach to teach proper behaviors, rather than reprimands, discipline, or punishments. Many times, however, this is not the only method that parents must employ to reinforce good behaviors.

What is negative punishment?

According to an article on, negative punishment involves taking something good or desirable away to reduce the occurrence of a particular behavior. Some examples of negative punishments include taking away a toy or grounding your child.

Research has suggested that although negative punishment can be effective, it is most successful when it immediately follows a response and is applied consistently. For co-parents, this means coming to an agreement on when negative punishments should be used and in what situations.

Mother taking daughter's phone

Using negative punishments effectively

An article in Fatherly suggests these tips for parents when employing negative punishments for children:

  • Parents must choose consequences carefully. Restricting a privilege, for instance, requires that kids do not access it through other means. Otherwise, the original consequence will lose its meaning.
  • All the family members must be on the same page when it comes to limit setting. Try to identify and remove the trigger that leads to a child’s negative behavior.
  • Empathize with the child and provide support even while trying to apply a consequence.
  • The consequence should be related to the behavior. If you are trying to get your child to adhere to screen time limits, taking away their cell phone or tablet makes a lot more sense than grounding them from social activities.

In the article, psychiatrist Dr. Rashmi Parmar also gives this advice, “I generally recommend parents to avoid taking away things that will help kids manage their emotions positively during the consequence, such as stress toys, coloring, or drawing. And I don’t recommend holding kids back from attending rare or special occasions like a graduation party or a birthday celebration that they can’t re-experience.”

Son being disciplined by father

The negatives of negative punishment

Negative punishment is a concept in psychologist B.F. Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning, which is a method of learning that employs rewards and punishments for behavior. Skinner notes that once the punishment is withdrawn, the behavior is very likely to return.

Additionally, as stated on, a major problem with negative punishment is that while it might reduce the unwanted behavior, it does not provide any information or instruction on more appropriate reactions.

Balance and consistency are key

Being on the same page with your co-parent about when and how to use negative punishment is crucial to its effectiveness. Often, parents will teach children good behaviors through a mix of both rewards and punishments.

You and your co-parent can discuss topics like this, in an unalterable form, on the TalkingParents app. In addition to talking to your co-parent about behavioral matters through Secure Messaging and Accountable Calling, our service offers an Info Library feature, which allows you to document important information and processes to reference later.

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