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What is Negative Punishment?

As parents, nannies, babysitters, or daycare workers, we have been in situations where we don’t know what to do about a child’s unpleasant behavior. Although punishment sounds like too much, it can be the only thing that will work.

Behavioral psychology has it that punishment (positive or negative) helps reduce and tame unwanted behavior. As a parenting technique, punishment has been proved to work well applied with moderation.

Negative punishment is where you take away (temporarily) something that your child loves so that they can get rid of unpleasant behavior. For example, a child refusing to do their homework to watch television, negative punishment comes in when the child is denied the TV and sent to write their assignment.

On the flip side, positive punishment is where an unpleasant action is taken, or something undesirable is added to trigger a change of behavior in the child. For example, when a child is always bullying others, the teacher reprimands him in front of everyone.

This article focuses on negative punishment, describing factors that affect its effectiveness and its effects on your child.

Factors that Affect Effectiveness of Negative Punishment

Whether the punishment works or not, it affects your child’s behavior. Its effectiveness depends mainly on these factors:


It is how fast the punishment is instilled in relevance to the unwanted behavior. Is it infused immediately or delayed for some time? Negative punishment works best when it is applied at the instance of undesirable behavior. If you wait to punish them later, it will be difficult for it to be effective.

Let’s look at an example where a fifth-grade boy who’s always disrupting others in the class goes unpunished for several days. It will be difficult for the teacher to punish him concerning this mistake days later. Even if he is punished after repeating it, the punishment will not be beneficial as he’ll quickly make a mistake again, since he went for days without being punished.

The best action for the teacher to take is to punish the child immediately whenever he disrupts others so that he can learn and change the bad behavior.


What is Negative Punishment?

It describes what the punishment depends on so that it is executed. Is the child punished when he makes a mistake, or does the history of unwanted behavior determine the punishment?

If the punishment is dependent on the child’s mistake, there’s a higher chance that it will work. But, if the punishment is instilled depending on past mistakes, whether or not the child does it again, it is less likely to work.

For example, punishing a boy who disrupts others in the class by taking away his gold badges will change his behavior because he wants his badges back. But if you keep taking them even when he hasn’t disrupted others, he’ll end up disrupting them and give up on the badges. It will reduce the effectiveness of this method.


It describes how often the punishment is instilled. Does it happen every time the mistake is committed, or are there times when the punishment is skipped? To ensure that the punishment is effective, ensure that it is applied any time the unwanted behavior shows up.

For example, a driver who crosses the speed limits every time and gets away with it. Punishment is not effective because it is only applied once in a while only when the driver is caught. To ensure an increased adherence to the traffic speeding rules, the ticket fine should apply every time the driver crosses the limit.

It works the same in children. If you take away the toy car every time they fight while playing, with time, they will learn to play without fighting so that you don’t take it away. That means that the punishment will be effective.

Effects of Negative Punishment on a Child

Punishment, in general, can make your child feel rejected, unwanted, or unappreciated. Negative punishment is effective, but if overdone, it can result in such feelings in a child. As a parent, that’s the last thing you’d want to happen to your child.

To evade such reactions, take time to explain to your child why you are taking away something they love from them. Let them know their lousy behavior caused you to do that, but if they correct it, then they can have it back.

For example, if you took the tablet from your 4-year-old kid because he was throwing tantrums, wait until he’s calm, then explain it to him. It will ensure that he understands that throwing tantrums is wrong, and you’ll take away the tablet if he does so. It will be easier for him to correct his mistake from there.

An aspect of love is needed when applying negative punishment to your child, especially to those under seven years. At this age, your child is learning the difference between good and bad. Punishment will play a significant role in bringing this difference, only that you be careful not to overdo it and trigger unwanted feelings in the child.

Drawbacks of Negative Punishment

Will it always work? Well, it depends on the factors we’ve discussed earlier in this article. However, while it may work, some drawbacks can happen.

The Child Can Go Back to Former Habits If Consistent Punishment Is Withdrawn

What is Negative Punishment?

The negative punishment effect will continue as long as it is consistently applied, and the stimulus is removed every time. The problem is, if the punishment is stopped, the child will easily slide back into it.

For example, suppose you consistently take away chocolates and sweets from a child who refuses to eat vegetables so that they eat the vegetables first. In that case, it’s crucial to continue insisting that they eat healthy food first before they get a sweet.

On the day you allow them to eat sweets without any restrictions, it is easy for them to slide back to the unwanted behavior, and you’ll have to start the punishment all over again.

Negative Punishment Doesn’t Offer Solutions

Negative punishment is useful, but it only takes away the stimulus without telling the child what to do instead. It does not provide the child with information on how to go about the desired action.

For example, a child who misbehaves in the class receives punishment and all his badges taken from him. Without guidance on how to behave and interact with others in the class, this child might developmental or emotional problems.

That is why it is vital to apply this kind of punishment without being forceful to ensure that it’s practical without harming the child.

What Are Some Examples of Negative Punishment Application?

Throughout this article, I’ve been keen to give an example under most points. This section will highlight a few more examples of how you can use negative punishment to correct your child’s unwanted behavior.

Skipping School

Children, especially teenagers, would rather stay at home than go to school. If you found out that your child skipped school or an exam at school, you can take away their car keys as punishment for their wrong decision. By doing this, you hope that your child realizes their mistake and correct it accordingly.

Refusing to Help with House Chores

We know that children nowadays would rather play computer games all day than wash dishes or even clean their room. Most of them are hooked online on their phones and laptops that they have no time for house chores.

To correct this behavior, you can cut out the internet connectivity until they finish all the duties and put everything in order. It can be a very effective method of disciplining your children, especially in this new age where technology has taken over. They’ll want to do their chores fast every day so that you don’t cut out the internet connectivity.

Disrespectful Children

What is Negative Punishment?

We don’t want to bring up disrespectful children. Psychologists recommend putting a rude child on time out every time they are disrespectful. The time out should be determined by the child’s age (one minute per year) and should only last for a short period.

Time outs help your child calm down, and you can easily talk to them when they are calm. Your child also learns to be more respectful, not only to you but also to others.

A Teenager Ignoring Set Curfew Times

Teenagers are a handful, and that’s why you set a limit to how much time they spend out with their friends and what time to come back home. If your child flouts your curfew time limits, you can punish her by grounding her for a few days.

The next time she goes out, she’ll be careful to be home before her time is up. Grounding is a form of negative punishment as it takes away their time, forcing them to remain at home while their friends are out there having fun.

One More Thing

When applying negative punishment, be on the lookout for changes in behavior in your child. It will tell you whether the strategy you are using is working or not. If you notice a new positive action in your child, reinforce it so that it remains with him.

Recognize the new positive behavior, praise your child every time you see them doing good things, and encourage them to do more. While punishment can be useful in correcting unwanted behavior, it’s essential to ensure that your child retains the good behaviors they learn along the way.

Remember to enforce negative punishment considering your child’s emotional state and take time to explain your actions to them so that they’ll not only change the bad behavior but do so with the understanding of what is right and what is wrong.

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