9 Reasons to Correct Student Behavior with Rewards, Not Punishments

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Instinctively, most educators understand that rewarding students for positive behavior is better than punishing them for negative behavior. Of course, some negative situations will inevitably arise that require disciplinary action to be taken, but whenever possible, student behavior will be corrected more effectively when opportunities are found to praise children for behaving correctly. Here are 9 reasons why children respond with better behavior when motivated by reward rather than punishment.

1. For Children, Processing Positive Feedback Is Easier Than Negative

While research has found that older adults find negative feedback or criticism more useful to improving performance than positive, the opposite is true of younger children. A recent study by Leiden University on 8, 9, 11 and 12-year-olds show that children process information better when it is reinforced positively rather than negatively.

2. Threat of Punishment Causes “Choking”

When students are overshadowed by the fear of being punished if they don’t behave in certain ways, retain information or perform as expected, they are more likely to “choke” at crucial moments. This means that even if they would be capable of performing effectively in less stressful situations, the fear of punishment often makes it difficult or impossible for them to fulfill their potential.

3. Recognition of Achievement Motivates Kids

When kids look forward to recognition, they are more motivated to perform well. Rewards such as filling a marble jar toward a specified goal (a field trip, for instance), reading or art time, or getting their names on a special chart helps students strive. Plus, recognition for success makes for a much more positive environment than the humiliation and notoriety that comes with punishment.

4. Reward Leads to Greater Retention Than Punishment

In 2015, a group of neuroscientists and psychologies found that people who are rewarded retain information longer than control groups or groups that are negatively reinforced. Because retention is so important to long-term learning gains and outcomes, it makes sense to use rewards whenever possible.

5. Kids Will Bond With Rewarding Adults More Strongly

When they’re not afraid of punishment for failing to perform, but rather are rewarded when they succeed, children have an easier time bonding with adults. When children have had positive emotional experiences with their teachers or administrators, they are more likely to ask questions and get help when they need it – a crucial ingredient for success.

6. Reward Makes for a Safer Environment

In a closely related fashion, bonding with adults over rewards rather than fearing punishment also makes for a safer environment, which means children feel more comfortable trying, as well as coming to adults for help. When children feel that they are emotionally safe, they will not be afraid to try and will be better able to learn.

7. Punishment May Not Be That Effective at Deterring Behavior

Punishment doesn’t necessarily teach kids not to do something; it may more likely teach them not to get caught. In this case, kids don’t necessarily associate punishment with gain of any sort, but rather with a negative response that they can simply try to avoid next time. In these cases there is no real motivation to act differently.

8. Punishment Makes for an Environment Where Risk Is Avoided

Experimentation is so laden with the chance of failure, but it is still where the greatest gains in human knowledge are made. When children take risks, they have the best chance of making real strides, which is why punishment is so detrimental to true, hands-on, self-motivated learning. Have you ever said “There are no dumb questions” before? Risk often leads to failure, and if children believe that failure leads to punishment, they will be afraid to take risks.

9. Rewards Are More Fun for Educators!

Let’s be real: Who wouldn’t rather see a child’s eyes shine than see them fill with tears? Anyone who’s chosen education as a career would no doubt choose the former option. For that reason alone, opting for rewards is often the best choice.

Punishment has too many negative effects and there is simply a better way to influence a child’s behavior. This is not to say that teachers should not be strict or follow-up poor choices with bad consequences. This post is meant to help give any teacher reasons to focus on rewarding their students.

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