It's normal for
a mother to laugh out loud the first time her child launches a spoonful of peas
into the air, but when it happens a second or third time, it may not be as
When mom stops
laughing, two things can occur: Either she will take the food away and try
again later or completely lose her mind, which can lead to yelling or
punishing a child to get them to behave.
doesn’t work, that yelling to get them to behave thing (but you sort of know that already, right?). In fact, according to a new study,
motivation through punishment doesn't get your kids to listen, and it does more harm than good.
The study involved electroconvulsive
therapy (formerly known as electroshock therapy, yikes!), a controversial
procedure that passes small electric currents through the brain to reverse
symptoms of certain mental illnesses. As painful as it sounds, experts agree
that it is safe—as long as patients are under general
anesthesia while doctors electrocute the insides of their skull. Oh, and they didn't use it on children, so settle down.
Andreas Eder and his team of mad scientists examined the motivational
effects of response-contingent electric shocks on action initiation. While these experiments were conducted on willing adults, their
findings are of interest to those of us with kids.
Here's how it
all went down:
were encouraged to complete a simple task after learning they would receive a
slightly painful electric shock when pressing one of the two keys. When a
number flashed up on a screen, they were asked to determine whether the number
was greater than or lesser than five and communicate their decision by hitting
the appropriate key.
punishment alone does not stop undesirable behavior.
enough. However, when participants hit the wrong key, they got zapped. Why would anyone deliberately do such
the same thing and expected participants to press the key more slowly after
learning of the electrifying consequences. But, it turns out, they were wrong. Not
only did particpants push the pain-inducing key, they did so more quickly than before
because they wanted to get it over with due to (scientists assumed) heightened
The keys in second
test were set up a bit differently. Once again, there were only two keys, but
this time one of them caused a weak electric shock, while the other delivered a
strong one and—no duh—participants chose the key that generated the least
amount of pain.
punishment alone does not stop undesirable behavior. If anything, it may have
the reverse effect, which is why some kids will voluntarily "put
themselves in timeout" whenever they do something wrong.
So, the next
time the wee ones want to challenge your authority, breathe deep and think of a
clear alternative to their problematic response. It's an excellent way to end
unwanted behavior without ripping your hair out, and your kids will learn to
make tough decisions.