10 Positive Punishment Techniques & Their Effect

By: Ashley Brown

Updated July 21, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Laura Angers

As a parent, it is natural to wonder about the best way to teach your child right from wrong. Punishing them is no fun, but sometimes it has to be done if you want their behavior to change. Not everyone will agree on how you should punish your child, but some experts are convinced that positive punishment techniques are the best approach. In this article, we'll look at positive punishment in more detail and explain how it can help your kids.

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What is Positive Punishment?

When you have a particularly boisterous child, it can be tricky to determine the best way to discipline them. You want the discipline to be effective without becoming extreme, but the more stubborn the child, the harder your job becomes. One of the methods that people tend to use is positive punishment.

You may think that positive punishment means that it's always good, but this is not the case. While some forms of positive punishment have proven to be effective, others do more harm than good. Positive punishment simply means that you're responding to negative behavior with a negative consequence. Think of it as two negatives making a positive.

Difference Between Positive and Negative Punishment

There is little difference between positive and negative punishment. Positive punishment means that there's a negative consequence for negative behavior. Negative punishment means that you are taking away something desirable in response to negative behavior. For example, grounding is a positive punishment because you are adding a negative consequence, but specifically taking away the ability to go to a party would be a negative punishment. As you can see, the differences can be extremely subtle.

As a parent, the difference probably isn't that important. You just want to know what works best. If you have problems with your child's behavior, know that you're not alone. Roughly 8 percent of all children have been diagnosed with a behavior problem. If your child has been diagnosed, this is a good thing because you can begin to treat the issue at home.

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Positive Punishment Techniques

There are many positive punishment techniques that you can use in your discipline strategy. It is always a good idea to make the punishment fit the crime. If the negative behavior is minor, a scolding may suffice. If the negative behavior is more serious or frequent, a sterner punishment may be required to break the pattern.

  • Marker System: The marker system is a good way to incorporate positive punishment with positive reinforcement. This is similar to a method used in schools-a child gets their name written on the board with a mark for bad behavior. Each time the negative behavior is displayed, you place another marker on the chart. If good behavior is displayed, you take away a marker. If the day ends with no marks on the chart, the child gets a reward.
  • Scolding: This typical positive punishment is frequently done by parents without much thought. A scolding could be done in public or private, and there are different schools of thought on each. Some schools implement scolding in front of the entire class, but some psychologists suggest that scolding a child in public can be an embarrassing and traumatic experience.
  • Spanking: There is a lot of debate around this form of positive punishment. While nearly 70 percent of Americans feel that spanking is an appropriate form of punishment, many psychologists disagree, believing it's ineffective and ultimately harmful.
  • Time Out: Many psychologists recommend this form of positive punishment, though it should be appropriate for the age. The general rule of thumb is one minute for each year of age. The effectiveness of the time out depends on your consistency and persistence, not to mention the stubbornness of your child.
  • Writing Sentences or Essays: Schools have used this as a form of positive punishment for decades, and it's an effective form of discipline. You can easily use this form of discipline in your own home as well.
  • Adding Chores: Adding chores to your child's to-do list can also be used as a form of positive punishment, particularly in place of lengthy time out sessions or grounding. It keeps the child active, crosses something off the family's to-do list, and has them contributing to the household. It also prevents them from being isolated for long periods of time.
  • Grounding: Grounding is another common form of positive punishment. When you ground your child at home and prevent them from going to events or out with their friends, it could be considered negative punishment. Grounding your child to their room would be more in line with positive punishment, but the line between positive and negative punishment is very vague when it comes to grounding.
  • Early Bedtime or Extra Nap: Early bedtime or an extra naptime is an effective positive punishment for younger children. Children do not want to sleep when they could play or be active, so being forced to sleep is a great deterrent to bad behavior. Also, most small children act out more when they are tired. By making them get some extra sleep, you are likely curing the root of the problem.

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  • Extra Study Time: Extra study time is another effective form of positive punishment, especially when it's a response to not doing homework or acting out in class. The extra study time is essentially a natural consequence in these situations. Because the child did not study they were supposed to, they receive extra study time instead of time with games or playing with others.
  • Natural Consequences: Natural consequences are the best form of positive punishment because they teach your children about life. Natural consequences do not require any action from the parent. Instead, these are consequences that occur naturally as the result of the bad behavior. For example, if your child doesn't clean their room and gather their laundry, their laundry does not get washed and dried, so they have to wear dirty clothes.

Solutions for Positive Punishment

Consistency is the key to effective positive punishment. In fact, studies have shown that positive punishment is only effective if it is consistent. This means that the same consequence should apply each time the negative behavior is displayed. A lack of consistency will make the punishment less effective.

It is also important that you use other parenting tools like positive reinforcement in conjunction with positive punishment. If you use positive punishment too frequently without the benefit of a rewards system for good behavior, the child may decide that they are only getting negative feedback regardless of what they do. Then they're likely to act out further. In that case, the positive punishment will be much less effective.

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Always be sure to explain what you expect to your child. They can only know what they should do if they're aware of the rules in the first place. They need boundaries, and they need to know that you aren't disappointed in them if they happen to mess up. Let them know that you love them and support them no matter what. This is imperative, and it can strengthen your bond with your child.

BetterHelp Can Support You

If you're still having difficulty implementing positive discipline, you might want to consider speaking to an expert. A therapist can help you examine your positive punishment methods and your other parenting tools to determine what is working and what isn't. They can also give you additional tools for your parenting toolbox, so you can work to improve your child's behavior. If you need this type of support, consider speaking to one of BetterHelp's counselors. They have years of experience assisting many people with parenting issues. Whether you want advice or simply need to vent, our counselors are here for you with an unbiased, judgement-free ear. Read the reviews below to see what other people have to say about their experiences with BetterHelp counselors.

Counselor Reviews

"Douglas comes up with clear solutions and I appreciate that. I didn't want a therapist to tell me to talk about my day and how does that make me feel and that it's normal to have these feelings. I know it is normal to feel angry sometimes, but I wanted to understand how to recognize it and address it. So if you need constructive conversation with fast results for everyday annoyances and (especially effective child rearing advice!) I think Douglas is your therapist."

"I've only been on BetterHelp for a couple weeks and so far it's helped me figure out what changes I needed to make in my life to relieve stress. My counselor has been a great help and a great listener! When we had our live call session she was understanding when my kids needed me. She was very patient with my life's craziness."


No matter what, the fact that you're reading this article shows that you're trying to be a productive, healthy parent. With the right tools, it's possible to have a loving relationship and still teach your kids right from wrong. Take the first step today.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is an example of positive punishment?

Positive punishment proves useful because many parents are simply looking for a change. There are many examples of positive punishment but here is a scenario;

A child takes a toy from a superstore and hides it in their pocket. The parent makes sure the child returns the toy and writes an apology or render it face to face. The child faces the consequence of their actions. In effect, the embarrassment that came with their act will not be forgotten.

Other examples of positive punishment in practice: Making a teen do extra chores when he fails to adhere to curfew rules. He does the task with a consciousness of the importance of laid down rules. This example is strategic and touches one of the behavior modification models of operant conditioning to encourage a better behavior.   

What is positive punishment?

Studies in psychology show that positive punishment is a medium of behavior modification by addition. However, the word “positive” does not always mean it’s pleasant, especially as “positive” and “punishment” sound like words you should not use together. The concept of positive punishment is thoroughly elucidated by B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning theory. Therefore, the several examples of positive punishment refer to aversive stimulus through negative consequence.

From inception, the theory of operant conditioning used four elements to influence behavior; positive punishment, positive reinforcement, negative punishment, and negative reinforcement. These form a paradigm of operant conditioning. To put it elaborately, the theory of operant conditioning satisfies either of two conditions; your intention to encourage or discourage a behavior or your seeking to influence behavior (positively) or cut down on something. 

What is an example of negative punishment?

Negative punishment is one of the four effective strategies in the theory of operant conditioning. Mainly, operant conditioning reflects negative punishment as taking away so that a behavior is less likely to continue. 

Here’s a predominant example; Two children fight over who plays with a toy; their mother takes away the toy from both children. Rather than fight next time, they can learn to share or take turns. 

Is positive punishment effective?

Operant conditioning employs positive punishment concepts that comes from old psychology as far back as the 1930s. Nevertheless, operant conditioning through positive punishment tends to add something to the mix. Of course, you’re adding something undesirable to influence behavior, but the child gets the message. It is imperative to note that the situation dictates the method you turn to and ultimately the results.  The unwanted could be what changes their behavior. While results are often not immediate, a change in behavioral patterns ensue. Also, parents may consider teaching the child alternatives so that when the unwanted behavior stops, they can have something to look up to.

What is positive punishment ABA?

ABA means applied behavior analysis, referring to the addition of consequence to a behavior. In effect, the concept aims at reducing the chances of having such actions in the future. Essentially, positive punishment ABA is the same as positive punishment but with different application. The terminology “ABA” is mostly used by professionals, but there is a catch, positive punishment ABA is an ethical treatment for autism. Even though a lot of controversies surround the method, professionals argue that it reduces dangerous reactions like biting or head banging.

True, operant conditioning is a result of experimental analysis, and ABA employs this in addition to an empirical approach. Thus, making it an applied form of operant conditioning. Since punishment can be effective, parents adopt different styles, but, in the context of ABA, the common strategies are overcorrection, time-out, response cost, visual screening and others.

 Is scolding a child positive punishment?

When a dog jumps at its owner and the owner scolds the dog, the chances of having that kind of behavior again may decrease. That is a pet. While having a fast rule on positive punishment may seem harmless to some people, scolding as a correct approach depends on the situation. 

Scolding is, without a doubt, a popular kind of positive punishment, and children will gladly avoid it so it may work for specific situations. 

However, research shows that parents who use harsh scolding may be subjecting their kids to anxieties which adversely affects their mental health. A possible effect is that positive punishment may have too many negative consequences. For instance, a 2016 review suggests that spanking and child behavior do not go well together i.e., the more you spank a child, the more likely they are to be in defiance. It further states that positive punishment teaches avoidance but not a replacement. 

Is yelling positive punishment?

Operant conditioning outlines positive punishment as an unpleasant consequence, and yelling is an example. Yelling at a kid for lousy behavior immediately puts the kid in place. However, constant yelling becomes harsh verbal discipline and may not necessarily discourage the behavior. Wang and Kenny (University of Pittsburgh and Michigan) conducted a study on “parents’ harsh verbal discipline and adolescent conduct problems and symptoms of depression”. The results did not only show yelling as ineffective; it showed that the relationship between parent and child is at stake, and the predisposition to long-lasting psychological problems is evident. 

What is positive punishment and negative punishment?

Punishment generally aims for a reduction in behavior due to consequences. Therefore, the relationship between positive and negative punishment to influence behavior depends on the results you are seeking. Operant conditioning describes it as giving and taking away. The same theory explains that punishment can be positive since outside factors generally influence people. Adding a positive term to the term “punishment” gives an opposing meaning the same way “negative” carries a positive connotation to punishment. The effectiveness of either approach depends on the individual and the scenario. For example, children will gladly receive some candy than get additional chores. Also, taking away certain privileges seems sufficient and stringent enough for a kid with discipline challenges. In schools, positive punishment through operant conditioning is mostly sufficient even though positive reinforcement may also be used. 

What are negative effects of punishment?

First, punishment hardly offers information about desired behaviors. Except children are told what they should be doing, they may not know. A common and more likely effect of punishment is imitation. Kids learn through imitation, so you’re likely to see the impact in how you're handling them in the way they speak or relate with other people. A 2002 review and meta-analysis indicate that punishment is associated with decreased moral internalization, increased child aggression, and antisocial behaviors.

The less visible but more impactful adverse effects of punishment are the potential of problems like anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns. Punishment, although intended to deter inappropriate reactions, may provoke children to fear and eventually insecurity. 

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