Finding balance

This chapter is on how parents can balance reward and punishment, and the various degrees of punishment, in a way that is fair, appropriate and effective.

Human behavior can be roughly represented by a bell curve. Individual acts of behavior range from the very good to the very bad, but the probability of the extremes will usually be much lower than the probability of the middle (neutral) ground.

The same is true for the behavior of children. We can call the center area of the bell curve the "neutral zone". To the left of it are the "good acts" that deserve encouragement and reward, and to the right of it are the "bad acts" that deserve discouragement and punishment.

Generally, the more severe an offense is, the higher the punishment should be. From the shape of the bell curve you can see that minor offenses will be much more frequent than major offenses. Consequently, light punishments should be much more frequent than harder punishments.

The spectrum of punishments available for parents ranges from verbal correction (scolding) to time-outs, corner time, restriction, extra chores, removal of privileges, etc. etc., up to corporal punishment (spankings). Spankings are typically used for the most serious of offenses, so to correspond with the bell curve of bahavior, spankings should be pretty unfrequent events, compared to milder consequences.

It has been suggested that an appropriate balance of the frequency vs. severity of punishments could be (approximately):
  • 4 verbal corrections for 1 light punishment
  • 4 light punishments for 1 medium punishment
  • 4 medium punishments for 1 hard punishment
According to this table, there should be 64 verbal corrections (on average) for one hard punishment. These numbers are of course not to be taken literally, but you see the point. If spankings are an almost daily routine in your family, something is out of balance.

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Last update: Aug-31-2004