Being of Influence: Beyond Punishment and Reward
When we think of changing a child’s behaviour, we often think of rewards and punishments. We believe certain behaviour should be rewarded, and other behaviour punished. We also believe that if we do this enough times with enough consistency, the child will modify their actions to be more acceptable to us. However, when we do this we ignore the most powerful developmental influences on the child.
Rewards and punishments can work …
Rewards and punishments have their place. Certainly there are things about a child’s behaviour which are unacceptable to us. Parents put in place a system of rewards and punishments in the belief that it replicates the child's later experience in the real world. As adults, we know certain behaviours are punished by government, by our employers and by economic circumstances. We also know that other behaviours are rewarded by these same groups.
… But their effect is unpredictable
However, we also know that rewards and punishments have a patchy effect on our behaviour. The rewards and punishments are remembered, but it doesn't always mean we are changed by them.
Turning to a new approach
We can apply what we know about childhood development to changing a child's behaviour. We know that changes in a child are driven by the quality of the relationships that they have with their caregivers. Specific qualities of these relationships will be the most fundamental forming influence on the child, and they are effective because they happen at both conscious and a subconscious level. We may not remember the details of these relationships but we are strongly influenced by them. Amongst the most important of these qualities are appropriate responsiveness to the child, giving the child someone to admire and aspire to be like, and allowing the child to form relationships with someone else that they can think of as ‘the same’.
Repairing the damage
Unfortunately, many people grow up without these experiences and it can long term difficulties with forming and keeping relationships. In time, these experiences can be the reasons that people turn psychotherapy or counselling for help. Well-trained professionals are experienced in recognising and addressing this; we work with the client to understand what's going on and getting the developmental processes restarted.
– Tim Hill
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