Educational Psychology: What do you know about punishment and what are its negative impacts?



10 b ii). Explain some of the facts about punishment and the negative impact it leaves on students.

Facts about punishment

When we talk about punishment we have certain expectations.

        • We expect that it will serve as an incentive to induce behavior change.
        • We expect the punished pupil to avoid errors. But whereas punishment could meet our expectations we should also realize that it could also be an incentive to induce other undesirable behaviors.

There are times when punishment can provide the pupil with need satisfaction. For example,

        • A child who attracts the teacher’s attention only when he talks in class will continue talking.
        • For this pupil punishment is desirable, it is rewarding.
        • This happens when the teacher recognizes the presence of that pupil only when he misbehaves.
        • For this reason teachers are advised to recognize pupils and reward them for any good behavior they show and not wait to recognize the pupil only when he has misbehaved.

Another factor determining whether a learner will engage in undesirable behavior or not is knowledge of punishment.

        • A learner may choose to engage in undesirable behavior with full knowledge of the punishment and also with the willingness to take the punishment.

Also happens if the teacher punishes the pupil for dependence behavior, the child becomes more dependent.

        • This happens even at home when a mother beats the child for clinging on to her.
        • Common sense would have it that the child should run away from the mother but he doesn’t. This child clings to the mother even more firmly

The punishment of aggressive behaviors

If the teacher punishes a pupil for aggressive tendencies, this pupil is likely to be more aggressive and particularly if subjected to harsh physical punishment.

  1. Punishment may not eliminate the undesirable behavior. For example a child who is punished for smoking in school may stop smoking while in school but continue to do so in other places.
  2. At other times, punishment may eliminate one undesirable behavior but another equally undesirable behavior emerges e.g. a child may be punished for being aggressive and actually stops but becomes withdrawn.
  3. There are pupils who may fear punishment so much that they become avoidant. They may fake illness, become truant, fail to attend school sessions.
  4. It is also noted that when a pupil is punished he is not provided with an alternative behavior, for example, a child can learn to control his aggressive tendencies but doesn’t learn to be friendly.

Negative effects of punishment

It has become increasingly important for teachers to know that the effects of punishment are frequently undesirable.

  1. For one, the threatening aspects of punishment may produce emotional tension in the pupil who may actually learn to hate the punisher because of the fear of punishment
  2. The pupil may acquire many undesirable behaviors to avoid being punished. He may cheat, lie, and become anxious.
  3. The teacher needs to be aware that punishment has limited usefulness as a control technique
    • It has real disadvantages in the terms of the total learning of the child
    • Teachers need to note that if their interaction with pupils is largely characterized by punitive relationship, they are likely to be ineffective in promoting a wide range of desirable behavior.

Conditions under which punishment should be given

From the foregoing, it looks like we are discouraging the use of punishment. However, we recognize that punishment cannot be dismissed or ignored. We would, therefore, want to look at it as one of the methods of behavior change which should be used under specified conditions in order to be beneficial. The teacher may find the following suggestions useful:

  • If the teacher must punish he should specify and communicate the punishable behavior to the pupils by means of classroom rules and regulations.
  • The pupils should be involved in the drawing of the rules
  • These rules should be posted where the pupils can see them
  • The rules should be reviewed often
  • The school should also provide the pupils with models of acceptable behavior. If the acceptable behavior is good grooming, punctuality, honesty, hard work or responsibility, then a student who displays any of these characteristics should be called in front of the school during the school assembly for all to see an example of the desirable behavior that the teacher wishes to reinforce. The schools should never display models of undesirable behavior because everytime they do so they create hero worship of the pupils with the undesirable characteristics: Those with the most unkempt hair, lazy, dishonest or poorly groomed pupils should never be put on the display. They should be denied recognition.
  • If the punishment must be delivered it must be done immediately. This should be done in line with the principle of contingency discussed above.
  • Pupils should be informed of the alternative behavior that is what they would have done instead of the punished behavior.
  • The punishment should always be perceived as fair. This means that the teacher should not be seen to practice partiality. Those who deserve to be punished must receive their punishment as prescribed. Impartiality can be a major cause of school unrest and increased indiscipline.
  • Punishment must be delivered consistently in line with the principle of consistency. This means that whenever possible the punishable act should never be allowed to escape punishment.
  • The teacher should try and avoid group punishment at all costs.A lot of gains are made if the teacher is able to isolate a student or two and punish them instead of punishing the whole class. If the whole class is making noise or failing to cooperate it is advisable to sometimes ignore the incidence or to look for alternative methods of dealing with the situation. When the teacher uses group punishment, it ceases to be punishment as learners may actually enjoy it.



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