Psychology Term Paper

This paper was written for Psychology 350-303 VA, Section 00002, taught by Karen White.

Summary of Articles:

The article “It’s Not Discipline, It’s a Teachable Moment” is concerned with discipline, punishment, reinforcement, and parents’ ineffective disciplinary methods. The author, Parker-Pope, provides the opinion of a number of different doctors to demonstrate that punishment is an unsuccessful approach to changing the undesired behaviors of a child, and that the punishments used by parents often end up reinforcing a bad behavior. Parker-Pope emphasizes that defining discipline, teaching, positive feedback, and clear rules and boundaries are much more effective means of behavior modification than punishment. She clarifies that short time-outs can be effective with young children, while involvement and parental monitoring are most effective with teenagers; in essence, it is important to create an atmosphere where children feel in control and do not feel victimized. The author concludes by stating that the issue of ineffective discipline may be getting worse, in part because it is more time consuming to reinforce good behavior, and in part because of new technologies.
In his interview with Ron Brandt, Alfie Kohn stresses that it is important to work with children rather than to do things to children. Kohn sees both punishments and rewards as negative; he clarifies that, according to his beliefs as well as a vast number of studies, extrinsics serve to manipulate children and are not effective over time. Indeed, he emphasizes that because of extrinsic motivators, such as verbal praise and grades, intrinsic motivation tends to evaporate. He states that positive feedback that is informative can be beneficial, but praise is typically given to children as a type of verbal reward. He stresses that children need to be in an environment
where they have unconditional support and encouragement, and that the focus should be on the child rather than on the educator. He believes that the three Cs of motivation – content,
community, and choice – are the key to having schools where punishments and rewards are not necessary.

Summary of class notes:

Inadvertent reinforcement happens when a child receives attention for misbehaving and this attention reinforces the misbehavior, such as when a parent verbally reprimands a child on a time out, thus giving the child further attention. According to the textbook, punishments are typically ineffective, and an alternative way of prompting appropriate behavior is by reinforcing an incompatible behavior, one that is more desirable and cannot be performed at the same time as the inappropriate behavior. A major advantage to this approach is that it concretely teaches the child what to do, and does not leave the child guessing as to what is the appropriate response.
One form of punishment is a time-out, such as when a misbehaving child is put in an uninteresting situation until that child has stopped the inappropriate behavior. Time-outs can be effective, particularly with small children, when they are applied appropriately. However, if time-outs are misused, then they might lead to feelings of abandonment and unworthiness, blind obedience, and a lack of self-control.
Moreover, according to the class notes, children are curious and have a drive to learn, and learning is intrinsically rewarding for them. In order to facilitate this learning and avoid punishment, we should try to create conditions that impede unwanted behaviors. It is important to note that if children feel that they are being manipulated or controlled by the rewards, their behavior will likely not change effectively. Indeed, as explained by the over-justification effect, punishments and rewards are not effective if children only behave well in order to get a reward or avoid a punishment.
Rather than using rewards and punishments, a more effective method is to use authentic activities; activities that are similar to situations students are likely to experience in the real world. The book suggests that if educators used more authentic activities, students would be more likely to create a productive knowledge base and use that knowledge later on in their life.

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According to many childhood health experts, there are many issues with the methods commonly used to discipline children. ‘It’s Not Discipline, It’s a Teachable Moment’ states that many parents and educators use various forms of punishment to discipline. However, in doing so, they tend to inadvertently reinforce inappropriate behaviors. While time-outs can be effective in helping young children control their emotions, many adults misuse the technique, by making it too long or scolding the child during the time-out. As the article points out, parents will often drop whatever they are doing in order to discipline their child in cases where they are acting up, which is exactly what the child wants, thus rewarding them. Moreover, it is much more effective to reward children for their desirable behavior. In cases where a child is behaving well, it would be useful if parents were to stop what they are doing and tell their child they want to spend time with them because they are behaving so well, reinforcing the incompatible behavior.
According to Alfie Kohn, offering students reinforcers for tasks that they find intrinsically motivating can damage their interest in the task. He states that children are motivated by nature, and therefore offering them external rewards is a form of manipulation. He gives us an example of a teacher who uses one of her students who is behaving appropriately to set a standard for the other students. He states that this is ineffective, because it is centered on the teacher. Research shows that as students reach higher-grade levels, their intrinsic motivation decreases around the time when grades start to become important, exemplifying the over-justification effect. Moreover, Kohn believes that a more effective alternative is to present students with authentic tasks; for example, he suggests that it would be effective to integrate the concept of growth when teaching children fractions, because most children consider this to be important.


Brandt, R. (1995, September). Punished by rewards? [Supplemental material].
Educational Leadership. Retrieved from

Ormrod, J.E., Saklofske, D.H., Schwean, V.L., Andrews, J.J.W., & Shore, B.M. (2010).
Principles of educational psychology. Toronto, ON: Pearson Education Canada.

Parker-Pope, T. (2008, October 15). It’s not discipline, it’s a teachable moment.
New York Times. Retrieved from

White, K. (2010). Course notes, Human Learning, Memory and Intelligence. Vanier
College, Montreal QC.