Child Behavior Modification Using a Reward & Punishment System

Consistency is critical when it comes to disciplining your toddler or preschooler; otherwise, you're only confusing your little one. Some experts maintain that the old "spare the rod and spoil the child" theory is an ineffective method for change because it won't keep your little darling in line over the long haul, explains the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP.) A reward (non-physical) punishment system can be effective since a tot tends to repeat rewarded behavior--he really does want to please you--and learns to clean up his act when punishment is mild, as in the case of a time-out.

How it Works

A reward-punishment system theory is quite elementary. It teaches a toddler or preschooler that being good makes good things happen and being bad brings about bad consequences. Behavioral changes can be seen in as little as 2 months when the system is used consistently. The system probably work won't for a young toddler since kids under age 2 have yet to make the connection that their actions have consequences, notes the AAFP. If they were in on the secret, maybe they'd scale back their tantrums to score some ice cream or cookies!

Age- Appropriate Punishments

Temper tantrums and aggressive or dangerous acts like hitting you, kicking a sibling or throwing a table knife across the room are examples of undesirable acts that warrant a time-out in toddlers and preschoolers. Calmly warn your tyke that a time-out is in his immediate future if his bad behavior doesn't stop pronto. If his disobedience persists, muster your best unruffled self and walk him over to his quiet spot.

See that your child is bored--not scared--when it comes to choosing a time-out spot. A corner of a room, an empty playpen or a chair are all good choices. Time-outs should be short for little ones. Plan on about two minutes for a 2-year-old and three minutes for a 3-year-old.

Withholding privileges is another effective form of punishment. It sends the message that if your child is misbehaving or is otherwise being uncooperative, he will have to hand over something important to him (for a short time) like a toy truck or have to give up watching his favorite TV show for a day.

Rewarding Good Behavior

Rewarding your child when she acts like a little angel is just as important as imposing punishment when she's being bad to the bone. Letting your little one stay up slightly later or serving a favorite treat for an afternoon snack are examples of much appreciated rewards in the mind of a toddler or preschooler. Your undivided attention and affection is so important to your tot that this alone may be enough of a reward when he's being a good boy.

Making a game out of being good can encourage your child to behave, points out Place a piggy bank on your child's dresser and drop a penny in every time he willingly follows the rules or stops misbehaving the first time you ask.


Don't reward your child with a treat to stop bad behavior no matter how forlorn his little face. Giving in teaches him that acting out gets him what he wants. Spanking your child is ill-advised not only because is it a temporary solution but it provokes anger and encourages aggression rather than teaching a child to be responsible, according to, a website published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.