Most parents often mistake Negative Reinforcement with Punishment when dealing with problem behavior especially in children with special needs, but they are two very different techniques. It is important to note that reinforcement, even when it is negative, always increases a behavior but punishment decreases a behavior. Punishment, if promptly or immediately delivered, decreases undesirable behavior which results in the unlikely hood of the behavior occurring in the future.

There is Positive and Negative Punishment

In positive punishment, you present or add an undesirable object to decrease a behavior and in negative punishment, you remove a desirable object to decrease a behavior.


Positive Punishment; a child that bites his nails, a band aid is placed on the fingernail to stop biting. In this case, an object (band aid) is added in order to decrease the behavior (biting of nails). Chances are that in future; the child may not bite his nails again.

Negative punishment; when a child refuses to do his/her homework, you can take away his device or a favorite toy. In this case, an object (the device or toy) is removed in order to decrease the behavior (refusing to do homework).

In the traditional parenting approach, children are often subjected to physical punishment, such as spanking, beating, but research has shown the defects especially in children with special needs. These include; fear and aggression. following the beating or spanking, the child may become afraid of the hitting and of the parent who delivered the punishment.

Similarly, it may cause the child to become more aggressive and subject to antisocial behavior. Besides, spanking, beating it makes the child to believe that beating, spanking is an expression of anger and frustration by the parents so, in turn, the child acts out the same behavior to their peers when they become angry and frustrated. For instance, because you spank your child when you are angry with him/her for his/her tantrum, he/she might start hitting his/her friends when he/she can’t have his/her way.