Negative or Positive Reinforcement
Annette Nay, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2007
Spanking is an old school tradition. "Spare the rod, spoil the child." But it does not go well with potty training. Neither does any type of negative verbal or physical feedback Let me explain why.
Potty training is a scary time not only for the parent, but for the child as well. The child has been going along doing just fine up to the point of potty training. Dirty diapers were troublesome, but no one had any great expectations of the child.
Then one fine morning, potty training began. Now there is great pressure for the parent to succeed in potty training their child or they assume that they are not good parents. This puts a great deal of pressure on the child to perform perfectly. When this does not happen, some parents resort to spanking.
First thing to realize is that a behavior exists because it gets the child what he or she wants. When children makes a mistake and wet their big boy or girl pants, this gets often generates a negative reaction either verbally or physically or both, from their parents.
The child under pressure just wants things to go back to their easy going way they were before potty training began. Second thing to realize is, all people hate change, whether they are big or little. So there is resistance to change especially when there is negative reinforcement attached to it.
When a child is berated or beaten for making a mistake in their pants they are unsure that they can perform the new behavior they are expected to do, so they want to revert back to the safety of no expectation that was had with the diaper. The diaper represents no pressure, no withdrawal of parental affection, and no negative reinforcement. It is no wonder, therefore, that the child does not want anything to do with potty-training, especially when this is happening with the 2 1/2 to 3 year old child who can really think and manipulate his or her own world.
Children, for the most part wants to please their parents. They want love and positive reinforcement from them. When this is withdrawn because of failure to be perfect, then there is a tendency to withdraw from participation in the training. Therefore, it behooves parents to find positive ways to reinforce good behavior instead of reinforcing bad behavior.
Think of times in the past where you have had to learn a new skill. If it was at work, you were highly motivated to accomplish the skill, no matter how hard it was. If you had made a mistake and had negative feedback, you probably wanted to quite, but did not because you wanted to retain your job. How much easier would it have been if your boss had been understanding and had expectations that were not so high that they were almost unattainable? Children are not highly motivated to change from the diaper to using the potty by themselves. Any new behavior to be learned seldom if ever is accomplished perfectly the first few times.
Every new behavior holds a learning curve. This will be different for each person. During this learning curve, it is accepted that there will be mistakes. That is what learning is all about. If we give negative reinforcement for mistakes then the person learns that new growth experiences are bad and to be avoided at all costs, no matter what the new growth experience is.
Negative reinforcement will likely cause negative outcomes not only in potty training, but in way the child comes to grips future experiences. Parent must set aside the pressure they have put upon themselves to prove they are good parents, and deal kindly and forgivingly with the child for both their sake. This is the mark of a good parent, not the iron fist idea that the child will behave or else.