Using Reprimands as a Method of Decreasing Problem Behavior
One form of punishment is the reprimand (Houten, 1980, Reid, 1999). To be reprimanded is to be scolded, “yelled at,” “bawled out,” or otherwise verbally chastised for exhibiting an inappropriate target behavior. Reprimands are useful when a child is engaging in behavior that necessitates immediate action because it is potentially harmful to self, others, or property. Reprimands should be used selectively in response to specific behaviors. A reprimand should include a statement of an appropriate alternative to the inappropriate behavior (Piazza, Bowman, Contrucci, Delia, Adelinis, & Goh, 1999).
The following are some guidelines for the effective use of reprimands:
- Be specific. Tell the child exactly what inappropriate behavior is being reprimanded.
- Reprimand the behavior; do not derogate the child.
- Reprimand immediately.
- Be firm in voice and physical demeanor.
- If either the child or others may be harmed by the behavior, remove the child.
- If necessary, back up the reprimand with loss of privileges.
- Encourage the child to behave appropriately and include a statement of the appropriate behavior in the reprimand.
- Be calm.
- When it’s over, it’s over. Do not keep reminding the child of past inappropriate behavior; avoid embarrassing the child in the presence of peers and others. To this end, use nonverbal reprimands: shake your head “no,” point your finger, frown, and so on.
- Always observe the child’s reaction to the reprimand to determine whether it is aversive.
Margie! Turn off the lathe. Do not turn it on again until you have put on your safety glasses and removed that loose scarf from your neck. Please review the safety rules.
Donald! Sit up straight and put your feet on the floor while you are typing. Proper posture will help your concentration and prevent back pain and physical discomfort in the future.
Mary! Put on your seat belt. It is the law in Illinois and may save you from injury if we have an accident.
Herm! Close the windows when you turn on the air conditioner. This will save electricity, which is very expensive.
With regard to the effectiveness of verbal reprimands, intervention research results are mixed (Salend, Jantzen, & Giek, 1992). The efficacy of the verbal reprimand appears to be controlled by various conditions. According to Van Houten, Nau, Mackenzie-Keating, Sameoto, and Colavecchia (1982), the effectiveness of a reprimand is increased when (a) combined with nonverbal behavior generally associated with a verbal reprimand (e.g., pointing a finger) and (b) delivered in close proximity to the individual who is the target of the reprimand.
Wheldall (1991) researched the effectiveness of verbal reprimands with four teachers in general education classrooms. He concluded that reprimands should be given privately and within a positive context. In addition, reprimands should be used infrequently, and be specific to the unacceptable behavior.
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