Behavioral Techniques In Parenting, Part IV: Correction-Overcorrection

In our second article of the series, we discussed positive and negative punishment. In this article, we are going to look at a method that incorporates punishment called correction-overcorrection.

In the last two articles on punishment and extinction, I wrote that both techniques are generally ineffective methods of behavior change because they do not offer an alternative behavior. The typical outcome for both is that the individual still continues the undesired behavior, he/she just becomes more effective at hiding it.

Correction-overcorrection uses punishment as part of a protocol but engages the individual in corrective behaviors and typically demonstrates greater efficacy than simple consequences. Let’s use a scenario to illustrate its application.

A child is done playing with her legos and does not put them away when going to bed. The parent, who values his feet and does not like pain wants to correct this behavior using correction-overcorrection.

A correction-overcorrection strategy would include these three steps:

(1) The parent would take away something the child wants that is slightly greater than and is still connected to the natural consequence.

In our scenario above, the parent may tell the child they are not allowed to play with the Legos (punishment) or their other toys (expanded punishment) because the child did not put the legos away after she was done (undesired behavior).

(2) The parent would then require the child to correct the original problem and another task on top of the correction that is reasonably connected.

In our scenario, the parent may require the child to pick up her Legos (correction) and also tidy up the remainder of her room (overcorrection).

(3) Once the correction-overcorrection is completed, the consequence is immediately lifted.

Once the child completes the correction (picking up the Legos) and overcorrection (cleaning up the rest of her room), she is immediately allowed to play with her legos and toys again (positive reinforcement).

In order for correction-overcorrection to be effective, the punishment must fit the “crime” and the person who committed the “crime” is taught ways of avoiding or ending the undesired behavior.  As always, delivery is key – empathy, specificity, and clarity lead to better outcomes and reduces the risk of undesired unintended consequences.

In our next article, we will look at three effective techniques that use learning and practice as the main mechanisms for behavior change.

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