hmm… caught your attention there hugh? You may be wondering why in the world you would use reinforcers as a negative consequence? Well since many of mostly highly potent reinforcers can function to increase a wide range of appropriate behaviors, why not also use them to decrease inappropriate behaviors.

The removal of a reinforcer can serve as a punisher. Think about some aversive situations in our lives. You get a speeding ticket – what’s the real punisher in this scenario? The removal of money, right? We are losing a highly powerful reinforcer. In the good ole’ ABA world this is known as negative punishment. It is the removal of something that is causing a decrease in behavior. Common uses of negative punishment are getting grounded, take a toy away when kids are fighting, and losing tokens when engaging in inappropriate behaviors. Interventions utilizing negative punishment are relatively easy to implement because you can use what you already know functions as a reinforcer.


A few tips and tricks:

  • For negative punishment to most effective you want to remove the highly referred item immediately after the behavior occurs! For some of our kiddos with low receptive language – taking away something and telling them it was for an inappropriate behavior they did earlier in the day is not going to do anything! You want them to develop the relation – problem behavior = no reinforcer. Bam.
  • For the most bang for your buck – be consistent. This can be a painful process but in the long run will save you time. You want them to develop the relationship between the inappropriate behavior and the loss of the preferred item and this will happen more easily and quickly if you are consistent with removing the item.
  • Don’t get too lofty with your ambitions here – be reasonable and safe. Trying to take away a child’s favorite candy once they have already started eating it might be awesome way to lose a finger. Only remove an item that can be taken away easily without causing additional disruptive or inappropriate behaviors.
  • Time out is a commonly used form of negative punishment. However – for time out to work as a negative punishment – ‘time in’ must be reinforcing! If you are giving a child time out and they are missing out on school work that they do not like – well that’s not punishing at all! You may have actually just reinforced their inappropriate behavior by getting them out of work they don’t like!


How I have used this:

  • With my token economy, we use negative punishment for a variety of inappropriate behaviors by taking away a star. When I am using my token economy for work completion I will take away a star for wrong answers, slow work output, or messy writing. When I use tokens for behavior, I take stars away for inappropriate behaviors.
  • Ipad to the rescue again. Since that small magical rectangle is pretty much the MOST powerful reinforcer we have – not surprisingly the removal of it functions as a pretty strong punisher. When I mentioned earlier the painful process of negative reinforcement can be – I was thinking of this intervention. Every time one of students has the iPad, I would sit with him. We were working on decreasing playing with his gum. {We used chewing gum as a sensory strategy to decrease self injurious behavior.} Gum was super successful and almost completely eliminated the behavior but then a new problem popped up.  Playing with his gum is really unhygienic and distracting to him and others so it was an appropriate behavior to decrease. Every time he pulled his gum out, I took the iPad. After a few days of this gum stayed in his mouth.

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