Punishments and Rewards

Punishments & Rewards – Consequences & Discipline (In Work with Children and Young People who have Suffered Trauma and Other Adversities)
By Patrick Tomlinson | January, 2019.

Introduction and link to full article in PDF format


This article aims to provide some food […] for thought on this interesting and complex subject. It is also based upon a significant amount of experience and research. The subject is at the centre of our lives – from our experiences of parenting, education, work and society. It is especially fundamental to those of us who work with people who have difficulties in managing themselves and staying within the boundaries of ‘acceptable’ behaviour. It is of such importance and continually challenging. It is one of those subjects that is helpful to regularly reflect on, however many years we may have been working on it.

When I was aged 11, my best friend suffered the loss of his mother after a long and awful illness. I don’t think he had a day off school during that time or any counselling, etc. He had a lively and mischievous character – delinquent on a small scale. Referring to the work of the Austrian psychoanalyst and educator, August Aichorn, famous for his pioneering work with
juvenile delinquents in the 1920s, Brett Kahr (2020, p.47) states,

Aichhorn argued that such profound losses will have contributed to the development of this young person’s criminal activities in later years and, moreover, that the acts of delinquency may even have prevented him from a deep melancholia.

It seemed wrong to me that my friend would be frequently punished for minor delinquencies. In the 1970s the cane was often used in our school. Twelve years later, in 1985, I began work at the Cotswold Community, a therapeutic community in England for ‘emotionally disturbed’ boys. A few decades earlier these boys would have been classified as ‘juvenile delinquents’. The Community started in 1967. It was described by Eric Miller (1989, p.28) who became an organizational consultant to the community as an, “… experimental process of transforming an approved school into a therapeutic community.” Approved schools were like borstals or reform schools. This ‘experiment’ was set up by the British Government to find an effective treatment for such disadvantaged children, who had suffered serious levels of adversity. By the end of the
1980s, Miller (ibid) referred to research on the outcomes,

In fact, when the experiment started, 80% of the boys leaving the approved school reoffended within three years; ten years later, the proportion dropped to 20%.

Summarizing the approach, Whitwell (1986) refers to an inspection report by the Department of Health and Social Services,

At the Cotswold Community there is no use of sanctions and privileges in producing “good” behaviour. The therapeutic relationship is used to explain to the child why he should behave in a certain way and patiently gaining his cooperation. There are also strong verbal commands, but these are not limited to rewards for complying or punishments for not doing so. There is, needless to say, no corporal punishment. This approach does mean that the sanctioning of behaviour is not uniform, but individual boys
and adults do seem to understand why this is so. From observation it would seem that this approach has paid good dividends. Acting out behaviour is seen for what it is and with the more integrated children the absence of an aggressive subculture with its veneer of bullying, bravado, illicit smoking and gratuitous swearing, was particularly refreshing to encounter.

This article will explore some of the issues involved in how we respond to troublesome behaviour.

Patrick Tomlinson’s full article is included on the site as a PDF.
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