Contacts with parents as reward and punishment

Recent studies reveal that elementary students believe that contacting their parents is the best reward and the most effective punishment used by their teachers. However, many teachers say they are skeptical about the effectiveness of contacting parents. Although teachers believe that many discipline problems are due to home factors, they don’t believe that most parents are capable of improving their children’s bad school behavior. Despite this, teachers report they often call or write parents to report bad behavior. Teachers say they rarely contact parents to inform them of good behavior.

In the current study, researchers in England tried to find out whether parents and teachers recognize how powerful contacts between home and school are in the minds of children. Andy Miller, Eamonn Ferguson and Rachel Simpson, University of Nottingham, England, studied the opinions of students, parents and teachers at one inner-city primary school in Nottingham. Each group was asked to rank the effectiveness of rewards and punishments frequently used in school.

This study showed that children and parents tend to agree about effective rewards. Both believe that contacting parents, good marks, praise and written comments on their papers are effective rewards. And they agree that notes or phone calls to parents and being told off in front of the class are effective punishments. But they disagree about the effectiveness of other types of punishment. Children believe being excluded from a school trip or having the teacher explain what you did wrong in front of the class are effective punishments, while the parents do not.

Parents’ and teachers’ ranking of rewards and punishments are similar in many respects except on the issue of contacting parents. Despite the fact that teachers usually contact parents about bad behavior, they continue to rank it low as an effective punishment. Parents and children, on the other hand, rank contacts with home either as the first or second most effective reward and punishment. The adults believe that private reprimands are more effective
than public, but children disagree. On the basis of these results, Miller et al. suggest that teachers may wish to reevaluate their beliefs about contacting parents and whether they should use these contacts for positive as well as negative reports.

“The Perceived Effectiveness of Rewards and Sanctions in Primary Schools: Adding the Parental Perspective,” Educational Psychology, Volume 18, Number 1, March 1998, pp. 55-65.

Published in ERN April 1998 Volume 11 Number 4

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