The Premack Principle

Growing up, I don’t really remember being punished for bad behavior. What I do remember was that every time my sister and I would toe the line, we were sure to get a talking to from my mother. During those times when she felt that she needed reinforcement, she would turn to my dad.

Now my dad was more tolerant than my mom and those few times that he actually got upset with us were really scary for my sister and I. My parents never hit us but they did employ the Premack principle (my mom more than my dad).

“Finish your homework first then we’ll watch a movie.” – I was a fan of Indiana Jones.

“Solve this one other problem then you can play.”

“Try it once and if you don’t like it, I won’t force you.” – whenever my mom served something new at the dinner table or,

“Try it first and if you don’t like it, then at least you tried.” – whenever my parents want to encourage me to try new things.

I think they were good in implementing it and I now suspect that there was a good deal of Psychology going on then. As early as second grade, I can remember doing my homework as soon as I got home. Perhaps it was also my love for books that made me look forward to reading assigned pages readily. My mom had taught me how to use a dictionary and even gave me my own copy (which is already battered now) so I can look up the meaning of words I was unfamiliar with. I read that dictionary as a past time, even memorizing the table of symbols featured on the back. I guess it was why I usually got good marks in Spelling.

Whether it was their own unique system of reward and punishment, I would say that my parents did a good job in disciplining us and in instilling study habits in us.

I have no kids of my own yet. However, I do try to emulate how my parents raised me up especially when I deal with my students. After all, I think I turned out pretty well. 🙂


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