(Antecedent Interventions)
Classroom Interventions for Children with Attention Deficit Disorder


A reprimand is a verbal technique that is used to reduce inappropriate behavior.  Broadly defined, reprimands include any attempt to decrease behavior through verbal means, such as talking, lecturing, pleading, yelling, reasoning, or threatening.  The verbal reprimand is the most frequently used and method of classroom discipline (Abramowitz, O'Leary, & Rosen, 1987).  One study found that teachers use a once every two minutes (White, 1975).  If used properly, a verbal reprimand can be a punishment technique that is useful for decreasing inappropriate behavior.  A reprimand can be a punishment to a child if it is considered unpleasant and reduces the behavior being reprimanded.  However, care should be taken that the reprimand does not become a way of obtaining teacher attention via negative attention-seeking behavior.

Fortunately, research has identified several characteristics of an effective reprimand.  In general, reprimands have been shown to be effective in reducing inappropriate behavior in the classroom;  however, their effectiveness appears to depend on how they are delivered.  Immediate reprimands were more effective that reprimands delayed by approximately two minutes (Abramowitz, & O'Leary, 1990).  The researchers concluded that this mey be the most important variable in the effectiveness of reprimands.  Reprimands were more effective in promoting on-task behavior than positive encouragement alone and no feedback (Abranowitz, O'Leary, & Rosen, 1987).  Short reprimands were more effective than long reprimands in increasing time on-task (Abramowitz, O'Leary, Futtersak, 1988).  Reprimands that were consitently strong at the outset were more effective than reprimands that increased in length (Futtersak, 1988).  Reprimands that were immediate, unemotional, breif and were consistently backed up with time-out or loss of privileges were more effective than reprimands that lacked these qualities Rosen, O'Leary, Joyce, Conway, & Pfiffner, 1984.


There are several advantages to using reprimands in the classroom.  The most obvious is that they are simple.  They have also been shown to be effective when used properly.  Specifically, they have been shown to be more effective in promoting on task behavior than positive encouragement alone.  Another advantage is that they can be administered immediately, which is important for younger children and children with ADD.


Relative to other forms of discipline, reprimands are not the most powerful punishment.  teachers tend to rely on them because they are relatively easy to administer.  However, teachers are at risk of falling into the "reinforcement trap."  That is, reprimands may temporarily turn off a child's negative behavior (therby negatively reinforcing teacher behavior) but be ineffective in reducing the frequency in which the negative behavior is displayed in the long run.  Children with ADD may need more powerful forms of backup punishment, such as response cost or time out.


Based on the research findings and the nature of ADD, several recommendations can be made to enhance the effectiveness of reprimands.

    *  Deliver in close proximity to the child
   *  Give early in the sequence of misbehavior

This is important because many imappropriate behaviors continue because they are rewarded by peer attention.  Delivering the reprimand early in the sequense would reduce the chance that the behavior would continue to be rewarded by peer attention.

    *  Be brief

Long lectures may inadvertantly reward misbehavior through teacher attention.

    *  Deliver firmly but unemotionally

Strong reprimands should be used at the outset, rather than gradually increasing the severity of the reprimand.

    *  Be consistent

As with all behavioral techniques, consistency is crucial to the effectiveness of reprimands.  Behaviors that are consistently reprimanded in an effective manner should decrease over time;  however, mixing reinforcement with reprimands will greatly reduce the effect of reprimands in decreasing inappropriate behavior.  For example, reprimanding a child for calling out in class without raising his/her hand at one time, while responding to her calling out on another would significantly reduce the effectiveness of reprimands.  In addition should be consistently backed up with some mild back-up punishment, as time-out or loss of privileges.


Abramowitz, A.J., O'Leary, S.G. (1990).  Efefctiveness of displayed punishment in an applied setting.  Behavior Therapy, 21, 231-239.
Abramowitz, A.J., O'Leary, S.G., , & Futtersak, M.W. (1988).  The relative impact of long and short reprimands on children's off-task behavior in the classroom.  Behavior Therapy, 19, 243-247
Abramowitz, A.J., O'Leary, S.G., & Rosen, L.A. (1987).  Reducing off-task behavior in the classroom:  Acomparison of encouragement and reprimands.  Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 15(2), 153-163.
Futtersak, M.W. (1988).  The effects of consistently strong and increasingly strong reprimands in the classroom.  Unpublished doctoral dissertation, State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Rosen, L.A., O'Leary, S.G., Joyce, S.A., Conway, G., Pfiffner, L.J. (1984).  The importance of prudent negative consequenses for maintaining the appropriate behavior of hyperactive students. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 12(4), 581-604.
White, M.A. (1975).  Natural rates of teacher approval and disapproval in the classroo.  Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 15, 65-83.

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