Parent Tips for Positive Reinforcement for Kids

Tips for how to properly use positive reinforcement to encourage your kids.

Children don’t fully understand how their actions affect other people and themselves. And one way for parents to help kids establish good behavior is through positive reinforcement. It can produce long-term habits that will help them grow into responsible and well mannered adults later in life.

What is positive reinforcement?

Positive reinforcement is a behavioral psychology theory dating back to the 1930s. As a parenting technique, it can be used to reinforce good conduct and discourage negative behavior through a reward system.

For instance, you reward children for letting their siblings play with their toys rather than punishing them for not sharing. Psychology Today notes that punishment does not necessarily teach children to refrain from doing bad things. They may resort to lying to avoid being disciplined, but it doesn’t eliminate the negative behavior. Conversely, a positive approach can help them feel satisfied with their actions, which can then form a habit.

How do I apply it?

Your “reward” doesn’t always have to be a material object as that can produce an altogether different set of problems (e.g. rewarding them with candy which can lead to overeating). Very Well Family suggests implementing a token economy system where they can collect tokens (or stickers) after they do something good. For example, 10 tokens means they get to choose a movie for family night; 20 tokens and they can play video games for an hour; and so on.

Rewards can also be intangible. USA Today reported that praise can encourage good behavior when executed correctly. What this means is that you have to be clear. Instead of telling a child that you like how organized they are, tell them how you appreciate the way they stacked their toys in one corner. Praise them for a specific thing that they did. Give them a hug and a kiss, a high-five, and some positive feedback. This can also help build confidence and boost their self-esteem.

This approach works best if applied on a consistent basis. At the beginning, you will have to watch out for everything they do so you can immediately provide reinforcement. When the behavior becomes second nature, you can spread out the rewards.

Some words of caution:

Of course, you still should not expect your child to do everything perfectly even with positive reinforcement. Activity Rocket has already mentioned that getting A’s is not always the goal. It should be more about the positive experience and learning they gained in the process. Focus on improvement instead of perfection.

It can be damaging for children if they feel that they always fall short of their parents’ expectations. It can even impact their mental health in the long-term, which can affect other aspects of their lives.

In school, children who are under a lot of pressure to excel in their academic studies are prone to anxiety. In other words, psychological wellbeing is interconnected with how well students do in school. This relationship is actually discussed often among parents as well as mental health professionals. Maryville University details this further on their website and explained that there are “newly recognized connections between mental health and learning success.” In truth, overwhelming concern over grades can affect a child’s cognitive abilities including memory recall. It can also impact their study time, and in some cases, compel the child to cheat. Disciplining your little one for failing a test does not guarantee that they will do better next time. Your child might even try to hide the results for fear of letting you down. Instead, focus on the things they did right and help them to do better in future exams.

You also have to make sure that you’re not accidentally rewarding negative behavior. For example, your child may throw a tantrum because you didn’t give them candy before bedtime. If you surrender after repeatedly telling them no, they will think that by throwing a tantrum, they will get what they want. It is not easy, but you have to be firm in these situations if you want to successfully apply positive reinforcement.

Blog Post By: RileySyed

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