When a child is in the midst of a massive public meltdown or throwing a slew of hateful words your direction, it can be difficult to fight back your own negative reaction. Your first instinct may be to send the little one to timeout or recant an upcoming promise of fun, but think twice before taking the negative reinforcement route. While this can be an effective form of discipline in the moment, parents and nannies alike have found that positive reinforcement (think attention and praise) is a more effective way to garner long-term results.
How It Works
Positive reinforcement is the process of offering rewards dependent on a desired behavior or response. The formula, according to Family Education, looks like this:
- The child seeks your approval
- You notice and make comments about positive behaviors and offer a balanced reward as a result
- The child feels validated, noticed and approved of, the positive behavior increases, and misbehavior is decreased and/or prevented
- Over time, children will recognize the value or their positive actions and qualities
Where to Start
Identify behaviors that are in need of correcting or eliminating. This will be a fluid list as behaviors are corrected and new ones emerge, but it is a good place to start when deciding the appropriate reward system to implement. For example, simple behaviors like saying please and thank you can be rewarded with small internal rewards, whereas curbing grocery store meltdowns may require a greater physical reward. Spell out what you are up against and identify which rewards to implement, and you’re off to a good start.
Once you know the behaviors you want to combat, you can create a pool of rewards and enforcements that match the level of correction needed. As mentioned above, not all behaviors and responses require a tangible item to act as positive reinforcement. In fact, sometimes all that is needed is a few words of encouragement or a simple smile.
Below are some reward ideas to get you started. Customize your rewards to reflect what the child will truly appreciate and respond well to.
- High-fives, pats on the back, smiles
- Choice of activities
- Increased play time
- Lunch with someone special
- Public praise, positive remarks to parents
- Posting work in a place of honor
- Staying up past their regular bedtime
- Gum, candy (if parents approve)
- A selection from a reward box filled with age-appropriate toys
- Special stickers
- Extra time allotment to play online games
- Small items that are currently popular, such as silly bands, etc
- Trip to a favorite store to pick out one item
Creating a Structure
To introduce positive reinforcement into your environment, start by getting crafty. Create a tangible and highly visible chart to tracking positive behaviors. If you need some inspiration, peruse the pins on Pinterest dedicated to the subject.
Ready to Go
Now that you have the right positive reinforcement tools in your arsenal, you can confidently implement them into your daily routine. The more consistently you can reinforce good behavior, the more consistently the child will repeat these behaviors. This is especially true when the child is first learning a new behavior or skill. Each time you see your desired behavior, positively reinforce it.