The Power of Positive Reinforcement in Children

in Blog

As humans, we all need love–children are no different. Parents and teachers often miss positive behaviors displayed by children. After all, this is what they’ve been taught and what is expected. When it comes to negative behaviors, there are three ways of responding that will be effective. Let’s review them in this blog!

Responding to a Child’s Negative Behavior 

As a parent, you may feel lost in how to respond to your child’s negative behavior. It can be challenging to keep your cool and react constructively. There are ways you can effectively respond to undesired behavior.

The “Old Fashioned” Method

The “old-fashioned” method was called negative reinforcement. “Don’t yell,” “Stop hitting,” and “Leave me alone” are familiar examples. Proponents of this method claimed that after hearing such statements, the child would surely modify their behavior to avoid the negative feelings those reactions engendered. Parents incorrectly think that’s why the child stops the behavior, but it’s not really why they stop. They stop because when the parent is intense, the child finally feels that the parent “gets” how intense the child feels and it calms them.

The “P-Word”: Punishment

The almost-outdated “P-Word” punishment, which is either a change in the environment, exemplified by yesterday’s “Go stand in the corner until I give you permission to return,” is today called “time out”: “Suzy, sit in this chair until you feel you can rejoin the group and behave.” 

Modern proponents of these versions of punishment prefer to mete out “consequences,” such as not allowing the child a treat because homework was not finished. 

The Positive Reinforcement Method

Instead of either of these tried-and-failed methods, you can opt for the third method: positive reinforcement. Today, many parents and educators prefer acknowledging good behaviors by saying things such as, “Good job” or “Well done on your test.” 

In reality, we recommend more specific compliments. Regardless, psychologists refer to this method as positive reinforcement and assert that it helps shape and change behavior by presenting a reward (vocal or material) that motivates the child to display that behavior repeatedly.

The Power of Positive Reinforcement

Our professional experience has proven that positive reinforcement is the best way to encourage and motivate children toward desired behaviors. Children can also learn healthy boundaries after implementing positivity consistently over time. Today, positivity is respected as the winning method to help children modify undesirable behavior, and for a good reason. It works!

The child does not have to be perfect before their actions are complimented; even a baby step toward the desired behavior should be noticed and commented upon.  

For example, if a child has been a notoriously messy eater, seek out a moment when they are eating even a bit more pleasingly and say, “I see a neat eater! Bravo!” 

Try to avoid complimenting the child (“You’re an amazing kid!), only the “step in the right direction,” no matter how tentative that step is. Acknowledging even small acts or behaviors with a smiling nod of approval or an “I- message compliment” elicits unexpected cooperation. 

Tips for Providing Positive Reinforcement to Children

Positive reinforcement may sound great, but you may also wonder how to practice it effectively. Here are some tips for providing your child with positive reinforcement to help them flourish.

  1. Notice – Besides doing what was just mentioned, make short comments to the child, delivered with a smile, even when the behavior is neutral. For example, if the child habitually destroys a playmate's Lego tower, and is now concentrating on their own, say, “I love the way you are keeping your hands to yourself!”

    Children thrive on being noticed, so don’t wait for them to demand attention by misbehaving. Even the youngest among them realize that “the squeaky wheel gets the oil,” so they often vie for attention by doing something negative. Fulfill that need by noticing them, often, in a neutral manner. Do your utmost to “catch” every child doing something good and then make a positive statement about this to the child
  2. Touch – For those children who would appreciate it, touch them gently every hour or so. No matter the need, instances of human touch are essential for children to flourish. This can be a pat on the shoulder, a quick rub on the back, a tousling of the hair, or a stroke on the cheek.

    Past studies have proven that children deprived of human touch fail to thrive, and regretfully, today’s parents are so busy and distracted that the last thing on their agenda is to touch their children lovingly. Within the proper boundaries, touch the children you care for–it works wonders.
  3. Specify – Identify a character trait you want to cultivate in your child and praise it. For instance, if you want to help the child be more responsible, create opportunities to compliment the child about this trait.

    When you create positive moments or look out for them (or for small steps toward such moments), the child will learn how good it feels when they display those behaviors and will increase the frequency with which they occur. 

Achieve Positive Behavior from Your Child

Children long for attention and will get it at any cost–even if misbehavior results in punishment. Most of all, children seek love, admiration, and approval from their parents and teachers. When adults utilize the three suggested interactions with the children under their care, most families will achieve their goals in the most pleasant possible manner.

Discover more solutions to help your child succeed with the help of BLOOM. BLOOM offers more than just behavioral therapy, and we do more than treat symptoms: we support families and children everywhere, providing unique resources to meet you at your point of need. Check out our course on Parenting a Needy Child

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