Reward-oriented Parenting and Positive Reinforcement

Diana Lang

There are many ways to increase the likelihood of children exhibiting desirable behaviors by using positive reinforcements and rewards.[1] To learn how to effectively reinforce behaviors, please re-visit the Skinner chapter.

Parents or teachers may wish to reinforce children for:

  • Listening attentively;
  • Using appropriate manners (e.g., saying “please,” “you are welcome,” and “thank you”);
  • Moving and talking in a manner appropriate for the environment (e.g., using “library voices;” “walking feet”);
  • Playing nicely;
  • Completing tasks without reminders; and
  • Calling or texting if they will be late.

Examples of rewards and positive reinforcements include:[2]

  • Complimenting a child’s behavior (e.g., “I really like the way you put all of your clothes away in your room”);
  • Praising a child’s actions (e.g., “I am proud of how hard you studied for your spelling quiz.”);
  • Giving additional privileges;
  • Clapping or cheering;
  • Thanking them for behaving a certain way (e.g., “Thank you very much for asking such a detailed question;” “I really appreciate you using your inside voice while we were at the museum.”);
  • Making sure they overhear you telling someone else about their positive behavior;
  • Smiling at them; and
  • Giving tangible rewards (e.g., stickers, incentives).

In order for these methods to be effective, rewards or incentives must:

  • be important or valuable to the child,
  • occur immediately after the desired behavior, and
  • consistently be implemented.

To learn how to create a reward program, visit the CDC’s website for information.


Here is a common example of (unintentionally and positively) rewarding inappropriate behavior: An aunt provides candy to her nephew every time he throws a tantrum in the store because he wants candy at the checkout lane.

a boy with his hands on his face and mouth opened in a shocked expression
Figure 1. A child panicking in public. (Photo Source: pxfuel, DMCA)

The aunt reinforces the poor behavior (e.g., a tantrum) by providing reinforcers (e.g., candy and attention) every time he throws a tantrum at the grocery store.

Here is an example of positively rewarding the same child to stop the tantrums: Now that this child throws a tantrum with his parents when they go to the grocery store, his parents provide their son with candy only when he does not throw a tantrum in the store.

His parents reinforce the appropriate behavior (e.g., not throwing a tantrum) by providing reinforcers (e.g., candy and attention) every time they go to the grocery store and he refrains from throwing a tantrum.

  1. Craighead, W. E., Kazdin, A. E., & Mahoney, M. J., (1981). Behavior modification: principles, issues, and applications. 2nd ed. Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). How to use rewards. Retrieved from


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