There are many ways to increase the likelihood of children exhibiting desirable behaviors by using positive reinforcements and rewards. 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:
- 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.
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.
- Craighead, W. E., Kazdin, A. E., & Mahoney, M. J., (1981). Behavior modification: principles, issues, and applications. 2nd ed. Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin. ↵
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). How to use rewards. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/parents/essentials/consequences/rewards.html ↵