Reward-oriented Parenting and Positive Reinforcement
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 ↵