Think about the times you’ve been honoured for your contributions at work, gushed over for cooking a delicious meal or high-fived for rocking it at karaoke. Likely, the recognition made you feel awesome and motivated to do more of the same. Positive reinforcement helps bring out the best in all of us, especially children! Focusing on and praising your kiddo’s desirable actions is the best way to shape consistently good behaviour. Here’s the scoop on positive reinforcement.
How positive reinforcement works
Rewarding your sweetie right after he does or says something increases the likelihood that he will repeat the behaviour again. That’s because your praise makes Peter feel really good – it helps boost his self-esteem – and he’ll continue to do the things that gain your attention. For example, when you give Peter hugs and hoorays for putting his toys away properly, he’ll be motivated to continue cleaning up nicely in the future. In contrast, if you give a lot of attention to what he’s doing wrong and little recognition to what he’s doing well, the rate of Peter’s negative behaviour will rise.
Put positive reinforcement into action
To increase a particular behaviour, you must reinforce your kiddo as soon as she does it. That way it’s clear to her what action has earned her an awesome reaction. Let’s use the example of sharing toys at playtime. The instant Polly calmly gives her Dora doll to a pal, deliver specific verbal praise – “I love the way you share your toys!” – and give her a tickle, hug or high-five. Celebrate each positive step she takes – be your child’s cheerleader! – and ignore any negative outbursts until sharing toys appropriately becomes automatic behaviour. Once that happens, you can fade back reinforcement, giving praise intermittently.
TIP: Avoid generic kudos such as “good job.” (Click here for ideas on how to update your praise repertoire.) Instead, use verbal reinforcement that calls out what your child did well, so they understand what behaviour to repeat.
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