positive reinforcement 101Reinforcement is a great way to reward your child for good behavior. When rewards follow desired behavior, they can help boost your child’s self-esteem and character development, and increase the likelihood the behavior will be repeated.

Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions related to positive reinforcement.

1. What types of reinforcers are there?

  • Direct: These reinforcers occur naturally. For example, your child will get invited to more play dates if he interacts appropriately with friends.
  • Social: Express praise in a group setting. While your child is playing well with a sibling say, “Great job sharing your toy with your sister. She’s so happy!”
  • Activity: Allow your child to engage in a preferred activity, such as playing at the park or coloring a picture.
  • Tangible: Provide toys, trinkets, trophies or awards to your child.
  • Tokens or points: These have little value in themselves, but your child can exchange them for something valuable.

2. How do I choose a reinforcer?

Reinforcers should be age-appropriate. Watch and listen to see what motivates your child. What activities does he like? Who does he enjoy playing with? Monitor him to see if a reinforcer is working or if a new one is necessary.

3. How can I be successful at positive reinforcement?

  • Be specific in acknowledging the exact behavior that you’d like to see be repeated. For example, “I’m so proud of you for putting your blocks in the bin on the shelf. You did such a great job!”
  • Deliver reinforcement immediately following the positive behavior. If you wait until the end of the day, the effect of reinforcement is reduced.
  • Recognize and praise all improvements. Don’t wait until your child’s behavior is perfect before delivering reinforcement.

4. Aren’t I bribing my child by giving positive reinforcement?

No. A bribe influences a behavior before it happens (i.e., when you give your child a toy first and then he promises to behave). Reinforcers are provided after your child engages in the appropriate behavior. Reinforcers are planned and systematic and are given to elicit a change in behavior long-term.