Positive Reinforcement for Children

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Positive Reinforcement for Children

Mary Camacho

Nova Southeastern University

Abstract

From a very early age, children begin to learn about the association between behaviors and consequences. They realize that there is always going to be a consequence whether it’d be positive or negative, that would follow the behavior. Sometimes children behave very well and most of the time, children tend to give parents and others around them a hard time. When it comes to behavior modification, some basic steps include identifying the behavior, setting expectations, monitoring progress, and reinforcing correct behaviors. Positive reinforcement has a lot of effect on children when it comes to modifying a targeted behavior. A reinforcer, which can be either positive or negative, is defined as an event, stimulus, or condition that, when presented immediately following a behavior causes an increase in frequency of the behavior (Martin, G., & Pear, J., 2011 p 32).

Positive Reinforcement for Children

There are various opinions concerning the value of positive reinforcement when discussing modifying behaviors of young children (Sigler, E., & Aamidor, S., 1990). Children will always need guidance in good behavior, and it is a parent’s duty to provide this guidance. Parents can model good behavior and discuss with their children what constitutes good behavior, but it is helping children act on their own that will allow them to understand what is appropriate and what is not in a variety of situations.

Everyone likes to be praised and children are no different. When children display good behavior, parents should acknowledge their actions by congratulating their children on their decisions. Such positive reinforcements allow children to connect that what they did has made their parents happy, and therefore was the correct choice. For example, when a child puts his toys away without being asked, having a parent say “Well done!” and giving him a cuddle will help him connect that putting toys away is a good decision. However, parents should not confuse positive reinforcement with bribery. There is definitely a difference between a reward and a bribe. If you have specific expectations for a child, such as getting their homework done before playtime or cleaning their room up each evening, you should never offer bribes to get them to do these things. They need to learn that it is their responsibility to do these things.

However, if your child does something exceptionally well, such as getting a good grade on a particularly hard test, then you should celebrate and reward their achievements. This will help the child learn that there are certain things that are simply expected of them, but that going "above and beyond" has its own rewards. Children should be not be offered rewards in the hopes that they will act in a certain manner, and positive consequences should never be offered before a behavior is carried out. If it is, then parents cannot know for sure whether a child acted a certain way because it was the right thing to do or because he was told to act a certain way and promised a prize for doing so.

It is essential, prior to any discussion concerning modification of behaviors, to differentiate between ‘praise’ and ‘positive reinforcement’. In the most classic definition, positive reinforcement is a method of identifying to children which behaviors are acceptable and appropriate and which are not. More specifically, the use of positive reinforcement is the act of identifying and encouraging a behavior, with the hopes that the desired behavior will increase (Burden, 2003). The theory is that any behavior followed by a pleasant stimulus is likely to be repeated (Westen, 1999).

This ‘pleasant stimulus’ can be anything ‘nice’ and can also include a multitude of other positive responses (Alberto & Troutman, 1990). There are several different ways to use positive reinforcement. At the basic level, you can...
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