Positive reinforcement is a powerful way to help your child develop habits of choosing correct behavior. Find out how to use it without it becoming a crutch.
Positive reinforcement is a powerful way to encourage and reward your child for good behavior.
You might hear “reward” and worry it will either take too much effort on your part or that your child will come to depend on on this “reward” to be good.
Rewarding your child for choosing to do the right thing should be a natural part of parenting. The reward does not need to be something big.
Discipline is simply helping your child change behavior. Discipline does not have to be negative, though sometimes something like allowing a natural consequence or logical consequences can feel negative.
Using this positive reinforcement is like a natural consequence but a happy natural consequence. It is natural to have positive things happen when we make good choices. This helps your child want to make good choices again.
Ways to Use Positive Reinforcement
Here are 8 ways to use positive reinforcement with your little one.
You want to help your child recognize what behavior is appropriate while also balancing that with helping your child learn to be self-motivated to make right choices.
1- One-on-One Time
A great reward that any child loves is one-on-one time with a parent. You might go out for a treat, go to a movie, or simply go for a walk.
You could do a dance party in the family room. You could bake cookies. Children love the undivided attention of their parents.
It has been said that children spell love T-I-M-E, so spending time with them is a great way to show your love and appreciation for them. You can get more ideas for one-on-one time at my post here, The Why and How of Parent/Child Dates.
2- Verbal Affirmation
One of the best tricks I have observed that teachers use in the classroom is to point out a child’s good behavior. “I really like the way Suzie is sitting quietly in her desk.”
This not only gets Suzie to sit even more quietly, but it gets the other children in the class to do the same.
This can be used at home, also. “I really like the way you helped clean up your toys so cheerfully! Thank you.” Words of affirmation are powerful. One important thing to remember when offering verbal affirmation is to praise the effort, not the end result.
Giving a hug is a great way to show your child a big “thank you” for making the right choice. A tip I once read with hugs is to never be the first to let go. Since reading that, I have put it into practice. Sometimes my child hugs me for several minutes without letting go. Show that physical love to your child.
4- Do Something Nice Back
If your child goes out of her way to do something nice for you, she will love it if you return the favor. You might do a chore for her, write her a note, make her a special treat, or draw her a picture.
Think of some act of service your child would appreciate and do it. This can be a tricky one because a parent is pretty much always serving her children, but with a little thought, you can come up with something that will show your child a big thank you for her good behavior.
Sometimes you might do a plain old gift for being good. This is one I use sparingly. I don’t want my child thinking that any time he is good at the store, he gets some candy at the end. I also don’t want her motivation for being good to be a gift.
A gift can be a fun surprise, but do not be surprised if your child starts telling you of the latest good thing he did and wondering when he will get a present for doing so. For more guidance on showing love through gifts, see my post here.
6-Ask How Your Child Feels
When my children make a right choice, I always like to ask them how it made them feel to do the right thing. They always smile and describe a happy feeling.
I point out that is Heavenly Father telling them He is proud of them for making the right choice. You can point out the good feeling even if you are not religious. “Notice how happy your heart feels? That is how you know when you have made a right choice!”
I love this method because it helps the child start to recognize how to tell the difference between right and wrong even when there isn’t an adult right there to lead. It is also a great source of reward and helps lead the child toward intrinsic motivation.
7- Set Goals
If your child is consistently having trouble with a certain behavior, you might find it helpful to set a goal and find a way to work toward it.
You might make a goal to stay in bed until you come get her after a nap. You could make a sticker chart to fill up. You could create a paper chain together (or pre-make one) and take one off for each day the goal was achieved. You could build a Lego tower, with one piece each day she stays in bed.
Have a reward for when the goal is reached and work toward it. For some kids, the simple action of the the goal is reward enough. Putting a sticker on the chart is reward enough. For others, it might be working toward something specific.
Sometimes you can offer an extra privilege for correct behavior. Maybe a little extra television time one day. Maybe an extra story at bedtime tonight. Perhaps you will go for a walk together.
Think of something your child will find meaningful to get a bit extra of. Think of things as a positive consequence for doing the right thing.
Rewarding positive behavior is a very fast and effective way to encourage your child to continue to choose good behavior in the future.
It doesn’t have to be big or elaborate. Experiment to see what is most meaningful for your child, and mix things up every so often so the reward isn’t always the same thing. Happy training!