Using Positive Reinforcement to Change Your Child's Behavior
By Destry Maycock
Think about your interactions with your children today. How many
things did you notice that they did wrong? What did you do or say to
them because of their wrong doings? Have they engaged in the same
kind of behavior before? What did you do the times before? Is it
working? How many things did you notice your children did right
today? If you did take the time to notice, what did you do or say to
them? Did you praise or reward them in some way? If so, then read no
further and keep up the good work. If you could use a little work on
doing this, then read on.
Let's face it. We parents often neglect to notice the positive
things our children do. Rather, we tend to focus on our children's
negative behaviors, because they either annoy us or otherwise make
our lives difficult. Have you ever heard the phrase, "that
which gets noticed gets repeated?" If all we ever notice is the
negative things our children do, then why would they do anything
different? It is as if we program our children to believe "if
I'm only noticed when I do something wrong, then so be it."
It is just as important, if not more, to notice our children's
positive behaviors. Remember most behaviors are controlled by their
consequences. Some may believe rewarding kids for positive behavior
is bribery. We all receive rewards daily for doing things well, at
work, at home, and at play. These rewards often motivate us to
continue the behaviors for which they were received. Where parents
use rewards ineffectively is when they give a positive consequence
to stop an inappropriate behavior. For example, "I'll give you
a cookie if you stop whining." This only encourages the
inappropriate behavior. Where as rewarding kids for their positive
behaviors is quite the opposite and much more productive.
Using positive reinforcement to strengthen a desired behavior is
easy. Just watch and wait for the behavior to occur then reinforce
it with praise, a pat on the back or a special privilege. It may go
something like this, "David, I really appreciate how you came
in the house when I asked and you even did it without a big hassle.
You should feel good about being able to do that." How about,
"Wow Jamie, your bedroom looks awesome. You must have worked
really hard on it. I bet you worked up a healthy appetite. Why don't
you decide what we have for lunch today."
Focusing on your children's positive behaviors could be the most
productive parenting change you make if you don't already do it.
Chances are you have been trained like the rest of us to only call
attention to the bad things your kids do. This phenomenon isn't
found solely in the parent/child relationship. It is also prevalent
in spousal, sibling and employee/employer relationships. When was
the last time your boss called you into his office and asked you to
shut the door? Was it because he just wanted to tell you what a
wonderful job you are doing and how valuable of an employee you are?
If so, lucky you. More than likely, it was because he wanted to talk
to you about something he thought you could do better or you were
doing something wrong. People tend to take positive behavior for
granted and punish negative behaviors.
Some parents find it helpful to make themselves a note and then they
put it where they can see it often. The note might read,
"notice the positive" or "catch'em doing good."
You may also want to consider using The Jar of Consequences a
parenting tool I developed to help parents focus on the positive
behaviors their children engage in.
Catch your kids being good. It could have a profound affect on the
atmosphere in your home. What ever it takes I assure you it will be
Destry has had over
ten years experience working with children and families as a
professional Social Worker. He has also taught many parenting
courses and studied the topic of parenting thoroughly throughout his
career. Destry enjoys developing tools that help parents with the
difficult but rewarding duty of raising children. His most recent
creation can be found at