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Positive Reinforcement and your Child’s Behaviour

| child care, Opinion | 29/01/2013

In the previous two posts (Using Time-out on the Kids in Your Care and  Strategies for Managing Time-out Sessions) we talked about the technique of giving your child time-out as a way to control his difficult behaviour. It teaches children that there are consequences to bad behaviour. It is a form of disciplining which is effective without being unduly harsh, however it does have a degree of negativity to it. So now we'll discuss other, positive, ways to encourage your child to do the right thing. It's called positive reinforcement, and it it really powerful.

Of course most parents are already aware of positive reinforcement in an intuitive way. You encourage good behaviour through praise, rewards and shared activities which gives them the incentive to carry on behaving well. It helps to strengthen family bonds and build self esteem, trust and respect between family members, which is what we are aiming for.

Like any other technique, there are some traps to avoid. It is easy to unwittingly give positive reinforcement to a child and strengthen bad behaviour. An example of this is if a child throws a tantrum in a store, an easy way out would be to buy some candy or a toy in an effort to get him to behave. The result of course, is that the child soon learns that he will be rewarded for bad behaviour.

Another thing to be wary of is that there is a fine line between reward and bribery. Bribery is a quick-fix method of getting the desired behaviour. So a promise of a trip to the cinema and a bucket of popcorn if homework is completed within a certain time is getting pretty close to a bribe. A warm smile, a hug and a compliment shows how delighted you are with what your child has done and helps to ingrain the correct behaviour and ensure it continues. On the other hand, when the bribing stops, so does the behaviour.

Some people (my MIL) seem to think that too much praise is a bad thing and you will spoil the child (I hate that word, what does "spoil" mean?). If I tell my daughter too many times how pretty she looks, or how nice her finger-painting is, or how nicely she played with her friends, will she become conceited? No, I don't believe she will, but she will get a warm glow that will stay with her for a while.

You have to be careful to give praise appropriately. Kids can see right through praise that is condescending, not genuine, or is misplaced. So you have to give it honestly and appropriately.

Childrens Star Chart

Childrens Star Chart

One method of giving rewards for the very young, is to use star charts or reward charts. These are good because the child can observe, and get delight in watching the progress  towards the goal or reward on a colourful chart. Watching a star get removed for bad behaviour may fill them with remorse, but seeing two more added as rewards for doing good, will fill them with pleasure and help to keep them motivated.

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