Fixing Behavior Problems With Positive Reinforcement

Baby picking up block from floor, low section

PhotoAlto / Ale Ventura / Getty Images

Positive reinforcement is an important habit for parents to develop because it is so easy to ignore kids when they're behaving appropriately. It is the disruptive and irritating behavior we tend to notice and respond to.

Train yourself to show your children you appreciate their efforts and that you recognize the things they do well.

In fact, using positive reinforcement is an easy way to nix behavior problems. The use of positive reinforcers can help you encourage your child to do everyday tasks you need her to perform. Picking up after herself, brushing her teeth, and even getting to bed on time are just a few of the things that can be improved using positive reinforcement.

Any type of reward or incentive you give your child that results in increasing the behavior you want your child to perform is a positive reinforcer.

Activities Can Be Internally Rewarding

Positive reinforcers are rewards that entice your child to do a task more frequently or on time. Examples:

  • Choice of activities
  • Time or lunch with someone special
  • Increased recess time
  • Compliments and recognition
  • Public praise, positive notes to parents and teachers
  • Pats on the back, smiles, handshakes, and high-fives
  • Being the teacher's helper or choice of classroom chores
  • Reading, making crafts, playing sports, or other preferred activity with someone special
  • Extra credit or bonus points on school work
  • Posting work in a place of honor
  • A homework-free night

Physical Rewards that may Increase Positive Behaviors

Positive reinforcers can also include physical rewards your child would like. Common tangible rewards used by parents and teachers might use include:

  • Healthy snacks
  • Gum, candy (if parents approve and in small amounts)
  • Age-appropriate toys chosen from a reward box
  • Special stickers such as scratch and sniff, flashy, cute, sporty, or other unique stickers
  • Small items that are currently popular, such as Live Strong bracelets or other items
  • A child's choice of a favorite item
  • Cool pencils
  • Tickets to be saved to trade in for larger rewards

Make Positive Reinforcement Work for You

Positive reinforcers work best if you reward appropriate behavior as soon as it happens and as consistently as possible. It takes a lot of mental and physical energy to keep up with impulsive children, but if you fall behind, your interventions will be less successful and may not help at all.

In addition, allow natural consequences to become negative reinforcers for poor behavior. For example, a child who doesn't listen in class may need to stay late to get his homework assignment. Yes, that may be frustrating, but it's the natural consequence of his behavior. When you meet after school, you might then troubleshoot methods for ensuring that the child gets the homework information he needs — and also gets home in time to enjoy the afternoon.

Avoid lectures and criticism of the child. Focus instead on factual statements of the problem behavior and the consequence.

Instead of saying something like "you're just not getting the message, are you?" you might say "I see you didn't turn in your homework again. I'm afraid that means you'll have twice as much homework to do tonight."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles