You often hear the term positive reinforcement when talking about dog training, but this simple method is surprisingly effective with children.
Positive reinforcement is the method whereby we ignore bad behavior and praise good behavior. Children can learn all kinds of life lessons through positive reinforcement including social skills and good manners. It can also be beneficial in education.
Positive reinforcement makes children feel good about themselves and encourages them to do better. It can be used for short-term solutions or long-term goals. The best thing about it is that it costs nothing, takes very little effort but delivers amazing results.
So how do we use positive reinforcement for children?
Positive reinforcement is not about material things, although you can give presents as a form of praise, but generally, an encouraging word, a hug, clapping or a thumbs up are all known methods.
Here are some tips for using positive reinforcement:
Wishy-washy praise that doesn’t specifically target the thing your child did well and will only send vague and confusing signals. Be specific when praising your child, state exactly what they did well and tell them how that made you feel.
Show your feelings
It’s okay to get emotional and to let your child see how they have made you feel. If you are super proud of your child then tell them and be as effusive as you want. Children thrive on pleasing their parents so use this to your advantage.
Focus on the positive
It might seem like a no-brainer but it is difficult when your child displays a mixture of right and wrong behaviors to only focus on what they did right. It is important to ignore the bad and only look at the good.
Don’t be judgemental
You might find that your child does things that instantly wind you up and make you angry and you want to address it straight away. It is better, however, to wait until they have done something good and you can then praise them for that instead.
Let them know they are improving
A good tactic is to recall the child’s past behavior and compare it to their present actions. Let them know how much they are improving but be careful not to compare them with other children.
Set goals for the future
Once your child is responding to positive reinforcement you can then start to set goals for them to achieve. It is a good way of making sure their improvement continues.
Why should you use positive reinforcement for a child?
Obviously, you don’t want to be praising your children every five minutes but there are times and situations when positive reinforcement is beneficial.
To build good self-esteem
Rewarding good behavior, in any form, builds a child’s self-esteem. This is particularly important if you want your child to improve their behavior. By castigating your child if they display bad behavior you are telling them they are bad, and this can cause their confidence to plummet. Instead, focussing on good behavior will help to raise their self-esteem.
To improve their learning skills
I remember my school days when I was so scared of my form teachers that I clammed up and did not say anything. The best way to get children to learn is by encouraging them when they do well. This works especially well when they are learning a new task such as reading or writing.
To motivate children
Children naturally want to please their parents and giving them positive reinforcement helps to motivate them. It also makes them feel free to make mistakes as they get to realize that they won’t get into trouble if they slip up. Children can reach their true potential when they are properly motivated.
Children need validation
We all need to be recognized for our efforts but children especially need this validation. It is important for their character, it helps to boost their confidence and it will eventually assist them in the real world. Validating your child makes them feel important and worthy. It also helps introverted children become more extroverted.
It stops bad behavior
Positive reinforcement has an amazing effect in that it prevents bad behavior so you do not have to resort to punishment. So instead of using punishment to stop the unwanted behavior, you can simply use positive reinforcement.
When is positive reinforcement for children most effective?
Studies have shown that using positive reinforcement immediately after the behavior is the most effective. It should also be given on a regular basis and with a high level of enthusiasm. This makes the connection of the behavior with the praise much stronger.
If the behavior is rewarded in some way later and with a lacklustre attitude then the connection is weaker and not reinforced.
Additionally, positive reinforcement can be especially effective when you happen to chance upon your child doing something good and you praise them immediately afterwards.
You have to be particularly vigilant to be able to notice and quickly praise but it will only lead to better behavior and help to cement your relationship with your child in the future.