Using Positive Reinforcement in Disciplining Your Children

The behaviorists introduced the term of reinforment with Pavlov’s dog reacting in the desired way, drooling, when a bell was rang before receiving his meal. A stimulus was presented, the ringing of the bell when presenting his food, which led to the desired response of the dog drooling.  Eventually the dog would start to drool as soon as he heard the bell.  The stimulus presented with a reward led to the learnt response.

Stimulus + Reward → Response

This form of conditioning is referred to as classic conditioning.  Operant conditioning is in a sense the opposite where the stimulus or situation would elicit a certain behavior which would receive a reward or punishment.

Stimulus  → Response → Reward or Punishment.

Through the use of punishment and reward the desired behaviour is learnt and eventually internalized.  This is true of what we as parents refer to as disciplining our children.  We use the principles of reinforcement to teach our children what is expected behavior. The principles of reinforcement is as follows:

  1. If the child’s behavior leads to a reward there would be an increase in the behavior.
  2. If the child’s behavior leads to punishment there would be a decrease in the specific behavior.
  3. If the child’s behavior does not lead to either punishment or reward, the behavior would be extinguished.

When children notices the consequences of a certain behavior, whether good or bad, a mental link is formed which would either increase or prevent certain behavior. Unfortunately parents are negatively biased and tend to only notice the undesired or naughty behavior of our children.  As a result of this negative bias we have become a punitive society.

You would experience an increase in positive behavior and communication with your child when you start also reinforcing correct behavior.  Good behavior can be reinforced through simple measures like a hug, a pat on the back, praise, the opportunity to decide on tonight’s dinner or which television program will be watched by the family.

Simple charts with the child’s name on, put in a visible spot can be used effectively for reinforcing good behavior.  By putting a simple gold star next to the good behavior, your child will experience pride and a sense of success.  This works especially well with younger children.  Older children can also benefit through the use of charts, but a point system should be implemented, where after achieving a certain goal a reward is received.  It is beneficial to involve your child in the making of the chart using his favorite colors or themes.  Older children should be able to join in on the decision of which rewards they will receive.  It is important that it is reasonable rewards that can be given as quickly and often as possible.  Charts should not be used to punish children for bad behavior, rather institute other forms of punishment.

Central to positive reinforcement is the positive feedback that is given to the child. Praising a child for a certain action improves his sense of self worth and promotes self-confidence, especially if it is done consistently.  Consistency is extremely important to internalize behavior and to prevent confusion.  When punishing be certain to focus on the action that was done and not the person, for example:”I do not approve of you not picking up your laundry.” Rather than “You are such a lazy slob!”

The process of reinforcement can be summarized by saying a certain situation would elicit an action that would either lead to reward or punishment when a behaviour is ignored it will disappear.



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