From a very early age, children begin to learn about the association between behaviors and consequences. They realize that there is always going to be a consequence whether it’d be positive or negative, that would follow the behavior. Sometimes children behave very well and most of the time, children tend to give parents and others around them a hard time. When it comes to behavior modification, some basic steps include identifying the behavior, setting expectations, monitoring progress, and reinforcing correct behaviors.
Positive reinforcement has a lot of effect on children when it comes to modifying a targeted behavior. A reinforcer, which can be either positive or negative, is defined as an event, stimulus, or condition that, when presented immediately following a behavior causes an increase in frequency of the behavior (Martin, G., & Pear, J., 2011 p 32).
Positive Reinforcement for Children
There are various opinions concerning the value of positive reinforcement when discussing modifying behaviors of young children (Sigler, E., & Aamidor, S.
, 1990). Children will always need guidance in good behavior, and it is a parent’s duty to provide this guidance. Parents can model good behavior and discuss with their children what constitutes good behavior, but it is helping children act on their own that will allow them to understand what is appropriate and what is not in a variety of situations.
Everyone likes to be praised and children are no different. When children display good behavior, parents should acknowledge their actions by congratulating their children on their decisions. Such positive reinforcements allow children to connect that what they did has made their parents happy, and therefore was the correct choice. For example, when a child puts his toys away without being asked, having a parent say “Well done!” and giving him a cuddle will help him connect that putting toys away is a good decision. However, parents should not confuse positive reinforcement with bribery. There is definitely a difference between a reward and a bribe. If you have specific expectations for a child, such as getting their homework done before playtime or cleaning their room up each evening, you should never offer bribes to get them to do these things. They need to learn that it is their responsibility to do these things.
However, if your child does something exceptionally well, such as getting a good grade on a particularly hard test, then you should celebrate and reward their achievements. This will help the child learn that there are certain things that are simply expected of them, but that going “above and beyond” has its own rewards. Children should be not be offered rewards in the hopes that they will act in a certain manner, and positive consequences should never be offered before a behavior is carried out. If it is, then parents cannot know for sure whether a child acted a certain way because it was the right thing to do or because he was told to act a certain way and promised a prize for doing so.
It is essential, prior to any discussion concerning modification of behaviors, to differentiate between ‘praise’ and ‘positive reinforcement’. In the most classic definition, positive reinforcement is a method of identifying to children which behaviors are acceptable and appropriate and which are not. More specifically, the use of positive reinforcement is the act of identifying and encouraging a behavior, with the hopes that the desired behavior will increase (Burden, 2003). The theory is that any behavior followed by a pleasant stimulus is likely to be repeated (Westen, 1999).
This ‘pleasant stimulus’ can be anything ‘nice’ and can also include a multitude of other positive responses (Alberto & Troutman, 1990). There are several different ways to use positive reinforcement. At the basic level, you can consider the use of natural reinforcement, social reinforcement, token reinforcement, and tangible reinforcement. All of these entail delivering a specific consequence following a desired behavior that increases the likelihood that the behavior will continue or increase in the future.
Although praise is one of many forms of positive reinforcement, it is by no means the only or even the best choice when working with young children. Educators often use praise interchangeably with positive reinforcement when indeed an important distinction must be made between the two (Strain & Joseph, 2004). Consistency is very important when interacting with a child. One must stick to the rules once they’ve been made, and don’t allow the child to do something one day and then not let them do it the next. Don’t confuse a child with unimportant decisions, and remember that it’s often necessary to tell a child something more than one time. Speak clearly, and make sure that what you’ve said is understood. Above all, always maintain a positive attitude, because it’s a sure bet that they will be imitating you.
Children look to adults, parents, and teachers for approval in order to confirm that the behaviors they are exhibiting are ones that are desired (Lawhon & Lawhon, 2000). By acknowledging the child’s behavior as appropriate we teach the child which behaviors are preferred over others (Bukatko & Daehler, 2001).
As primitive as it may seem, most small children behave in a rather random manner repeating behaviors that get a desired or positive reaction. Some children, by chance or intuition, behave in an appropriate manner and some do not. If their ‘reinforcement’ is attention at all costs, then whatever attention given, even if directed toward a negative behavior, will increase the likelihood that behavior will be repeated (Sternberg, 1998).
Young children are egocentric. Young children, especially under the age of four, have a very difficult time understanding how someone else feels (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2002). This doesn’t mean that kids are plain selfish but simply that their cognitive development is not sophisticated enough to understand their own emotions, much less someone else’s. They are unable to take the perspective of someone else and understand another’s feelings (Leong & Bodrova, 2003). As children get older they begin to learn what pleases others, but it is a gradual process that takes time (Swick, 2001).
Positive reinforcement doesn’t suddenly work over night you need to grasp the child’s mind into thinking if “I do what I am told I will get a treat”. The first week or so may be a little unstable, you’ll find the child demanding treats or most of all once they have their treat they become disobedient. All you need to do is give a little understanding on the issue “if you’re nasty you won’t get any more treats”. Never give into your disciplined parenting, your child will kick, cry and scream waiting for you to give in so don’t show them any signs of cracking, the second you give in they are in control and the ladder is then twice as harder to climb to the top.
People tend to wonder from time to time, if positive reinforcement is truly effective. There are four key elements to positive reinforcement that must be emphasized.
1. Reinforcement serves to increase a desired behavior, while the goal of punishment is to decrease an undesired behavior (Jackson & Panyan, 2002). It is important to acknowledge that adults have a keen understanding that an undesirable behavior has an opposing desirable one. 2. There is a phenomenon known as ‘‘extinction burst’’ (Ormrod, 1999). This is the rapid production of a behavior once the reinforcement is taken away. 3. It is important to identify positive reinforcers that are easily and quickly attainable. Giving stickers or candy is not always feasible or desirable. That is why positive attention itself is sometimes the best choice. 4. Ignoring unwanted behaviors is a key, but it is essential to stop dangerous or injurious behaviors immediately.
To sum it all up, It is true that when a child is engaged in a creative activity, like drawing or painting, if you indicate, ‘‘I like the color blue you are using,’’ you will indeed get an entire page of the color blue. The important point is to understand why that would happen (Sigler, E., & Aamidor, S., 1990). This does not happen because the child sees value in his/ her own activities or because the child is dependent on an adult’s approval. In fact, this happens because what was said to the child pleased him/her and the child wants to be a part of the life and the activities that interest you. But when it comes to everyday behaviors in aversive situations that need to be modified it is better to positively reinforce.
The simple rule is: whatever you attend to is what you get. If you reinforce good behavior (whatever is desirable in your eyes) by giving praise and other kinds of positive attention, children will deliver more good behavior.