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The Secrets to Raising a Smarter Child
- By Inderbir Sandhu, Ph.D


Changing Children's Behavior by Using Positive Reinforcement Methods - Tips and Suggestions

By Andrew Loh

Just sit down for a minute and ponder over the events that took place in your home on the previous day. Note down the number of instances of bad behavior displayed by your children. Did you notice them in the first place? If yes, how serious were they? Were they socially unacceptable and truly negative? What did you do when your children displayed those instances of bad behavior? Do your children repeat them over and again throughout the day and week? Did you say anything to them as soon as you noticed those instances of bad behavior? What did you do to avoid those episodes of bad behavior? Were you successful in efforts? If you faced some problems or if you find that your children are difficult to control, do not worry! Here are some simple tips and techniques that will help you shape your children's unacceptable behaviors.

Everyone agree with the fact that unacceptable behavior in chidden is easy to correct by using some form of reinforcers or rewards. However, using the right type of reinforcement is very critical if you want to get the best possible results. Before using any of the methods mentioned below, you may also need to assess the present scenarios. Most of the parents often simply fail to notice the positive things that their children do or perform. On the contrary, they tend to focus only on the negative side of their personalities.

This is simply because children could annoy them or they could even embarrass them in the public. Just think for a second. Did you ever know that when children notice something, they tend to repeat it, over and again? If you just focus on negative things in your children, then they may never do something that is positive. In other words, parents may be the primary reason for genesis of problems that relate to unacceptable behavior in children. In fact, they may unknowingly program their children to believe that whatever they are doing (negative behavior) is right and they can continue it just because their parents are noticing it.

There are numerous differences between positive and negative reinforcement methods. Some people use negative rewards to correct behavioral problems. Though these rewards provide instant results, they may prove to be counterproductive in later stages. Therefore, it is always better to deploy positive reinforcement to shape children's unacceptable behavior. Here are some examples of negative and positive reinforcement.

Examples of Negative reinforcement

Indeed, negative reinforcement shapes children's behavior. Negative reinforcement occurs when you remove a specific stimulus after the behavior that eventually causes that behavior to increase in gradual manner. Here the term “negative” does not connote something that is bad. In a manner, you will be taking or weaning away something from the scene.

Consider this simple example. Your son simply refuses to do his homework. In fact, this defiance has become a habit for him. To rectify the situation, you start nagging him all the time to do homework. Here, nagging is the negative stimulus. After continual nagging for some time, your son starts doing the homework. Now that he is doing his homework, you will stop nagging him. This negative type of reinforcement makes a person start adapting a positive behavior.

Here is another example. You will inform your child that you will exempt him from doing weekend chores if he assists you in cleaning the entire house. Here, you are enforcing a sense of negative reinforcement as removing the undesirable stimulus of “doing the weekend chores”. However, there is a rider that is to help you complete the house cleaning work.

The biggest drawback of using negative reinforcement is that children tend to develop a habitual tendency to avoid doing something deliberately. In other words, they will know that rewards are easy to get when they resist doing something that is good. On the contrary, parents tend to increase the instances of nagging just to make their children do something that is positive and good. In a sense, this negative relationship may work for sometime although the habit of using negative reinforcement is not too good in the end.

Examples of positive reinforcement

Using positive reinforcement is far better and result-oriented than employing negative reinforcement. A sense of positive reinforcement occurs when you present a specific stimulus after the expression of a particular behavior that is both positive and good. Because of this, the good behavior increases and children tend to adapt it as a habit. You will also be adding something that is positive in nature.

Positive reinforcement occurs in many types. Some of them are concrete reinforcer, social reinforcer and activity reinforcer.

  1. Concrete reinforcer is something that is very concrete and tangible. For example, if your son helps you clean the house, he will get a pack of crayons.

  2. Social reinforcer is simple gesture (good) from you in response to a good behavior. For example, when your son completes the homework, you will give him a “thumbs up” in response to the good behavior.

  3. In Activity reinforcer, you will present your child a positive opportunity to engage in a fun or thrilling activity. For example, you will take your daughter to a movie when she completes an assigned task.

Parents always use a gentle mix of both positive and negative reinforcements. For example, when children resort to tantrum, parents may invariably give something that pacifies them. This is a case of negative reinforcement. Other examples are also very common; a simple warning glance, a frown on your face or negative remark is examples of negative reinforcement. Using a positive reinforcement is always good because it may shape your children's behavior in a productive manner. Rewarding children for their positive behavior is long lasting and permanent. Positive rewards encourage good behavior that is affable and pleasing.

A simple, praise or a positive remark can go a long way to shape your children's behavior. It might be like this:

  • “John, I really liked the way in which you responded to my instruction and did all those work by yourself and without my help. You did a great work”.

  • “Look here! Your bedroom looks so clean. Did you do that all by yourself? You must have worked so hard”

  • “Johnny, I am so pleased to see that you were so successful in finishing that project. Why don't we go out and have the dinner together?”

Here are some simple examples of positive reinforcement:

Praise: It is the best shaping tool. Children simply love someone praising them for their work. Praising is a form of approval too. Let the praise for good behavior remains sincere and honest. Simple examples are, “You did a great job”, “it was an excellent decision” or “I liked the way you did that job”.

Selective ignoring: This a very good tool when two or more children are involved. Selective ignoring is a trick that you can use to make your children adhere to certain rules. For example, let us say that your children are quarreling for the possession of a toy. Although no one is getting hurt, the squabble is still undesirable. At this instance, you can say “both of you are so big to quarrel for a simple toy. You are getting upset for that simple toy too. No way! I am not wasting my time to involve myself with this silly problem”. This simple gesture will help children solve the present problem on their own and without any intervention.

Time out: This useful tool can shape your children's behavior in a better manner. It is a positive reward in response to a good behavior. Taking time out could be going out for a walk, of playing in a park, eating ice cream and even watching a movie in a theater.

Motivators and reminders: Timely reminders could work as wonderful tools for shaping your children's behavior. Reminders work best when you speak in a commanding voice. It may look like a negative reinforcement. However, you will not be presenting any reward before the desired result. With effective reminding, you can get the result you want. On the other hand, motivators are something that urges the children to work hard and develop a good behavior. Children will know that parents will reward them when they display good behavior. This self-belief will act as motivators for next instance of good behavior.

Consistent practice will shape your children's behavior in a better manner. Parents will need to guide their children with a variety of techniques and methods to shape their behavioral patterns.

Featured Resource

10 Days to a Less Defiant Child: The Breakthrough Program for Overcoming Your Child's Difficult Behavior
By Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D

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