We all like to be told we are on the right path, that we are doing a good job. We like to know that what we are doing is making a difference. This is true in all aspects of our life: at work, at home and at play. Of course these look different depending on where we are: a paycheck, a high five, a pat on the back, a hug, a kiss, a new outfit, words of affirmation, a sweet treat etc. These things are known as reinforcers which often times looks like rewards, and according to the research will increase the likelihood that a behavior will occur again.
This is great news for parents! This means we can bribe our kids with candy to get them to do want we want… right? Not quite. What it does mean is that we can capitalize on what motivates our children in order for them to complete tasks that they most likely don’t want to do, or are having hard time learning.
According to Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) reinforcement follows a stimulus change and results in the increased likelihood that the behaviour will happen again. Often times, when someone mentions reinforcement, it is typically positive reinforcement that they are referring to.
Types of reinforcement:
- Positive reinforcement: when a behavior is followed by the PRESENTATION of a stimulus (a reinforcer). For example: A baby claps her hands and the parent smiles and cheers. The presentation of the smile and cheer are the reinforcers. This response will increase the chances that the baby will clap again.
- A reinforcer can be anything: praise, toys, food, an activity/experience, music, stickers etc
- Negative reinforcement: when a behaviour is followed by the REMOVAL (or end) of a stimulus which increases the chances that the response will occur more frequently. For example: Picture Johnny and Jamey fighting (behavior) over who gets to play with the ball and they are making a lot of noise (as kids tend to do). Mom comes in the room and takes away the ball (removal/end), both kids stop fighting immediately bringing back the peace and quiet (response). The chances of Mom removing toys when the kids are fighting is now strengthen and likely to occur again.
Advantages of positive reinforcement
- The behavior that is being reinforced will occur more frequently
- You become the giver or good things (helps to strengthen relationship with your child)
- Helps children to understand what is expected of them and accepted
- Helps to teach new skills
While a lot of this information can be pretty technical, don’t be discouraged. We are constantly providing feedback and reinforcement to those around us, especially our children. Once you find out what motivates your child (what their reinforcers are) you can have a dance party after homework is done, they can eat brownies when the chores are finished and you can enjoy your cuddles and giggles while tickling and snuggling your baby.