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Using Positive Reinforcement When Raising a Child

Updated on March 16, 2015

The Benefits and Challenges of Positive Reinforcement

Parenting will always have its ups and downs, it's gives and takes, its benefits and challenges, and its failures and its successes. The moment a person becomes a parent their entire life changes in an instant. A parent makes a sacrifice to always put another human beings life before their own and to love that human unconditionally for the rest of their life, but parenting is one of the most difficult, judgmental, rude, cruel, and grotesque jobs one can take on; it is unforgiving, exhausting, terrifying, and excruciating (but don't let that deter you, no one is truly great at being a parent). Implementing a new parenting strategy is terrifying and challenging, it will either fail or succeed, but as a parent one must focus on the task at hand, never give up (until failure, then one must begin to restrategize) and push through in order to raise respectful and healthy children of the future generation. Positive reinforcement has been proven to be successful when teaching children how to behave appropriately more than other types of reinforcement (such as negative reinforcement, punishment, and extinction).

Positive reinforcement is rewarding a child for behaving appropriately, respectfully, and responsibly instead of only acknowledging poor behavior and serving up punishments constantly. At times, it is necessary to punish a child so he/she can understand that there are consequences for their poor actions, but children have a better response and understanding of positive reinforcement. When you praise and/or reward a child for acting appropriately in the moment there are more likely to better learn and understand appropriate behavior as well as behaving that way again in the future because they remember the positive attention and reward for their positive behavior. In a situation where a child is behaving poorly a parent does not have to scold or yell, but instead can politely ask their child to stop and if it continues a parent should take something away in a means of detering such behavior, once the child acts appropriately again, give praise and return what was taken. This method will help a child understand consequences for poor behavior without the parent having to yell or lecture.

There are many benefits that come with positive reinforcement, but every good thing poses some challenges. Children love to be praised and rewarded, and once they learn how to behave properly and they begin to act as they should on a daily basis they may come to expect to either be praised or rewarded when the parents have come to the decision that they no longer need to reward the child for something that has been learned and preformed correctly for a long period of time. This expectation in the child's mind can cause a sudden drop in mood and a temper tantrum may arise when they are no longer being rewarded. This reaction does not warrant a punishment, but the parent does need to talk to the child in a way that he/she can understand explaining to them that once they learn how to behave appropriately they no longer need a reward. Children do understand more than they are given credit for, that why it is extremely important for parents to talk to the child just as they would talk, teach, and explain something to another adult (while using words that the child can properly absorb and comprehend). No matter how many challenges one faces in raising a child, positive reinforcement will outweigh those challenges by creating a respectful, well-rounded, beautiful child that will always say, “please and thank you”.


Using Positive Reinforcement within the Home

Toddlers and children are very difficult to raise, they throw temper tantrums, their favorite word is no (but they cry and scream when they are told no), they throw things, hit things, and spread their toys and belongings throughout the entire home refusing to pick them up. It is difficult to teach between right and wrong when the parent becomes frustrated with the growing toddler and/or child's ego and personality. It can be a struggle to keep calm and parent on, but with the help of chore charts, reward jars, and positive reinforcement, teaching a toddler/child to help around the house and mind their manners becomes a lot easier for the parent.

Chore Charts and Reward Jars for Toddlers (Chores and Rewards can be Adjusted for Older Children)

It is a fact that every child hates doing chores, picking up their toys, and cleaning up messes that they helped create, but if the parent can make chores interactive for the child, chores can become easier for the child to comprehend and even have fun while completing them. A chore chart in itself is not enough for the growing toddler, they also need to be rewarded for completing their chores without a fight or struggle, and that is where the reward jar comes in. Toddlers get excited over spare change, so offer some change to the toddler after they have completed their daily chores to encourage them to continue to help within the household (reward jars do not have to consist of money, one can offer stickers, candy, or small toys to the toddler if the parent prefers).

Reward Jars (using spare change):

  • 1 penny: going on the potty all alone
  • 1 nickel: completing daily chores
  • 1 dime: picking up toys and cleaning room
  • 1 quarter: Random acts of kindness and/or a day without temper tantrums

Toddler Appropriate Chores:

  • Help Sweep
  • Pick up Toys
  • Clean Room (put toys back where they belong)
  • Vacuum their Bedroom (with a small dirt devil vacuum)
  • Help to Cook (getting the right foods out of the refrigerator)
  • Pick up Dirty Clothes and put them in the hamper/laundry room
  • Throw away trash
  • Wipe down tables
  • Put dirty dishes in sink or dishwasher
  • Help with laundry

Once the money is earned encourage the toddler to put their change in a piggy bank to save up for something special. Toddlers always want new toys or special treats and they will feel a sense of accomplishment and learn patience when they save their spare change and purchase something they desire all on their own.

Knowing When to Use Positive Reinforcement and When to Use Discipline

Positive reinforcement is more effective when trying to get a child to do the right and correct things in life. Constant discipline and yelling can make a child retract from their parents, lie more, and give up on listening and less willing to do the things that are asked of them. Children need positive reinforcement when they make the right choices in life, and discipline when they need consequences for making a mistake or a poor life choice. Parents always need to choose their battles wisely when discipling, for example, if a child spills milk, do not scold or discipline, instead ask the child politely to pick it up and then give them praise for listening and correcting their mistake after it is cleaned up. When child hits, bites, slaps, or throws a serious temper tantrum when they are not getting their way, or intentionally break or throw something, that is when a parent needs to discipline the child. When needing to know when to discipline, ask, “would this behavior get my grown child arrested or fined?” if the answer is yes, use discipline, if the answer is no, take a breath and react calmly. Always remember a child is a product of their parents, if the parent reacts poorly to certain actions and behaviors, a child will too. A parent only realizes their poor behaviors only when it is reflected in their child. With the use of chore charts and reward jars, the child and parent will know what is expected of the child and what the reward will be if the tasks are completed without argument, therefore with the use of these tools the household will be more relaxed and calm and arguments and the use of discipline will decrease.

Keep in Mind

Always keep in mind that there is no foolproof parenting method. Different children respond to different parenting techniques and styles, and what may work for one family may not work for the next. Even positive reinforcement can backfire and pose new challenges for the parent(s).

Just Keep Calm and Parent On.

Sometime positive reinforcement and rewards can backfire, posing new challenges.
Sometime positive reinforcement and rewards can backfire, posing new challenges. | Source

© 2015 Jami Johnson


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    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      These are great tips for parents! We found with our seven children that every one was different. They each had their own quirks and ways that they would respond to our various parenting techniques. We found positive praise would go a long way to helping children develop good habits and behaviors. We also used many different types of token/reward systems. When one system would fizzle out, we would come up with another.


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