Positive reinforcement for kids: the word ‘reinforcement’ itself signifies that parents are acknowledging something they wish to have repeated; done over again; telling children that their actions, accomplishments and attitudes are worthwhile and honourable.
But how you reinforce or reward your children’s positive behaviour is something you need to give careful consideration to…
A parent’s words are music to their ears
Telling your children you love them, you are proud of them and that your love is not about what they do, but rather who they are.
These verbal accolades are something a child will hold close to their hearts as long as they live.
Positive reinforcement is NOT bribery
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Parents should never say to a child, ‘If you don’t misbehave while we are in the store I will buy you this or that.’ Or… ‘I will pay you $___ for every ‘A’ you bring home on your report card.’
Using bribery tactics sends a bevvy of messages to your child:
- Bribery tells a child that unless there is something ‘in it for them’, and there is no need to do something positive.
- Bribery gives a child the attitude of entitlement, and they expect compensation for everything.
- Bribery lowers a child’s self-esteem, and they equate their success and self-worth with the size or value of the reward.
Positive reinforcement needs to be equal to the behaviour
This is the alter-ego of the old adage, ‘let the punishment fit the crime’. For instance…a child who has been struggling with their math comes home with a perfect score on their math test. Yay! So how do you reinforce their hard work and positive behaviour?
You reinforce their behaviour by acknowledging their accomplishment with a celebratory dinner, trip to the ice cream store or an extra half-hour of television. You do not buy them an expensive tech gadget, add a hefty sum to their piggy bank or let them run wild; casting aside household regulations and expectations.
Positive reinforcement should be given during both failure and success
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All kids are going to fail. And that is a good thing. Yes, that’s right-everyone needs to fail. Failing keeps us humble, allows others to shine and excel and as some have said-is merely the long route to getting things right.
Parents need to reinforce their children’s efforts rather than their success. No one can always be the best. No one can always be the winner. But as long as someone puts forth their best effort-that is really all that matters.
So what’s a parent to do? What can parents do to let their children know their efforts, accomplishments, attitudes and actions are a source of pride to Mom and Dad?
- Always be ready with loving and sincere words. Words such as ‘I’m proud of you’, ‘You did your best and that’s all anyone can do’, I think it looks great’, ‘Keep trying and you’ll get it’, ‘You should be proud of your _______ because I know I am’.
- Manners. Using ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ rather than ordering or just expecting a child to do their chores sends a valuable message that they are an important and valued member of the family.
- Privileges rather than tangible rewards are generally more appropriate. Doing something with you rather than getting something from you makes a deeper and longer-lasting impression on a child’s heart and memory.
- Spend time together doing something of their choosing
- A celebratory dinner complete with a home-made ‘champion’ or ‘best ____’ sash
- A hand-written card expressing your pride and appreciation for them
- A chore-free day
- Extended bedtime
- Play-dates or extended curfews for older children
Don’t hide your pride. Let your children hear you speak proudly of them to relatives and friends. No, you don’t want to be the mom who brags incessantly or who reports every time little Jr. goes potty on the big toilet. But your children need to hear you speak favourably of them to others.
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A great way to do this is to take your child with you to parent/teacher conferences. A child who hears his/her parents tell their teacher(s) how proud they are of them is a child who feels special and loved.
Keeping grandparents up to date on their accomplishments is also important. Grandparents want to know these things and in turn, they can express this to the child.
Create an environment of realistic and attainable expectations for a child. In other words, don’t set them up to fall. It is unreasonable to expect and demand straight ‘A’ grade cards.
Children need to know they have a bit of breathing room and are not expected to be perfect in all things at all times. If they are capable of it, then great! But punishing a child who isn’t-for being less than perfect-screams the message that even their best is not good enough for you.
Punish a child for bad choices and bad behaviour. For every right, there is a wrong. For every good, there is bad. Children need to have an equal sense of both positive reinforcement and the penalties or repercussions that come with bad choices and bad behaviour. Parents need to express both the expectations and guidelines as well as the repercussions that come with breaking or ignoring the same.
FYI: when parents put everything up-front, necessary disciplinary actions are drastically lower. Think about it.
Remember…children do want to please their parents. So as parents, we owe it to our children to allow them that privilege.