Effective Praise: Instill Good Behaviour Through Positive Reinforcement, Not …
How do you discipline your child? Most of the parents would admit to having spanked their children at least once. In behavioural studies, 3 approaches to eliciting a desired behaviour can also be found in parents’ discipline styles: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, and punishment.
Positive reinforcement entails providing an event (like a reward or praise) that increases the probability of the desired behavior being repeated. With negative reinforcement, a desired behaviour is drawn out through the elimination of an adverse event (e.g. child learns to wake up earlier for school every day because getting caught in traffic makes him nauseous). Punishment, often confused with negative reinforcement, involves increasing an adverse event to decrease or stop negative behaviour.
Child experts agree that, of the 3, positive reinforcement is the best way to draw out positive behaviour in children and even keep negative behaviour in check.
Positive Reinforcement VS Bribery
Some parents mistakenly associate positive reinforcement with bribing or giving material rewards. In bribery, you promise something bigger and more valuable than the behaviour you are expecting. You also tend to negotiate or beg, even increasing the value of the prize, just to make sure that the behaviour you wish is manifested. Giving a child verbal encouragement or small tokens after they exhibit a certain desirable behaviour does not qualify for bribery.
Other parents steer clear from positive reinforcers for fear that they might spoil their child. However, it is far from spoiling if the reward given is commensurate to the positive behaviour exhibited by the child. Material rewards need not be expensive things; small tokens like stickers or erasers are hardly decadent. Non-material reinforcers are highly recommended: a hug, a wink, and a compliment for a job well done.
Play Your Part
There is no specific age at which to start using positive reinforcement; children learn to relate reinforcers to their behaviour after several similar experiences and patterns. Good deeds that were reinforced at an early age become part of the child’s personality.
As children grow, their needs will differ in the same way that our expectations of them will expand. So, the reinforcers may change, but the general principle remains. The success of positive reinforcement greatly depends not on the child, but on the adult using it as a disciplinary approach.
When used successfully, positive reinforcement can develop a child’s intrinsic motivation. It can provide children some understanding of expectations and behaviour.
Get into Character
Here are key points to help parents effectively wield positive reinforcement:
- Select and define the deed. Be clear on what is acceptable or non-acceptable behaviour at home. Provide observable, measurable progress by specifying which behaviour you want the child to repeat. Refrain from giving abstract directives. Instead of “Behave while eating” say “Sit on your chair, do not play with your utensils, and tidy up your eating area after eating the food.”
- Choose your reinforcers. Reinforcers must be appropriate for – and as valuable as – the behaviour. They should match the child’s age, abilities, and the effort required to earn them. Kids have individual preferences. A reinforcer that is not significant to your child will bear no value. For example, preschool children will like getting stickers and hugs, while teenagers may prefer getting an extended curfew.
- Timing is everything. Consistency is the key. Make it routine for your children. It helps them internalize rules and expectations. Also, immediately reinforce good behaviour. The shorter the delay between the behaviour and reinforcer, the greater the chance of strengthening the behaviour. When reinforcing a new skill, reinforce continuously. Once the behaviour has been established in the child, then you can gradually delay and decrease reinforcements.
- Be diverse. Varying reinforcers prevents satiation in a child. Use your imagination to come up with different reinforcers. Opt for assorted non-material reinforcers. You will be surprised that not all kids want material things as reinforcers. Hugs, pats on the back, and words have equal, if not more, significance to them.
- Complement praise with encouragement. Pairing reinforcers with words of praise and encouragement works best to retain or repeat a good behaviour. Praise usually denotes the person, and some judgment is made on him or her. Encouragement is taking notice of the behaviour or action, instead of the person.
- An example of praise is “You’re a good girl” while “I like the way you helped the lady carry her bag,” are words of encouragement. By using words of praise and encouragement, it puts recognition and meaning to one’s presence and work.
International studies have shown that praise definitely increases people’s inner interest in activities. Anything too much or too little is proven ineffective. Too much praise is ineffective because it comes too easy and often reduces the value of praise. Too little of it and lack of consistency do not give it much significance, as well. Here are some keywords to remember when giving praise:
- Immediate. Praise kids right after the good behaviour occurs. This way, they know instantly which behaviour is reinforced.
- Specific. Say exactly which behaviour, action, or words you liked. For example, “Thank you for putting your toys back in the bin,” or “I like the way you shared your toys with your friends.” If the action was partly wrong, focus only on the positive side.
- Frequent. Be consistent in saying words of praise every time kids do something good. Do not let any good or improved deed pass unnoticed. This reminds kids, positively, that a particular behaviour should be part of their way of life.
- Sincere. Put emphasis on the feelings and values instead of judging kids as “good” or “bad”. For example, if you see your child politely asking for his or her turn in playing a video game, say, “I like the way you asked your brother if you could play after him. I think that was a polite thing to do.”
- Varied. Use different praise statements. Repeating the same thing may lose its impact and value. Changing it is also one way to increase kids’ emotional vocabulary, which will help them express themselves as they grow.