Saturday, August 30, 2008

Positive Reinforcement Shapes Behavior

When young children receive immediate positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior, they are more likely to repeat that behavior. Positive reinforcement is “catching” a kid doing something you want them to do and rewarding it. This is an effective way to shape a child’s conduct, and attitude. Children naturally want to earn and keep your approval. Check out the many ways in this article that you can use to foster good behavior.

A recent study dramatically reinforced this teaching approach. A research group at the University of Rochester conducted a three-year study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They interviewed 278 mothers of 3-year-olds and observed mothers and children playing and working together. The women and children represented all socio-economic groups.

They found that the children of parents, who were negative and controlling, verbally and physically, were “situationally” compliant. This means as soon as the parent became distracted, the child reverted to inappropriate behavior because they had not learned the correct skills. By contrast, the children of parents who use gentle guidance or positive reinforcement showed “committed compliance,” which means they understood the correct behavior.

Positive Reinforcement works because it gives children positive goals to work towards instead of only focusing on negative consequences to avoid. Positive reinforcement fulfills strong basic psychological needs of every child as well as setting a more positive and healthy tone for the caregiver-child relationship. Some parents find it helpful to display a note where they can see it often. The note might read, "notice the positive" or "catch'em doing good."

Use Verbal Praise
Always praise the behavior, not the person. Praises like good girl or good boy risk misinterpretation. The child may think they are bad if they misbehave. It’s better to praise the behavior by saying, “You did a great job cleaning your room, son.”

Praise Genuinely
Complimenting a child’s behavior can lose its punch if you praise usual, expected behavior or if you praise too much. Don’t over do it. You may want to keep a mental note of the number of times you are using praise in a day. Use eye and body contact during your delivery to reinforces your sincerity. A child can tell when you’re faking it.

Use a Variety of Ways to Praise
To keep a child’s attention, change the delivery of your praise. A teacher can give a pat on the head or shoulder to show approval, while a parent can give a hug or a kiss. Body language like a thumbs up, communicates approval in a cool way. You might want to write a note praising their clean room and leave it on their pillow. Children love behavior charts with colorful stars or stickers, because they can show visitors their accomplishments by showing them the chart. Charts are interactive and fun. Let the child help you make the chart and make daily entries.

Help your child draw a picture of his reward. Put dots around the prize about an inch apart. With each day of successful behavior, allow the child to connect a dot. When the circle is complete, the child gets his reward. They enjoy watching their own progress as they get closer and closer to finishing the circle. Keep the time until the prize is collected short. For a toddler, use end of the hour rewards; for a preschooler use end of the day rewards; and for the school age child use end of the week rewards. In fact, for a preschool child it’s best to refer to an event as the ending time such as, ‘after dinner” or” at bedtime.”

To work, a reward must be something the child likes. You can become a detective and ask some leading questions to find out what rewards a child wants. The following are examples of leading questions.

“If you could do some special things, what would that be?”
“If you could go somewhere with a friend, where would you go?’
“If you had a dollar, what would you buy?’

Make reward coupons to be redeemed when they earn a certain number of points. But remember that children need reminders. Reminders are less likely to provoke a refusal or power struggle. You might give a clue like, “Where does your plate belong?” You might want to write a list of positive behaviors or responsibilities on a poster board. You can review these lists with the child as needed.

A child who receives positive reinforcement develops high self-esteem; and a child with a high self-esteem usually exhibits self-motivation. A child who exhibits self-motivation generally becomes a successful achiever at home and at school.

There are some who say rewards can stunt creativity in children, and children should perform for the joy of the activity. But, life is full of rewards. If a person follows the rules, and works hard, they are rewarded.

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