Positive Reinforcement- Purposeful Parenting

Welcome to July! This month is known as Purposeful Parenting Month. In celebration and support of parents everywhere, we wanted to share a little of our knowledge on positive reinforcement in parenting- how it began, examples of it, and ways you can use it to help your children learn and grow. Dr. Adam Benton, child psychologist at Arkansas Families First, LLC, spent some time talking with me about this topic. Hope you find this helpful in all your parenting endeavors!

First off, let’s start with a little background. Positive reinforcement stems from a type of learning called operant conditioning. B.F. Skinner was the father of operant conditioning. He believed that to understand behavior, he needed to look at actions and consequences. His goal was to identify certain circumstances that made behavior more or less likely to occur. He introduced reinforcement, which showed that behavior that is reinforced is likely to occur again, whereas behavior that is not reinforced is less likely to occur again. These reinforcers can be positive or negative. Positive reinforcement strengthens a desired behavior by the giving of a consequence, which the person finds rewarding.

This can be shown in many different ways. It can be in the form of tangible rewards such as a quarter reward system, or intangible such as attention and praise. Positive reinforcement could be a high five, time to play, or a bowl of ice cream. It rewards behavior that is good and encourages the child to repeat this. Dr. Benton mentions, that in parenting, “we often use attention to positively reinforce specific behaviors and to teach skills”. For example, if a child cleans up their room, they are given time to play outside. Because of this, they are more likely to clean their room in the future. Positive reinforcement encourages children to repeat behavior that a parent finds helpful and productive. In turn, negative behavior is less likely to appear. When bad behavior is present, bring attention the positive aspects. Attention makes things happen more often, whether that is positive or negative. Positive reinforcement can be viewed as a training strategy rather than just a reward system. Kids learn skills they need in different settings and there is less of a need for consequences and punishments.

Although positive reinforcement can be incredibly effective, it can sometimes be misunderstood, Dr. Benton says. People often think of it as waiting for a child to do the right thing and then praising them for it, when it is actually an act of shaping behavior. Positive reinforcement is most beneficial when it is used to teach behavior. For example, you take your child to a restaurant. You could either tell them they acted well after the meal, or throughout the meal comment regularly on good behavior. The latter is most effective, because it allows the child to understand specifically what is good behavior. Bringing attention to positive behaviors in the moment will further help the child associate positivity with that action.

When used correctly, positive reinforcement can have a very effective outcome. It can be used to teach skills that help kids to know how to act in different settings. It prevents misbehavior that leads to punishment and consequences, and instead encourages positive behavior.

So, what’s the takeaway? Be informed about using positive reinforcement. It will help shape your child’s behavior for the better. Positive reinforcement is an incredibly effective tool. Special thanks to Dr. Benton for his expertise on this topic. Thank you for being a parent, and happy Purposeful Parenting Month!