Advice Column, Child, Parenting

The benefits of positive reinforcement in children

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Do you find yourself raising your voice a little too much when having to speak to your child? Do you sometimes feel like an enraged volcano waiting to erupt, because your child doesn’t seem to be behaving in the manner that you would like him to? Are your punitive measures not having the desired effect on your child’s behaviour you thought it may have?

Well, you are not alone! Many parents and teachers have experienced these frustrations at some point. These frustrations may give rise to feelings of guilt, anger and helplessness within a parent or teacher.

Perhaps then it’s time for you to explore an alternate approach to effectively modify your child’s or student’s behaviour. Firstly, I would like to shed some light on what positive reinforcement is, and thereafter, place emphasis on some of its benefits. Then, you can decide whether or not, it is a tool that you would like to be equipped with!

Reinforcement is the use of rewards and punishment that may increase or decrease the likelihood of a similar response occurring in the future. Positive reinforcement, therefore, works on the basis of encouraging behaviour by offering a reward when that behaviour is exhibited. If a child finds a particular behaviour rewarding, it is more likely that he would repeat this behaviour. Unfortunately, too often, good behaviour goes unnoticed, while ‘bad’ behaviour tends to become the spectacle of everyone’s attention. Rewarding good behaviour or choices can have immense benefits. These rewards need not be monetary and can vary depending on the age of the child, as well as the child’s personality. For example, whilst one child may favour a sticker or lollipop, a simple gesture such as a pat on a back, a hug, or a thumbs up, may go a long way in eliciting or fostering good behaviour in another. Keeping this in mind, let’s now explore some of the benefits (some may be inter- linked) that positive reinforcement may have on a child:

  1. For me, a benefit that stands out the most, is that a child becomes aware that you care about him unconditionally. In many instances, this is all that a child needs- knowing that there is someone who cares about him, despite his perceived limitations or weaknesses. Being both a teacher and a parent, my experience tells me that children want to be embraced, loved and respected for their uniqueness. By focusing on their strengths, and reinforcing these, we make them feel as if they are special, loved and important members of our society. They then tend to strive to give of their best and not compare themselves to others but instead, they celebrate their individuality.
  2. Positive reinforcement can give a child’s self-esteem a much-needed boost. Punitive measures serve to elicit negative emotions within a child, making him feel as if he is ‘bad’ or ‘worthless’, leaving no room for self-improvement. Very often, children live up to the labels that they find themselves attached to. On the other hand, a child receiving positive reinforcement, learns that he can feel good about his accomplishments. This in turn, increases his sense of personal responsibility. Each time positive reinforcement is used, a child is driven to try harder.
  3. Praising good behaviour/choices, helps create an intrinsic motivation for a child to behave. Their reasons to exhibit good behaviour is because of wanting the good feelings that are associated with their positive reinforcement. Emotions that stem from seeing their hard work paying off; being recognised for what they have accomplished; having their autonomy respected; are just a few examples that may be the driving motivator for a child.

Whether or not you choose to embrace positive reinforcement, remember, children emulate the adults around them, so how we react to them, most likely predicts how they would react in a similar situation in the future. 

“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not to join their chaos.” ~ L.R. Knost

By Nishanee Beharry, Pinnacle College Copperleaf

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