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  • Candice Maurer

The power of reinforcement!

Updated: Jul 18, 2020

Did you know that reinforcement is a far more powerful tool to use to get your kids to listen than punishment / reprimands!? Let me explain..... I know this may sound crazy but ALL the behavior your child engages in even if its refusal to follow adult instructions occurs because it is being reinforced. I know it sounds ridiculous but it's true! Think about the kid in the grocery store who screams for the candy when he is told "no" and the tired parent gives in and the child gets the candy.... What do you think that same child will do the next time they go to the grocery store? That's right scream for the candy and you may think how would this apply to my situation? I know better than that?!


Here's how: each time you reprimand your child, they receive a brief period of escape from the task or instruction. Thus your child avoids completing the request for a period of time. They may not escape the task altogether but they surely avoid completing the task until they are good and ready to get the task complete. It may seem like you are in control and that constant reprimands are working but the truth of the matter is that they are only increasing the refusal behavior.


Here are a few simple ways you can use the power of reinforcement .....


  1. Plan you day wisely by having chore time before swimming pool outing. Be sure and state that is the plan for the day be sure not to leave for the pool until the chores are complete and forget about the reprimands if the chores are not done they the pool is not happening.

  2. Use praise which is a form of social reinforcement to your advantage. Try this experiment for 1 day or even 1 hour: do not give one single reprimand all day long. Give praise for every little thing you see your child doing that you want to see more of. It could be the smallest thing like: "I can tell you are really listening by the way you are looking at me!"

  3. Use a simple strategy that we Behavior Analyst's like to call the Premack Principle. This is really simple just like the scenario above only the reinforcement will be given sooner. It's the simple rule of first eat dinner then you get dessert. So if you have a younger child and say the battle is cleaning up toys, simply offer up a special snack, water play outside, or cartoon time to follow right after the toys are put away.

  4. Use first, then. If you are really struggling to get your kids to listen and it seems that they cannot even follow one simple instruction simply break down the reinforcement into smaller chunks and pair with with smaller chunks on the task. For instance, if the task is for you child to clean their bedroom break the task into categories such as first put all your toys in the toy box and then you get a gummy, a silly game, or a great big hug and tickle party! First put all the dirty cloths in the laundry basket then get ...... and so on!

Being a parent is most definitely one of the most challenging things we will ever do in life and I assure you that while there is no magic, there are simple ways to help us get our kids going when we get stuck. So why not give one of these simple strategies a try?! You might just find that you are able to connect more and stress less!



#thepowerofreinforcement #parenting

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