Positive reinforcement occurs when you deliver a reward following a desired behavior. Here are some tips on how to give these rewards in a constructive way:
The moment you notice your child doing something good, reward them. This is called intermittent reinforcement and it is the most powerful way to use rewards to increase a behavior.
Say, “I like how you [insert behavior].” This reminds your child what good thing they did to earn the reward.
If your child has trouble waiting for rewards, use “first/then.”
“First you do [the behavior] then you can have [reward].” As long as the reward is saved for when the child does the good behavior, you’re in the clear. Remember that you don’t want to discuss rewards while there is problem behavior going on. Doing so may confuse your child about what is expected.
You don’t have to reward every good behavior. If your child asks over and over for more, say, “Let’s do something different!” and offer them an activity you know they are good at doing, like a puzzle.
Put them Away
You need to put away rewards from time to time to keep them valuable. Keep it fresh by making a wheel of rewards from which your child can pick a prize or write a variety of rewards on paper, place them in a box, and have your child pick from that as well.
Being at the doctor’s office and getting a shot is very difficult for many children, so keep highly valued rewards for those special situations. Giving the highly preferred item as something to do at the same time as the Doctor’s visit can help your child remain calm.
Your child’s preferences may change over time, so keep up on what your child likes by asking them, seeing how they interact with new toys, new games, new foods, etc. Keep track of new likes.
Break it Down
For difficult tasks, reinforce smaller bits of the task. For example, at the start of homework, state, “That’s a cool pencil!” or “Nice job writing your name at the top of the sheet.” Phrases like this can start things off on the right foot.
Structure is Key
If you don’t have a reward ready, the reward broke, or some other issue came up, don’t worry! Try to fill the time that your child would have spent with the reward with something they are ok with, such as a puzzle or outside time. Structure is key to keeping the positive momentum through moments of disappointment.
Rewards are best given immediately after the behavior. Token boards, sticker charts, raffle tickets, and similar things are all ways to have your child work towards a bigger reward.