In case you missed our February MeBe Learning webinar, we’ve summarized some helpful tips on using positive reinforcement with your child. Remember: MeBe Learning webinars are free to rewatch at any time by visiting our YouTube page.

What is positive reinforcement?

Reinforcement is a process in which an attitude or behavior is developed and encouraged often through the use of rewards or positive sentiments. We all respond to positive reinforcers. For example, you might be more inclined to cook the same meal again for your family after receiving praise from them on how delicious it tasted the first time you cooked that meal. A reinforcer can be anything that follows a child’s behavior that increases the chances of that behavior occurring again in the future including praise, toys, attention, or even a break from tasks!

What are examples of positive reinforcers for kids?

It’s important to understand which types of potential reinforcers your child might prefer so that they truly enjoy their reward and make positive connections between it and their actions. Verbal praise or physical touch do not serve as reinforcers for everyone, so it is important to explore which categories of reinforcers might work best for your child.

1. Edible

Offering a favorite food or drink to your child as a reward for a behavior you’d like to see is an example of using an edible reinforcer. It is important to note that defaulting to this method is not recommended. However, for desired behaviors or activities that involve food or drinks, like sitting at the dinner table or eating vegetables, rewarding with your child’s favorite edible items could be a great potential reinforcer.

2. Social

Social interactions are another example of potential reinforcers that you can add to your reinforcement toolbox. After catching your child doing a desired behavior, rewarding them with verbal praise, clapping, high-5’s or even hugs can increase the chance of that behavior happening again in the future. Phrases such as “good job”, “I like that”, or “well done” help create positive associations with desired behaviors.

For example, if you and your child are working on a desired behavior such as brushing their teeth, and you catch them doing so without being asked, give them a high-5 and say “great job”.

Find out which methods your child responds to best and keep a running list of reinforcer ideas to use in the future

3. Tangible

Another category of positive reinforcers can be providing some sort of tangible object or reward to your child once they exhibit a desirable behavior. Tangible rewards are ones that can be held such as a toy, a prize, or a tablet. For example, if you and your child are working on sharing toys with siblings and you notice them doing so, reward them with extra tablet time. It’s recommended that you restrict access to a couple of these favorite items to reward your child when they’ve completed a task rather than allowing them to have access to those items at all times. If your child has consistent access to an item all day, it may start to lose its value and effectiveness as a reinforcer.

4. Activities

Participating in enjoyable activities could also serve as a positive reinforcer for your child. Once your child performs the desired task, you can reward them by playing their favorite board game, taking a trip to the park, or even playing a game of hide-n-seek together. Some children simply enjoy spending quality time with their parents doing their favorite activity.

Having a variety of positive reinforcers in your toolbox makes learning for your child less redundant and more enjoyable. Find out which methods your child responds to best and keep a running list of reinforcer ideas.

How often should I use positive reinforcement?

If you ever find yourself asking; how often should I reinforce? The answer is: every time! Once your child starts regularly carrying out a desired behavior, you can gradually reduce how often you reinforce that particular behavior. We like to encourage parents to catch their kids being good as often as possible!

Positive Reinforcement was the topic for the February MeBe Learning Webinar. MeBe offers free parent and caregiver webinars once a month on a variety of different topics. You can watch all recorded webinars if you visit our YouTube channel.

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To learn more about ABA therapy, watch the MeBe ABA: 101 video series, available in English and Spanish.

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For helpful tips from the MeBe therapy team, check out @mebefamily on Instagram and Facebook and visit the MeBe Family YouTube channel.