Empowered Parenting: Building Strong Connections Through Positive Reinforcement

What is Reinforcement?

First, let’s talk about what reinforcement means. Reinforcement is like a reward or positive outcome that makes you want to do a certain behavior again. Reinforcement is a fundamental concept in psychology, particularly in the field of behaviorism and behavior modification. It refers to the process of increasing the likelihood of a specific behavior occurring in the future by following that behavior with a consequence. Reinforcement can be positive or negative, and it plays a crucial role in learning and shaping behavior.

What is Reinforced Behavior?

Reinforced behavior is when your child does something, and they get something they want or enjoy as a result. This reward or outcome makes them want to do that behavior again.

Positive Reinforcement:

Positive reinforcement involves adding something pleasant or desirable to increase the likelihood of a behavior. It’s like giving a reward to encourage a particular behavior. For example, if your child does their homework (the behavior), and you praise them or give them a small treat (the reward), you are using positive reinforcement.

Negative Reinforcement:

Negative reinforcement, on the other hand, is about removing or avoiding something unpleasant to strengthen a behavior. It’s not about punishment but rather about creating a motivation to avoid discomfort. An example would be if your child finishes their chores (the behavior) to stop you from nagging them (the unpleasant thing), you are using negative reinforcement.

What is Extinction?

Extinction, in this context, is a way to reduce or stop a behavior that you don’t want to see in your child anymore. It means taking away the things that usually come after that behavior, so your child doesn’t get rewarded for it. It involves intentionally withholding the reinforcement or rewards that typically follow a behavior. The goal is to weaken and eventually extinguish the behavior over time.

Why is Reinforcement Important?

Reinforcement is a powerful tool in parenting for several reasons:

Encourages Positive Behavior: Reinforcement helps children learn and repeat desirable behaviors. It’s a way of saying, “When you do good things, good things happen.”

Builds Motivation: It motivates children to engage in activities that might be less enjoyable or more challenging. The promise of a reward or positive feedback can make a task more appealing.

Strengthens Parent-Child Relationship: Using reinforcement with love and care can improve the parent-child relationship. It creates an environment of trust and positive interactions.

Promotes Self-Discipline: Children can learn self-discipline through reinforcement. They begin to understand that their actions have consequences, which is an essential life skill.

What is Punishment?

Punishment is a concept in behavioral psychology that refers to the application of consequences to reduce or eliminate undesirable behavior. Positive punishment and negative punishment are two types of punishment used to achieve this goal. Each has its own characteristics and can have various effects, both positive and negative.

Effects of Punishment:

Behavior Suppression: Positive punishment can effectively reduce or suppress unwanted behaviors in the short term. The fear of experiencing an aversive consequence may deter the person from repeating the behavior.

Negative Effects of Punishment:

Emotional Impact: Positive punishment can create fear, anxiety, or resentment, potentially harming the person’s emotional well-being and damaging the relationship between the punisher and the punished.

Limited Learning: While positive punishment can suppress behavior, it may not teach the individual what to do instead. It focuses on stopping the undesired action without providing guidance on more appropriate alternatives.

Risk of Overuse: Overreliance on positive punishment can lead to negative outcomes, such as increased resistance and aggression. It may not address the root causes of unwanted behavior.

How to Apply Reinforcement in Parenting

Identify Specific Behaviors

Start by identifying the specific behaviors you want to encourage or discourage. The first rule in identifying the target behavior is to be as specific as possible. Vague or broad descriptions won’t help in effectively modifying behavior. The more specific you are, the easier it is to apply reinforcement. For example, instead of saying, “Be a good student,” you could say, “Complete your homework on time.”

Ask yourself questions like:

What specific behaviors or actions would you like to see more of in your child’s daily routine?

What self-regulation behaviors, like managing frustration or calming themselves when upset, would you like to encourage?

Are there any specific communication skills you’d like to reinforce, such as active listening or expressing themselves respectfully?

Are there behaviors that, if reinforced, would contribute to their emotional well-being, like expressing their feelings or seeking help when needed?

Do you want to promote self-care behaviors, such as brushing teeth, getting dressed independently, or maintaining personal hygiene?

Choose Appropriate Reinforcers

Consider what motivates your child. Reinforcers can vary from one child to another. Some children may be motivated by verbal praise, while others might prefer small rewards like stickers, extra playtime, or a special treat. Choose reinforcers that are meaningful to your child.

Deliver Reinforcement Promptly

Timing is crucial in reinforcement. The reinforcement should follow the behavior as closely as possible. If you promise a reward for good behavior, make sure to provide it promptly once the behavior occurs.

Be Consistent

Consistency is key. If you use reinforcement to encourage a particular behavior, stick with it. Consistency helps children understand that certain actions lead to specific outcomes, making the learning process more effective.

Offer Praise and Positive Feedback

Verbal praise and positive feedback are valuable forms of reinforcement. When your child does something well, express your pride and appreciation. This can boost their self-esteem and motivation.

Encourage Intrinsic Motivation

While external rewards are effective, it’s also essential to foster intrinsic motivation – the desire to do something because it’s personally rewarding. Encourage your child to find joy in the activity itself, not just in the rewards.

Teach About Natural Consequences

Sometimes, children need to experience the natural consequences of their actions. It’s a valuable way for them to learn. For example, if they refuse to wear a coat on a chilly day, they’ll feel cold – a natural consequence that teaches a lesson.


Reinforcement is a powerful parenting tool that can encourage positive behaviors in your children. By understanding the types of reinforcement, its importance, and how to apply it effectively, you can create a positive and motivating environment for your child’s development. Remember that reinforcement should be used with love and care, promoting a strong parent-child relationship built on trust and positive interactions.

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