Positive Reinforcement For Kids

Positive Reinforcement is a technique used by Parents and Caregivers to modify their children's behavior by reinforcing desired behaviors. This technique has proven effective for parents, teachers, coaches, leaders, and anyone responsible for a child or group of children.


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Positive Reinforcement for KidsThe fact that it does not use pain, punishment, intimidation, yelling, degradation, humiliation, shame, guilt or other things that can hurt the child, their self-esteem, emotional growth, well-being or their relationship with parent or caregiver has made positive reinforcement  popular around the world and used in many classrooms.

Positive Reinforcement is a familiar enough term in modern society. It is a method of behavior modification and a component of Operant Conditioning, which is one theory of Behaviorism, which itself is one of several paradigms within the theme of Learning Theory, which again is one of many themes within the Subject of Psychology.

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Psychology > Learning Theory > Behaviorism > Operant Conditioning > Positive Reinforcement

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It is also used for animal training but this website is focused on Positive Reinforcement for kids.


Positive Reinforcement For Kids: The adding of a result or consequence that the child finds pleasant, dependent on the occurrence of a certain Behavior or response by the child, which results in an increase in the likelihood of that Behavior or response in the child, because of the added result or consequence.

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Positive Reinforcement was pioneered by such giants in the field of psychology as Ivan Pavlov, Edward L. Thorndike, John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner. 

Pavlov is familiar for his experiments with dogs salivating when hearing a bell which they had been conditioned to associate with food. His work uncovered what came to be known as classical conditioning.

Although many other people before and since have contributed to our understanding of Positive Reinforcement, no one has done more to bring it to the forefront of the modern consciousness than B. F. Skinner. 

Skinner coined the term "Operant Conditioning" and did extensive work on its components including and especially Positive Reinforcement.

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Operant Conditioning:

The umbrella term used to describe the behavior modification techniques known as reinforcement and punishment as well as the concept of extinction. 

Reinforcement breaks down further into positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement while punishment breaks down into positive punishment and negative punishment.

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When the desired behavior is done by the child, a reward known as a reinforcer is presented to the child. 

Reinforcers are anything that motivate the child in question and can range from tangible items to pleasurable activities or social recognition.

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Extinction and Satiation:

Extinction refers to a decrease in the likelihood that a behavior is going to occur based on reinforcers having been removed. 

Extinction can be seen when a child stops throwing tantrums when the parent wises up and stops giving into their demands (the reinforcer). If the child stops getting their way, the tantrums will stop, or at the very least, decrease.

Satiation is when the same reinforcer is repeatedly used to the point where it loses some or all of its motivational effect. 

We may love ice cream get excited when someone offers us a bowl but if you ate a bowl for breakfast, lunch and dinner you would soon tire of it and not nearly as excited at the next announcement of another bowl.

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Schedules of Reinforcement:

When and how often behavior is reinforced is as important as what it is reinforced with. 

Skinner and other did extensive research to discover the effectiveness in certain situations of particular schedules of reinforcement.

The different schedules include continuous, fixed ratio, variable ratio, fixed interval and variable interval. 

Depending on the child, the person doing the reinforcing, the situation, the behavior and the reinforcers available, different schedules will be more effective.

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Shaping and Chaining:

Shaping and chaining are methods of teaching complex new behavior using positive reinforcement but successively reinforcing approximations of the desired behavior or by the completion of a step in a succession of steps that lead to accomplishing the final desired behavior.

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Positive Reinforcement Systems:

Positive Reinforcement can become difficult to implement and track without some sort of system for structure and tracking. To that end parents and caregivers have used various charts and tables.

On a more elaborate scale entire programs utilizing tokens as measurement toward a reinforcing goal that can be a single reinforcer or a choice of reinforcers from a list or catalog. These are known as token economies and can use chips, tickets, points or any number of other things as the tokens.

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Positive Reinforcement in a Group Setting:

Positive Reinforcement scales up from use with one child all the way to larger groups of children. 

This is one reason it is so popular in many classrooms and entire schools. It is also used in many other group settings from sports teams, scouting, clubs, religious groups, bands and about any other kind of group you can think of.

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Positive Reinforcement by Age Group:

Positive Reinforcement is extremely versatile and can be used effectively on different children from little toddlers all the way up to adults. 

Most adults never think about or realize the positive reinforcement used on them every day from customer reward programs to airline miles and points for using their credit card.

Not only is it effective on children of different ages but can be set up to be used on groups of different aged children at the same time.

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Positive Reinforcement by Setting:

Positive Reinforcement can be used at home and school as mentioned above but can also go on the road or whatever setting life finds children in. 

Because of its versatility and flexibility it can work in the grocery store as well as the car or a restaurant.

Skilled parents and caregivers can structure their use of Positive Reinforcement around their life and in support of the kind of life they desire for their children and families.

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Measuring Effectiveness:

Some parenting techniques rely simply on belief that they work. 

Positive Reinforcement is a data driven system that measures and supports what actually works and not just what we think may work.

Skinner and others intentionally focused it this way in order to bring psychology a way to measure behavior, make predictions on future behavior and to test these predictions by being able to quantifiably modify behavior.

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More Information:

For an easy to follow guide with much more information and a more detailed look at Positive Reinforcement go to:

Positive Reinforcement for Kids: A Basic Guide to Understanding and Practice>>