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5.14: Reward-oriented Parenting and Positive Reinforcement

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    There are many ways to increase the likelihood of children exhibiting desirable behaviors by using positive reinforcements and rewards. [1]To learn how to effectively reinforce behaviors, please re-visit the Skinner chapter.

    Parents or teachers may wish to reinforce children for:

    • Listening attentively;
    • Using appropriate manners (e.g., saying “please,” “you are welcome,” and “thank you”);
    • Moving and talking in a manner appropriate for the environment (e.g., using “library voices;” “walking feet”);
    • Playing nicely;
    • Completing tasks without reminders; and
    • Calling or texting if they will be late.

    Examples of rewards and positive reinforcements include:[2]

    • Complimenting a child’s behavior (e.g., “I really like the way you put all of your clothes away in your room”);
    • Praising a child’s actions (e.g., “I am proud of how hard you studied for your spelling quiz.”);
    • Giving additional privileges;
    • Clapping or cheering;
    • Thanking them for behaving a certain way (e.g., “Thank you very much for asking such a detailed question;” “I really appreciate you using your inside voice while we were at the museum.”);
    • Making sure they overhear you telling someone else about their positive behavior;
    • Smiling at them; and
    • Giving tangible rewards (e.g., stickers, incentives).

    In order for these methods to be effective, rewards or incentives must:

    • be important or valuable to the child,
    • occur immediately after the desired behavior, and
    • consistently be implemented.

    To learn how to create a reward program, visit the CDC’s website for information.

    Examples

    Here is a common example of (unintentionally and positively) rewarding inappropriate behavior: An aunt provides candy to her nephew every time he throws a tantrum in the store because he wants candy at the checkout lane.

    a boy with his hands on his face and mouth opened in a shocked expression
    Figure 1. A child panicking in public. (Photo Source: pxfuel, DMCA)

    The aunt reinforces the poor behavior (e.g., a tantrum) by providing reinforcers (e.g., candy and attention) every time he throws a tantrum at the grocery store.

    Here is an example of positively rewarding the same child to stop the tantrums: Now that this child throws a tantrum with his parents when they go to the grocery store, his parents provide their son with candy only when he does not throw a tantrum in the store.

    His parents reinforce the appropriate behavior (e.g., not throwing a tantrum) by providing reinforcers (e.g., candy and attention) every time they go to the grocery store and he refrains from throwing a tantrum.


    1. Craighead, W. E., Kazdin, A. E., & Mahoney, M. J., (1981). Behavior modification: principles, issues, and applications. 2nd ed. Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin. ↵
    2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). How to use rewards. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/parents/essentials/consequences/rewards.html

    This page titled 5.14: Reward-oriented Parenting and Positive Reinforcement is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Diana Lang via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.