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5 Ways to Reinforce Positive Behaviors in Your Child

Inside Out / ©2015 Disney•Pixar


Parents loom large in the development of their children’s personalities. As the Pixar film Inside Out shows it, parents form the biggest “islands” (personality aspects) for their children. As the principle socialization agents for their children, parents have a large array of resources at their disposal to mold their children’s behavior.

“Have you eaten today? Did you finish your homework on time? Did you do your Smartick exercises when you got home from school?” How can parents reinforce positive behaviors?

Here are five ways to reinforce positive behaviors:

  1. Positive attention is the best reward. Ignoring a child’s effort is one mistake some parents make, and when you are getting home from work, trying to get dinner on the table, it’s easy to miss this. Time it – a minute may be all it takes to review a worksheet, admire a picture or ask a question about a quiz.
  2. Praise the process rather than the result. If a child shows you a tower of blocks that has taken them some time to build, the parent should praise the child with expressions like, “Look at the effort you put into that!” “Good job” rather than “What a beautiful tower.” The same should apply when a child brings home schoolwork.   
  3. Look for rewards that reinforce good behavior. Before promising a trip to the zoo as a special reward, a parent should make sure that the child is actually interested in going to the zoo. To reinforce good behavior, rewards should always be personalized and meaningful to the child. The value the child places on the incentive is more important than the value placed on it by the parent.
  4. Vary the frequency of incentives over time. Studies show that if parents slowly stretch out the frequency of granting incentives for good behavior (say from every two times the behavior occurs to every four times, then every six times, etc.) the child is more likely to eventually repeat the behavior without receiving reinforcement at all. The goal is self-motivation.
  5. Divide ambitious goals into smaller tasks. Dividing large goals into smaller tasks and rewarding the achievement of smaller tasks is an effective method to encourage good behaviors. For example: learning to dress by yourself can be daunting for some little kids. Start them with putting on underwear and letting them master this new skill. After a few days, work on pants. And then a shirt.  Praise after each step and soon they will be getting dressed by themselves. (No promises about what they choose to wear matching!)  

Gradually children will behave well independent of reinforcements.

Two final thoughts:

  • Grant responsibility. When a child begins to accept responsibilities, personal resources that have been dormant until then become active. When a child is given responsibilities, like looking after a younger sibling or including a cousin in a group of friends, they receive the message: “I need you. You are responsible. I trust you. You can do it.”
  • Teach children to reward themselves. Parental reinforcements will fade as the child gets older, so it is important to teach children to reward themselves. Just as a parent takes a coffee break or a walk after some hard work, children should be taught to reward themselves for good behavior and effort.

The Smartick method offers short practice sessions that are designed to address math concepts, no more than 2 or 3 at a time. Kids get instant feedback from the system and the system adjusts to their learning pace, helping to challenge them and give them the practice they need to learn best.

You can start your child on Smartick right away with our free trial.

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Diane Ackerman
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