You may remember the term positive reinforcement from that intro to psych class you took freshman year, or even in those parenting books you poured over during your first pregnancy. Perhaps it is time you dusted those old texts off and gave this theory another look. Positive reinforcement is a technique used in behavioral therapy, in which the goal is to stop unwanted behaviors by rewarding positive behaviors only. It will take a lot of patience, as your children will notice the change in your discipline style, and you will likely experience some push back. Change can be hard, however I promise you, if you commit yourself, you can do this.
Picture this: your child brings home a report card with unacceptable grades. Your instinct might be to take them out of their favorite extracurricular, or limit their interactions with friends. Perhaps this would give them more time to study, but would they really be using their time wisely? Or is it more likely your child will use this time to plot ways to gain back the items that have been removed from their lives. If you embrace positive reinforcement as an alternative, you will be able to both address the unwanted behaviors as well as promote desired behaviors in your children. This method also empowers your children as you are leaving their fate in their own hands.
Using positive reinforcement will require you sitting down with your child and laying out your expectations. Once you decide on your plan of action, be it the promise of a car on their 16th birthday, a vacation for spring break, or even a new outfit to wear to the school dance, you need to make your intentions clear to your child. Highlight the behavior you wish to change. If we are using the poor grades example, you would tell your child that you are disappointed in their report card and hope to see better grades moving forward. Then you let them know that should they comply with this request, they will receive the reward you have chosen.
Now you need to be aware that your child’s behavior has been set within them for quite some time, so there may be some setbacks, and that is ok. During these times, you will want to revisit your conversation with your child. Keep them constantly in the loop of your thought process. Using the grades example, if you have promised your child a certain reward for good grades and s/he brings home something other than expected, do not be afraid to sit them down and talk about this. Help them realize what happened with this particular exam or project that made their overall grade subpar. Perhaps your daughter broke up with her boyfriend that week, or your son’s basketball team lost a game; regardless of the reason, it will promote positive conversation within your family unit.
As you practice using positive reinforcement regularly, you will find that not only will your children start to improve the areas you have targeted, but this method will become easier for you to utilize. You will need to check yourself consistently, however when your child realizes that you have changed, they will be able to do so as well. Again, change is hard for people, as it is human nature to want to stay in one’s comfort zone. If the methods you have employed for discipline are not working as effectively as you hoped, I encourage you to utilize positive reinforcement.