It is not easy to parent in today’s society, especially with new technology that takes away children’s concentration and willpower with the press of a button. In the past, more physical measures were used in training children to perform positive behaviors while attempting to extinguish the negative ones. Today, physical measures are often frowned upon for disciplining children. However, more attention should be given to positive reinforcement, as this has been shown to be more successful in curbing bad behaviors, while encouraging positive ones.
When looking back at childhood, people might remember a parent screaming at them to “clean your room” for the fifth time, or to “finish your homework right away.” Many don’t remember their childhood as one being filled with positive feedback for a job well done, or even being rewarded with ice cream for getting good grades. Most remember completing chores or tasks in order to avoid nagging or scrutiny from their parents. This leads many to regard their childhood as difficult or volatile and thus reflect upon their childhood in a negative light.
In turn, positive feedback and rewards can be used in place of this negative discipline to gain similar results without taking away a child’s self-esteem and risking an overall unhealthy attitude toward their upbringing due to constant negative feedback. Positive reinforcement can be as simple as a high-five or congratulating a child for a job well done. It can also entail the use of reward charts to visually show progress when the child performs the needed task or chore.
An example of this would be if a child was given a sticker for every day she slept in her bed the entire night. At the end of the week, she would be given a prize if she slept in her bed 4 out of 7 days that week. The requirements to earn the prize would be increased each week so that eventually the child would receive the prize after 7 days of sleeping in her own bed. This positive reinforcement would motivate the child enough to ensure she would eventually sleep in her own bed every night.
Overall, negative reinforcement or consequences may be successful in decreasing unwanted behaviors. However, at the risk of a child’s self-esteem or even the risk of straining familial relationships, positive reinforcement may be more successful in reducing negative behaviors while increasing the positive ones.
Lauren Farley, MA, LPC
Life Counseling Services