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Positive Reinforcement: What it is, and Why it Works

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Alison Stanton
Written by Alison Stanton

Some of the experts say that positive reinforcement is key when raising a child. Is it just as important when you have a child with a disability?

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Some of the experts say that positive reinforcement is key when raising a child. Is it just as important when you have a child with a disability?


Raising a child with a disability presents a unique set of challenges. You want to raise your child as “normal” as possible while still nurturing his or her unique physical and mental characteristics. While you want your child to have a healthy self-esteem, you still want him or her to clean up the bedroom, finish homework and feed the dog. Positive reinforcement is the key.

Positive reinforcement involves reinforcing and praising the behaviors and decisions we want in our kids. As Positive Reinforcement for Kids notes, the technique involves giving your child a consequence or other reaction that your child likes, which in turn increases the chance that he or she will continue to do the positive behavior again.

Some benefits of positive reinforcement

Kids are like little sponges, constantly learning about themselves by the way adults interact with and around them, Purdue University notes. For example, kids with special needs will learn that they are responsible, strong and smart when their parents take the time to notice them doing things that they like. In addition to giving your child much-needed praise and pats on the back, positive reinforcement is inherently good because it gives the child the attention that they love and crave.

Instead of focusing on the times your kiddo is fussing over having to turn the TV off and go to bed, or crying because she has to go on errands with you instead of staying home to play games, catch your child making great decisions and praise them for it. And as Autism Help notes, positive reinforcement is generally the most effective way of managing any challenging behaviors shown by kids with autism of Asperger’s syndrome. It can also help kids with special needs to learn new behaviors and skills. The Perfect Playground NY notes that positive reinforcement is a wonderful way to enhance a child’s self esteem and instill a sense of pride.

Examples of how to use positive reinforcement

There are a wide variety of ways to give your child positive reinforcement. The key is to figure out what makes your kiddo tick, and respond accordingly. For example, for some kids with special needs, getting a tangible reward that they can hold and play with will mean the world to them. If your son cleans up his trains all by himself, with no reminders from you, you can give him a small sheet of Thomas the Tank Engine stickers. For other kids, material rewards will not be as meaningful as a hug and enthusiastic “good job, honey!” Still other children do really well with earning extra privileges; for example, if your daughter adores playing games on her computer, when she does a great job sharing her iPad with her little brother, reward her with 20 extra minutes playing games on website like iWin.

A few words of caution about gifts

Although small gifts and prizes can delight any child, parents need to be careful with the way they dole them out. Ideally, you want your kids to say and do the right thing because it makes them and others feel good, not because they will be handed a present. If you promise your son a small bag of M&Ms for cleaning his room, he might do it only to get the treat. Try not to use the gift itself as incentive for doing the right thing, but rather surprise your child with one from time to time.

Identity Magazine is all about empowering women to get all A’s in the game of life – Accept. Appreciate. Achieve.™ Every contributor and expert answer the Identity 5 questions in keeping with our theme. As a team, we hope to inspire and motivate ourselves and inspire you to get all A’s

What have you accepted within your life, physically and/or mentally? What are you still working on accepting?

That in order to take really good care of others, I have to take really good care of myself. This is still a work in progress but I am trying!

What have you learn to appreciate about yourself and/or within your life, physically and mentally? What are you still working on to appreciate?

 I appreciate my ability to be there for my family and friends and be a good listener and help others who need it.

What is one of your most rewarding achievements in life? What makes YOU most proud? What goals and dreams do you still have?

Raising 2 awesome boys is my most rewarding achievement, all while working from home as a freelance writer.

We all have imperfections, so we think. The truth—we are all perfectly imperfect. What are your not-so-perfect ways? What imperfections and quirks create who you are—your Identity?

My home will probably never be featured in a Martha Stewart magazine spread. But that’s okay. I’d rather my kids remember that their mom was always there for them instead of a dust-free home.

How often do you take the time out during the day to verbalize what you love about yourself? Do you experience more negative self talk than positive self-talk?

“I Love My…” is an outlet for you to express and appreciate all the positive traits that make you…well… YOU! Sharing what you love about yourself will make you smile, feel empowered, and uplift your spirit and soul. (we assure you!)

Identity challenges you to complete the phrase “I Love My…?”

 Love My family, friends, pets and work!

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About the author

Alison Stanton

Alison Stanton

Alison Stanton has been a freelance writer for the past 14 years. Based in the Phoenix, Arizona area, Alison enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics, but especially loves meeting interesting people and telling their stories.

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