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How To Use Positive Reinforcement For Kids & See Better Behavior in 7 Days

Positive reinforcement is a highly effective way to encourage better behavior in kids.

Think about how you feel when your boss gives you a pat on the back, or your husband praises your cooking. Our kids are the same way, it feels good to have the good point out.

This Planned Positive Reinforcement for Kids Helps Improve Behavior in 1 Week

But if you want to get the most out of using praise and positive reinforcement for kids, you have to master your technique. This post explains how to use planned positive reinforcement to target difficult behaviors on a weekly basis.

Related: The Neurological Reason Why Positive Reinforcement Works Better Than Negative Consequences

How To Give Positive Reinforcement Effectively

Effective positive reinforcement requires more effort than a random “good job buddy!” in passing if you notice some good behavior, or when your child does something exceptional. When you’re giving positive reinforcement to kids, there’s a way to do it right.

Three Steps to Giving Positive Reinforcement

1.   Stop what you are doing and give full undivided attention to your child.
2.  Describe what you see and how it makes you feel.  For example, “I see a clean room and laundry put away, that makes me feel so happy!”
3.  Make a physical connection, too. This may be a high five, or a hug, a pat on the shoulder, eye contact etc. this depends on what your child responds best to.

The positive behavior should always be acknowledged in two ways: verbally and physically. It helps to portray your sincerity and will make your child feel proud, and like they matter.

This is a great way to strengthen your parent-child bond as well.

Improving difficult behavior with positive reinforcement for kids

When To Give Positive Reinforcement

Don’t wait until your child has been doing something for a while before you take the time to notice it. This just creates an opportunity for them to start doing another inappropriate behavior.

1.  Acknowledge the behavior within the first few seconds of your child doing the right thing. Don’t give them an opportunity to act up before you have had the chance to notice.

2.  Immediately after an inappropriate behavior, when your child begins doing what is expected again, reinforce the correct behavior with positive reinforcement.

3.  All the time. Lay it on thick. If they’re cranky that day, find chances to give them even more positive reinforcement. Ask them to do a special job for you, or take some time to give them some special attention. If your child whining, or verbally protesting your expectations, but they are still doing what you asked, use positive reinforcement to reinforce their actions.

Related: Positive Affirmations for Kids

What To Give Positive Reinforcement For

You probably already praise your child when they do something really good. You know, those things that rarely or sporadically happen but when they do you feel beyond proud.

Your child should regularly receive positive reinforcement for the good things they do – even the things they do every day. They should also get acknowledgment for their positive qualities and personality traits.

How to Get Started

  1. Make a list of five things your child already does well every day and plan ahead to notice them.

    This could be brushing their teeth, eating all their food, playing nicely with siblings, etc. These five things should be things they are already good at.

    Example: “Thank you so much for putting your plate in the sink, it’s so great to have your help.”

  2. Take time each day to point out the good qualities in their personality and how you admire them.

    For example, when your child is coloring a picture, say: “You are so artistic. I really love looking at your drawings and your creative way of mixing colors”

  3. Give praise to your child before they even start doing something.

    If you see your child walking towards the bathroom, say “Oh perfect you’re going to brush your teeth! I love that I don’t even have to ask”.
    Maybe that wasn’t why they were heading to the bathroom – but they’re probably going to brush their teeth now and you didn’t have to “tell” them what to do. 

Make A Weekly Positive Reinforcement Plan

Download a copy of this positive reinforcement plan and fill it out each day/week. You can save to your device and print as needed.

Each week sit and look at your plan and do the following:

  1. On the first week, you started with five things your child already did every day. You spent the whole week reinforcing these behaviors.  Now each week remove one of these things from the list and replace it with something your child needs to work on more. Plan what the behavior is, and how you will use reinforcement when you see your child doing what’s expected.
  2. Continue to adjust your plan weekly, as needed. Always keep at least 3 things on the list that they already do well consistently. If your child needs extra work on something, keep it on the list. Prioritize which behaviors you want to target. For example, it’s probably more important to work on getting your child to stop hitting their sibling than it is to get them clean their bedroom.
  3. Keep the list somewhere you will see it regularly (like the fridge or on your dresser) so it acts as a reminder for you to keep using positive reinforcement consistently.
  4. Each day review and check off the things you took the time to notice.
Important: This list is not for your child’s behavior – it is to hold you accountable for noticing their behavior and giving them positive reinforcement.

Over time you can add increasingly challenging behaviors to the list that you want to work on.

But, it’s extremely important to start week one with five things that your child is already really good at and does regularly. This is to give your child a confidence boost that will help lead to more future successes. 

Planned Positive Reinforcement - How to use positive reinforcement to target specific challenging behaviors and improve them in only 7 days // #PositiveReinforcement #PositiveParenting #ParentingAdvice #IdeasforMoms #ADHDKids #ToddlerDevelopment #Autism #ODD #OppositionalDefiantDisorder

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Thursday 12th of September 2019

Great article. Thank you for the helpful tips. I will start implementing them immediately.


Thursday 23rd of August 2018

This is a fantastic article. It's amazing the effect this has on ALL people, even the praise giver! Everyone should do this more.