If you’re using positive reinforcement and it’s not actually reinforcing the behaviors you’re trying to increase, then all of this is a waste of time. We’re not going to do that.

Let’s use the science of behavior to make life a little bit easier. Let’s really increase those positive behaviors that we want to see more of. As those happen more and more and more, there’s not room for the bad stuff, the undesired stuff, and it starts to fade away. So we’re trying to replace it. How do we do that? We start with positive reinforcement.

With positive reinforcement, we’re not reinforcing the kid. We’re reinforcing the behavior. We’re watching to see if that action, that task, that skill keeps happening.

Positive reinforcement: defined. A behavior occurs and immediately following it, a stimulus is added. Then the future frequency of that behavior increases. A behavior happens. Your child does something that you can see, that you can observe, that you can notice.  Then you add something to the environment that wasn’t already there. So even giving praise and high fives- those things were not already there. It doesn’t mean you always have to add toys and trinkets and stickers and candy and that sort of thing. Sometimes, maybe. It means adding something such as adding some attention that wasn’t there. Maybe you were busy and not paying attention to what your kiddo was saying. You add that attention in.

Really what we need to look at is watching the behavior in the future. Does it happen more often? Does it happen more independently? Is that behavior continuing? If it has no effect, then you are not really providing reinforcement.

So if you have two kiddos that are sharing with each other and you give them a high five and they continue to share, the behavior keeps happening. You added the high five and it continues to happen. It’s increasing in frequency. That’s positive reinforcement.

What if your two kiddos are sharing and you give them high fives, then you turn your back and suddenly they are arguing and fighting. Did that high five reinforce the sharing behavior? Did the sharing keep happening and continuing? We’re just looking at the behavior. No. Your high five was not positive reinforcement.

With positive reinforcement, we really want to focus on strengthening a behavior. We want to look at specific behaviors that we are looking for, increasing those, strengthening them for the child, and using positive reinforcement effectively.