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Mental Health Expertise

Benefits/Downfalls of Positive Reinforcement

“Every conflict presents you with a choice. You can choose to view conflict as an opportunity to teach or as an opportunity to blame and punish.” ― Becky A. Bailey, Conscious Discipline®

We’ve all heard of positive reinforcement, but what exactly is it and how does it work in an early childhood learning environment? Positive reinforcement is immediately rewarding good/desired behavior shown by children, thus causing an increase in that desired behavior. Different teachers offer different positive reinforcements, like tangibles, edibles, and tokens, amongst others. There is some effectiveness in these tools when used appropriately and consistently.

However, there is a downside to positive reinforcement, that can leave a negative impact.
Often in the classroom, “good job” is being expressed to a child after they’ve completed a task. While that may seem ideal to use, it ends up making the child believe they then need adult approval.

Researchers suggest using descriptive phrases instead, such as, “you did great at pushing in your chair and picking up your trash from lunch.”

Another negative impact is attention. Typically, attention is thought of as positive, but sometimes when children are displaying an undesired behavior and the adult acknowledges them, that then gives the child negative attention. When they receive negative attention, the child can tend to repeat the undesired behavior more and more. Ignoring can tend to help curb the behavior, but keep in mind that it doesn’t always work, and we need to be aware to keep the child safe.

While positive reinforcement can be very effective, it’s important to keep in mind that each child responds differently and one reward may benefit the child over another one.

By: Kara Koepplin, LMSW