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Using Verbal Reinforcement with Your Child

by Louise Kotel, LSW

Kids tend to have good days and bad. As parents, it’s easy to focus on the bad moments, times and days. We’re quick to redirect, consequent, and become frustrated with behaviors our children are displaying. We tend to get the negative reports from school, daycare and/or the caretaker, as opposed to the positive.

Despite the worst days a child may have, it’s important to also praise the positive — even the smallest of positives that happened in his or her day.

Reinforcement can be as small as a smile, thumbs-up, high-five or a thank you when a child does something positive — e.g. responds right away to a request; does something on his/her own without being asked; brings home an improved grade; completes class work; puts his/her shoes, coat or clothes away, etc.

Reinforcement can also be verbal (“I’m so proud of you,” “You’re the best,” “I saw how hard you worked and I admire that about you,” “Thank you for being you,” “That-a-boy/girl!” “Thank you for listening,” “Great job!”).

Reinforcement can also take form in tangibles — stickers, prize boxes, earning extra snacks or game/TV/outside time, getting to do a one-on-one activity with a parent/friend, etc.

Look at the child’s behaviors throughout the day. Try to “catch” them being good (“I love the way you’re sitting quietly, great job!” “Thank you for being patient while I was on the phone; now that I’m off, what do you need?”) It’s important to try to give the praise as soon as the behavior has been displayed, to reinforce the idea/behavior so it occurs again.

Bedtime is another great time to reinforce positive behaviors. Ask the child about their day, to name positives or things that they want to work on. Encouragement goes a long way!