Getting children to behave how we want them to is challenging. Even with the best of intentions, as parents, we often fall short when it comes to reinforcing our children’s positive behaviors while also reducing negative ones. By understanding reinforcement schedules and strategies for implementing them, we can create more positive behavior outcomes and improve our parent-child bond.
Looking at B.F. Skinner’s behavior theory of Operant Conditioning, we know that the most effective way to increase positive behaviors is by catching children being good and rewarding them for a job well done. This, when coupled with overlooking negative behaviors, can be the most effective combination in terms of children’s behavior management. To take this to a higher level, giving positive reinforcement most effectively requires forethought and should include a planned out, perhaps even, scheduled, approach.
Believe it or not, children want to please their parents and other significant adults in their lives, but they also want to feel successful and recognized for their efforts. Implementing reinforcement schedules will accomplish both, but only when implemented correctly and with patience. Adults must understand that reinforcing good behavior and ignoring misbehavior is a long-term strategy that takes consistent efforts. Choosing an implementation method, coupled with flexibility, can result in the best outcomes.
Here are some examples of reinforcement schedules that can be used to foster positive behaviors and reduce unwanted, negative ones:
- Continuous: Reinforcement follows every time the desired behavior occurs.
- Intermittent: Reinforcement follows some, but not all, desired behaviors.
- Fixed Ratio: Reinforcement follows a behavior when it occurs a specified number of times.
- Fixed Interval: Reinforcement follows a behavior within a fixed time interval with at least one desired behavior occurring.
- Variable Ratio: Reinforcement follows a behavior after an unpredictable number of times a behavior occurs.
- Variable Interval: Reinforcement follows a behavior within an unpredictable amount of time with at least one wanted behavior.
In parenting, if reinforcement is the primary strategy for behavior modification, parents often jump between schedules. While this may work for some children and some behaviors, it may not work for others. Many factors play into the type of reinforcement schedule that will work best, including your child’s temperament, your parenting style, and the specific behaviors that need to be reinforced or reduced. Although continuous is the most effective for supporting wanted behaviors quickly, it can also cause those behaviors to stop when reinforcement stops. Switching to a variable ratio after an initial period of continuous reinforcement can create long term effectiveness for maintaining positive behaviors.
Incorporating any reinforcement schedule requires planning and patience. Parents must also be clear on the expectations of their children. Vague instructions like “be good” do not give children any clarity of what they need to do or not do. When children understand why a specific behavior is good, they will be more motivated to put forth the effort and action to succeed. This approach ultimately lines up with the growth mindset theory. Additionally, using rewards that a child sees as valuable is vital.
At Gentle East Martial Arts, we utilize reinforcement strategies to foster skill development and shape behavior. The Instructors who run each class create a supportive environment and build rapport with each student, which is the most effective way to modify student behavior. The long-term approach of rewarding the development of new skills through extrinsic motivation while also fostering intrinsic motivation leads to students developing a growth mindset and sets the stage for each child’s success now and in future endeavors.
When we approach each child and each behavior with consistency and patience, we can reinforce positive behaviors that improve a child’s behavior and their bond with adults.