All parents want their children to exhibit positive behaviors that will help them transition smoothly through the different stages of childhood. And while parents often have the best intentions, they often don’t use the most effective discipline strategies to achieve that goal. Granted, all parents do their best based on their knowledge and experiences in parenting, but by becoming more familiar with operant conditioning, and behavior modification strategies such as positive reinforcement, they can take their parenting skills to a higher level.
Operant conditioning is a method of learning often attributed to B.F. Skinner, who believed that the most effective method for understanding behavior, was to look at the causes of an action and the possible outcomes. Through this “method of learning,” relationships are made between behaviors and consequences, which can be positive or negative. As Skinner performed his studies, he found that reinforced or rewarded actions are more likely to be repeated.
In operant conditioning, there are key terms that are important to understand and the goal is to increase the occurrence of some behaviors while decreasing the occurrence of others. Here are some examples to help clarify them:
- Positive Reinforcement: A behavior is strengthened by the addition of a desirable stimulus. Ex. A parent gives a child more time to play video games if he cleans his room.
- Negative Reinforcement: A behavior is strengthened by the removal of an undesirable stimulus. Ex. A parent makes a child pay $5 every time her room is not clean.
- Positive Punishment: A behavior is weakened by the addition of an undesirable stimulus. Ex. A parent scolds a child when they misbehave.
- Negative Punishment: A behavior is weakened by removing a desirable stimulus. Ex. A parent takes away a child’s favorite toy when they misbehave.
Many parents utilize discipline strategies that involve punishment. And while it can be useful at the moment, it can also cause more long-term negative effects such as fear and aggression. Through his studies, Skinner found that positive reinforcement was the most effective method of reinforcing desirable behaviors.
When it comes to addressing behavioral issues, Gentle East Martial Arts Instructors, prefer to utilize positive reinforcement as their go-to approach so as to impact children’s lives positively. In the Early Skillz program for 3-4-year-olds, students earn stripes for their belts when they work hard to achieve a new skill. When they receive eight stripes, they can earn a higher-level belt. Also, the class structure allows time for a “game” at the end of class as a reward for hard work. These positive reinforcement strategies are also shared with parents in ways that they can implement at home.
Using positive reinforcement strategies can help parents foster more positive behaviors in their children. Although it takes a little more time and effort to implement, the benefits are long-lasting. Additionally, children will feel more confident, and happy, and the parent-child bond will strengthen.