A Comprehensive Approach to Discipline – Part II: Encourage Appropriate Behavior

The goal of discipline is to teach children appropriate behavior.  Reinforcing behaviors that you want to see repeated is a very important part of discipline. Eliminating undesirable behavior without having a strategy to stimulate more desirable behavior generally is not effective.

Critics of this method fear that you will create children that are constantly seeking rewards for “good” behavior instead of letting appropriate behavior be its own reward.  This will keep children from internalizing appropriate behaviors and moving successfully into the habit of self discipline.  Instead, they will always need an external stimulus to behave appropriately.

Reinforcement of positive behavior however, does not always mean rewarding a child.  As a matter of fact, good behavior should be noticed but never rewarded.  Reinforcement can be as simple as noticing the behavior and giving verbal praise, a high five or a hug. 

Positive reinforcement has several potential benefits:

  1. The desired behavior is more likely to become internalized, given value and repeated.  The purpose of positive reinforcement is to encourage the child to repeat the behavior.  Behaviors that you value and want to encourage need to be identified by you, communicated to and understood by your child. By noticing the behavior and giving praise, you send the message to your child that this behavior should be continued.
  2. The newly learned behavior will set the foundation for other desirable behaviors.  Noticing your child’s behavior will provide the reinforcement needed to encourage more positive behaviors. For example, praise given to a child for being polite at home will encourage him/her to practice the same politeness at school and in other environments.
  3. The emotional tone in the home will remain positive, pleasant, and supportive. The only time your child hears your voice should not be in the midst of disciplinary action. Providing regular positive attention or special time is vital to the health and well being of your child.  For the most part, parents make special efforts when their children are small but opportunities to communicate positively are important at all ages, including the teen years.  Positive reinforcement provides you with another opportunity for warm, open and loving communication between you and your child.

It is important to remember that positive reinforcement will not eliminate the need for providing consequences for negative behavior. It is to be used as part of an overall comprehensive plan for consistent and effective discipline for the overall health and strength of your family.

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A Comprehensive Approach to Discipline – Part II: Encourage Appropriate Behavior