Positive and Negative Reinforcement


When it comes to children, teaching them behaviors that they need to repeat and not repeat is never an easy task.

But what makes decisions on parenting a lot easier is understanding the benefits of encouraging or discouraging certain behaviors. Both positive and negative reinforcements are used for all age categories and levels of mental activity.  All of us can profit from reinforcement but especially developing children, teenagers, elderly, and those with psychological or developmental issues. They are all in need of positive and negative reinforcement to help accomplish certain tasks or milestones.

Borrowed from “Teaching Your Children Through Positive Parenting”

Positive reinforcement is defined by dictionary.com as “the offering of desirable effects or consequences for a behavior with the intention of increasing the chance of that behavior being repeated in the future.” Research on parenting consistently shows that positive reinforcement tends to be very beneficial to the development of positive behaviors and habits. So what are some examples of positive reinforcement?

  • Giving a child a compliment or candy for a job well done.
  • Getting paid for a completed task.
  • Watching your favorite TV show after doing all your homework.
  • Giving a dolphin a fish for doing a trick.
  • Awarding your dog a treat for sitting, laying, rolling over.
  • Getting a candy bar after putting money in the machine.

Now, negative reinforcement isn’t always a bad thing.  However, when used in an extreme manner, it can produce undesired behaviors. Negative reinforcement is defined as “the reinforcing of a response by giving an aversive stimulus when the response is not made and omitting the aversive stimulus when the response is made.”  The definition is a mouthful and alone doesn’t tell us exactly how this reinforcement is carried out, so here are a few examples of negative reinforcement used in a good way.

  • You say, “Thank you for helping me clean! I can finish now.” In the future, your child is more likely to clean because it wasn’t as difficult of a task as they thought.
  • Your child refuses to do their homework so you continue to ask them repeatedly to do it. They eventually do it so you will stop asking.
  • If you tell your child to take 3 more bites or they won’t get dessert, in the future they will know they can get dessert after only taking 3 bites.
  • Your child refuses to go to sleep, so you tell them he doesn’t have to wash the dishes the next day if he goes to bed on time. You are taking away something they hate in order to encourage going to bed on time.

As you can see, both positive and negative reinforcements can be used and produce both positive and negative behaviors. Parents generally tend to focus on the negative behaviors because they are more disruptive and sometimes unacceptable, especially in calm home or outside settings. As a parent, you are able to make the decision on how to use positive or negative reinforcement to help your child grow and develop.

As a final thought, The National Physicians Center gives this admonition,

“Please remember–if your children demonstrate negative behaviors, always give them opportunities to change that behavior–never leave them feeling hopeless.”

Click to to view the Physicians Center’s newsletter on positive and negative reinforcements and below are resources to help you better help each of your children through each phase of their life.


Baron, A., & Galizio, M. (2006). The Distinction Between Positive and Negative Reinforcement: Use With Care. The Behavior Analyst29(1), 141–151.

Lapham, P. (2014). Consequences. [Blog] Teaching Your Children Through Positive Parenting. Available at: http://teachingwithpositiveparenting.blogspot.com/2014/03/consequences.html [Accessed 24 Jul. 2017].

Whittle S, Simmon JG, et al.  Positive parenting predicts the development of adolescent brain structure:  A longitudinal study.  Develop Cognitive Neuroscience.  2014; 8: 7 – 17

The National Physicians Center, Prescriptions for Parents: Making Scientific Research Practical for Families, Encouraging positive behaviors in children and adolescents. http://us11.campaign-archive1.com/?u=1fe8e9161b799d50e2vvfd6c74f&id=65bf59560a


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Agree? Disagree? Or just want to share your own experience? Leave a comment. We love to hear from our readers!