The bottom line is that — as much as we would like them to —  children don’t come with instructions. Trying to work out how to reinforce positive behaviour and reduce negative behaviour can be a minefield.

Positive reinforcement is one of the many techniques which can guide a child towards behaviour that is well-received, such as picking up toys, and behaviour that isn’t, like throwing food.

Sometimes when children do something good or well, we reward them for doing so. This could be an immediate treat or a star on a chart; this is called positive reinforcement. 

In operant conditioning, positive reinforcement comprises the addition of a reinforcing stimulus following a particular behaviour. This makes it more likely that the behaviour will happen again in the future.

Sometimes people choose to discipline their children instead, which can be detrimental to their mental health and also to their learning.

Positive Reinforcement Helps Children Grow and Develop

When it comes to positive reinforcement, one of the most important things to remember is to compliment and praise the actual behaviour, not the child themselves. 

Praising the behaviour over the personality of a child supports growth and also promotes a sense of self-efficacy. This is because learning new skills is within their control, unlike personality traits which are often difficult to change.

Positive Reinforcement Helps Children with Competence and Autonomy 

When you reinforce positive behaviour you are doing your child a great service. Focusing on and rewarding that particular behaviour enables them to practise their strengths and skills. 

Repeated negative discipline can result in a child feeling incompetent and also stifle any creativity they might have.

A student raising her hand in a classroom

How Should I Use Positive Reinforcement for my Child?

There are many ways to give your child positive reinforcement and, ideally, these will correspond with your child’s personality and how they receive love or appreciation. The idea is to use positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviour more frequently. 

Common forms of positive reinforcement include recognition for something well done, smiles, hugs, compliments, quality time doing something that is special to them, displaying work proudly and giving varied choices for activities or dinner.

Children respond well to positive reinforcement because, at any age, they want to please their parents, teachers or primary caregivers, and want to be seen and acknowledged for making good choices. When we praise these good choices, it encourages children to repeat them.

Using positive reinforcement also helps to change children’s behaviour, which is no easy feat. Change for anyone boils down to time, perseverance and, of course, patience. 

The fastest way to get a behaviour to stick for anyone is the consistency and frequency of a desired behaviour or habit. The time between the behaviour and the reinforcement is crucial for the positive reinforcement to create the wanted impact of repeated behaviour.

Why not practice positive reinforcement by having a look at some easy art projects for children to do at home?

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Positive Reinforcement?

One very notable benefit of positive reinforcement over all other kinds of discipline is that it helps parents and teachers avoid all the negative impacts that negative discipline can have on a child, now and later on in life.

It helps children create a sense of identity and also builds up their self-esteem which is necessary for all stages of life. Building self-esteem young is critical as their childhood will contribute to the lifelong foundations of their sense of self.

Some have argued that there is no difference between positive reinforcement and bribing. However, there is a big difference, as a bribe is offered or given before the desired behaviour, while a reward is given, in most cases, after the behaviour has occurred naturally of their ‘own free will’.

Here at St Peter’s private pre-school, we want children to be the happiest that they can be, which includes keeping their self-esteem high and improving their emotional growth. To find out more, please get in touch with Rachel Jupp, Director of Admissions & Marketing, on 01395 280335 or email

Published On: May 8th, 2022 / Categories: News / Tags: , , , , , , /