Sometimes behavior problems arise in children that can be difficult for many parents to deal with. When this happens, it is always good to know which reinforcement strategies work best on your kids. To start, here are four different types of reinforcers:
1. Primary Reinforcers: Unconditioned, automatic and unlearned. These are naturally reinforcing to individuals. EXAMPLE: food
2. Secondary Reinforcers: These are the reinforcers that a child learns to enjoy. EXAMPLES: high fives, stickers, and prizes
3. Positive Reinforcers: to add something preferred or pleasant to the situation. EXAMPLES: candy or juice
4. Negative Reinforcers: To take something non-preferred or unpleasant away from the situation. EXAMPLES: allowing your patient to leave the work table OR turning off a loud vacuum.
Since different situations call for different reinforcers, it is always good to first assess the situation and then figure out which of the above strategies to put into play in order to help your child decrease behavior problems. Many times parents turn to primary reinforcers, which are snacks or favorite foods. Although this is a good way to start reinforcing behavioral changes, it is important to find different things your child is interested in so that increased amounts of junk food or snacks are not introduced into your child’s diet, which can create other problems down the line. Take the time to find out what types of secondary or positive reinforcers your child likes.
What are their hobbies? Are there specific games or toys they like to play with, etc. Also pay attention to things that may irritate your child and cause negative behaviors to come out; and try to either avoid these items or situations, or work with your child to help them become acclimated to them. Once you find reinforcers that work, make sure they are ONLY available to your child when working with them on behavior modification techniques. Allowing your children to have access to reinforcers all the time decreases the effects of the reinforcer until it no longer serves its purpose. By keeping it locked away and out of site, the reinforcer becomes a powerful tool for a parent.
Another great strategy to use to get your child to participate in activities they are not fond of, such as cleaning up, homework, therapy, etc., is it use what professionals call the Premack Principle. Simply stated the Premack Principle is a reinforcement strategy that places a preferred activity after a non-preferred activity. For example,” first you finish your homework and then we can play video games”. By enforcing this strategy in your home, your child learns that once they are finished doing what they have to do, they get to do something they like.
There are several ways to make reinforcers applicable and different ways will work for different people. Here are some ways that we found to make reinforcers effective:
1. Let your child select the reinforcer.
2. Only give reinforcer if your child responds correctly
3. Use social reinforcement/verbal praise to bridge the delay between correct response and the delivery of the reinforcer. Example(saying “good job” or giving a high five)
4. Vary your reinforcers so that your child doesn’t get used to it and it no longer serves as something that reinforces good behavior
By using these and other methods that you find helpful, you will be able to start working with your child on ways to modify their behavior and increase their tolerance for less preferred activities.