Children will always need guidance in good behaviour, and it is a parent’s duty to provide this guidance. Parents can model good behaviour and discuss with their children what constitutes good behaviour, but it is helping children act on their own that will allow them to understand what is appropriate and what is not in a variety of situations.
Using positive and negative reinforcement are two excellent ways to help children identify and display good behaviour as well as understand and avoid bad behaviour.
Children and Positive Reinforcement
Everyone likes to be praised and children are no different. When children display good behaviour, parents should acknowledge their actions by congratulating their children on their decisions. Such positive reinforcements allow children to connect that what they did has made their parents happy, and therefore was the correct choice.
For example, when a child tidies his toys away without being asked, having a parent say “Well done!” and giving him a cuddle will help him connect that putting toys away is a good decision. However, parents should not confuse positive reinforcement with bribery.
Children should be not be offered rewards in the hopes that they will act in a certain manner, and positive consequences should never be offered before a behaviour is carried out. If it is, then parents can not know for sure whether a child acted a certain way because it was the right thing to do or because he was told to act a certain way and promised a prize for doing so.
Children and Negative Reinforcement
Negative reinforcement is the opposite of positive reinforcement. When a child chooses to act inappropriately or misbehave, a parent should greet these behaviours with a negative attitude. For example, if a child chooses not to tidy his toys a parent might bring him back into the play room and tell him that tidying toys is important and that it is irresponsible to leave toys laying about.
However, parents should be sure to address the behaviour in negative terms, not the child. It is important that children do not feel that their parents believe that they are bad, irresponsible or stupid. Always addressing the behaviour, rather than the child, will help make this distinction. Parents should also be sure not to punish children.
If a child is denied dessert for not tidying his toys he will not necessarily learn why tidying toys is important, he will only learn that if he does something “bad” then something “bad” will happen to him. Punishment does not necessarily teach a lesson, but using negative reinforcement should.
Helping children realise which behaviours are appropriate and responsible is part of a parent’s job description. There are two ways parents can help teach children good behaviour, through positive reinforcement of good behaviours and negative reinforcement of bad behaviours. However, parents should always remain vigilant that they are addressing the behaviours and not the child so that it is obvious that they are not telling a child that they are inherently good or bad as a person.