Positive reinforcement is a popular parenting technique. Basically it means parents and caregivers praise good behavior. This way, children are motivated to continue their good behavior due to the positive attention they’ve received. Positive reinforcement can also include sticker charts and other similar incentives. All sounds good, right?
Yes and no.
Positive reinforcement can be very helpful for children. It can help them learn that good behavior is appreciated and that their efforts pay off. But, it can also turn into a big happy praise fest that teaches your child that they are the BEST, in the worst cases resulting in narcissism.
Montessori and Positive Reinforcement
The Montessori philosophy discourages excessive praise and external rewards. First of all, this can be distracting. As Montessori said, “Praise, help
Secondly, Montessori found that excessive praise and external rewards call on “lower instincts”, and when children are internally motivated, they are much happier. In her words:
“I had been subject to the delusion of one of the most absurd procedures of ordinary education. Like others I had believed that it was necessary to encourage a child by means of some exterior reward that would flatter his baser sentiments…
And I was astonished when I learned that a child who is permitted to educate himself really gives up these lower instincts.”
According to Montessori, all children desire to learn and become productive members of society. Parents and teachers must carefully guide this process, helping the child discover his/her needs, interests and work to be fulfilled. Children feel fulfilled while learning, interacting with nature, socializing and playing, not by praise and external rewards.
Who hasn’t had the experience of feeling extraordinarily satisfied after finishing a hard project? Who doesn’t feel satisfied after cleaning the house without any need for a compliment? The satisfaction comes from completing the job and enjoying the results or benefits.
What’s the Right Way to Do Positive Reinforcement?
So where’s the happy medium? How should we communicate with our kids? Can we give any feedback?
The happy medium lies in descriptive praise. With descriptive praise, children learn much more than if parents give positive reinforcement using generic phrases such as “good job”, “good boy” and similar.
Absolutely use the idea of positive reinforcement to help your child notice the benefits of a job well done. For example, if your child helps clean you can say “Thanks for your help. Now we have a clean space to be in,” or “It will be easier to find things now that everything is organized!”. These are examples of descriptive praise that go into more detail than what many parents are used to. With some practice, you too can help your child learn to see the benefits of their work.
Children need our feedback. They need us to notice them. They want to share their success with us! We can help by giving insight into why they were successful as well as how their work is beneficial. Try to focus on how their effort helped them achieve goals or improve. For example, you might say “I noticed how hard you were concentrating on that drawing.”
How Positive Reinforcement Helps
Positive reinforcement helps children identify what they’re doing well. Then, they are more motivated to do it again. When using descriptive praise, we help them internalize this information, and recognize their own contributions to positive outcomes.
Use positive reinforcement with descriptive praise for talking to your child about everything from school work to completing chores and behavior.
On the flip side, avoid using arbitrary punishments with your child. There are many ways to work with your child on behaviors that you don’t like. Communication is key. Even something as simple as saying to your child “I don’t like that,” can really help.
Children do need boundaries. So avoid using positive reinforcement as your sole line of communication with your child regarding their behavior. A combination of communication techniques and lots of quality time to connect are necessary when raising a child.
How do you use positive reinforcement with your kids?