Guidelines on using reinforcement effectively
- Reinforcement needs to be valuable to your child. Keep in mind that what is valuable at one moment of time may not be relevant at another time. For instance, a snack may be a valuable reinforcer when the child is hungry, but may not serve as reinforcement after the child has eaten a large meal. There is a wide range of things that might reinforce behavior but they have to be valuable to the child and be delivered immediately after the expected behavior occurs.
- The reinforcer will need to be delivered by the adult. It is best if it is not something the child can access on their own. Examples of things adults can control include a small snack, praise, access to computer/tablet/phone, or toy.
- The amount and quality of reinforcement should match the effort for the child required to complete the task. The harder the chore, the better the result.
- Reinforcement will likely work better if you deliver it with enthusiasm. The child will likely enjoy having the adult be part of the reinforcement!
- Reinforcement may not always have to be unrelated to the task. For example, preparing a snack, leads to eating it. Although many tasks will, at first, require the adult to deliver some unrelated but valuable reinforcer, eventually the child will learn that doing the task is fun. At that point, other reinforcers will no longer be needed.
- If the activity or chore is not something the child likes, then think about how to increase the value of completing the activity. For example, you may say, “Let’s go pick up the toys so we can watch the movie” (if watching movie is valuable). Because some children may not comprehend those directions, an alternative way of making the activity valuable might be needed. One way would be to simply hold up something of value as you show the child what you want them to do. For example, while holding up a tablet with a movie on the screen on pause, give a simplified direction by gesturing to a few toys scattered on the floor and say, “clean up”. Make sure the child can see what you are holding. This is known as use of a “promise reinforcer”. The technique shows the child what is promised if they do the right thing!
- Depending on your child, you may need to provide reinforcement as the child completes small steps. In other cases, the child may be able to complete the entire task before you provide reinforcement.