Nicole S.

Reinforcement? What’s that?

As a parent, you want to help your child, and using specific strategies can help you do the most you can in their natural home environment! Here’s an easy way to promote the language, skills and good behavior that you want your child to show and do more often!

It’s best to start small and look for consistency. A great first to incorporate is reinforcement. Practically, you want to encourage good behaviors and skills. Encouraging those skills makes it more likely to happen again, so go for it! If your child brings you the iPad for you to turn it on instead of yelling or flopping to the floor in a tantrum, you’ll want to reinforce it immediately! If they put their spoon in the sink after breakfast, you’ll want to encourage them to do it again! Focusing on reinforcing these small steps creates a positive vibe and encouraging feel and promotes an environment where your child can succeed!  

It’s often a discussion about whether it’s right or wrong to use food as a reinforcer. To be honest, it’s not a question of right or wrong. There are many kinds of reinforcers, and food is only one of them. Sensory items, going on a walk, earning a token toward a bigger motivator and access to screen time are other ideas that can be and are often used. Reinforcers are person-specific, so what motivates them might not be at all similar to what motivates another. When considering the use of edible reinforcers, note what the highest motivating factor is for your child. If food is highly reinforcing, you might choose to use edibles to give more opportunities to learn. Remember, the goal is to encourage your child to be successful and continue trying to reach new goals!

Praise is an important reinforcer. If your child likes goldfish, that’s great. But you want them to recognize and appreciate being noticed for doing things right! Praise is social, and being tuned into a social gesture is definitely a goal. Is your child’s most preferred candy M&Ms? Is their favorite item a sensory pin art toy? Start by creating a positive association between their main reinforcer (food, toy) and verbal praise. So never give an item alone; when giving the sensory popper or fidget toy, give it while praising them. This can slowly build a positive association with praise, as well as give opportunities for eye-contact and other non-verbal social interactions. Start small, and see how far it goes!

How much is too much? With reinforcement, an encouraging and positive experience, is there ever too much? As a framework, realize that a new and emerging skill will need more encouragement more often and more immediately. So, if your child is using their fork during dinner and they’ve never done it before, jump in and reinforce right away and often. But if they’ve been doing it for a while, they’ll need less reinforcement than in the past. The more challenging the skill and the newer it is for them, the more they’ll need the praise and reward for doing it well.

An involved parent is one who creates opportunities for them to succeed. Incorporating these skills into the daily routine can create a positive environment that actively encourages them to try their best.

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