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Give Reinforcement A Positive Name!

September 7, 2018 by Angela Hansen

Understanding the difference between reinforcement and punishment –

When we think of the word reinforcement it is most likely looked at in a negative connotation; however, it didn’t start off that way! Kids thrive off of structure and rules. Yes, they like rules –even when they are not excited that dinner comes before dessert. Our friend reinforcement is a huge part of making kids’ lives better!

There is positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement, both are able to be utilized and loved at home, when they are used correctly and in a loving manner. To start, we can look at what the definition of reinforcement is: The process of encouraging or establishing a belief or pattern of behavior, especially by encouragement or reward.

In the definition it is looked at in a more positive light! How can this be? Let’s look at some ways to look at in its true positive nature.

  1. Giving stickers for going potty on the potty (positive)
  2. Getting dessert after finishing dinner (negative)
  3. Pressing a button that makes a loud scary noise (negative)

Positive reinforcement is for when a child has done a desired behavior and you give them something they desire! It is a win/win situation. Negative reinforcement is when an undesired thing is happening and it is taken/finished to make the desired behavior.

Reinforcement is supposed to increase a behavior we want to keep happening. Now, there is punishment and that is when we want to decrease a behavior we do not want to happen. Just like reinforcement has a negative and positive side, punishment does as well. Both can be effective depending on the child’s personality and how they are delivered.

Positive Punishment, adding something that is unwanted.

  1. Rocking on the chair and falling.
  2. Touching something hot and being burned.
  3. Getting in trouble and being put in time out.

Negative Punishment, taking away something that is wanted.

  1. Not behaving well at the store and no longer getting their favorite cookies.
  2. Hitting a sibling and taking the iPad away.
  3. Yelling at someone and their dessert is no longer being given after dinner.


Being able to balance both reinforcement and punishment can be tricky but watching your child’s behavior change depending on the reaction from each will help you know how to handle each situation that comes your way!


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