How to Use Positive Reinforcement in Parenting

Where does positive reinforcement fit in to everyday parenting?

Can it really help shape behavior?

Be sure to check out even more of my helpful parenting tips, too!

Positive Reinforcement Creates Long-Lasting Results

When most of us think of discipline, we often think of methods that are actually negative reinforcement — such as taking away privileges (no stories tonight at bed!), yelling, creating extra work/chores and even spanking.

Don’t even get my started on spanking!

Positive reinforcement does have a place, say experts – perhaps a very big place.

How can you use the role of positive reinforcement in your parenting?

How to Use Positive Reinforcement in Parenting

Experts agree that positive reinforcement has longer-lasting results than negative reinforcement.

Kids learn to “duck” the negative stuff – punishment becomes the thing to be avoided and the focus is on that rather than behavioral improvement.

Positive reinforcement, on the other hand, encourages good behavior, and behaving in ways that get the reward – the positive reinforcement – becomes the focus instead of avoidance.

What Constitutes a Reward?

If you’re going to use positive reinforcement, there are some techniques that are considered healthier than others.


Experts nearly all agree that using food as a reward is not the healthiest thing to do.

It may encourage your child to grow into an adult who seeks comfort food as a reward for something, which becomes anything…your child may end up eating “treats” any time he or she can come up with an excuse.

Does that mean you can’t use mini M&Ms to entice your child to use the potty?

No. But it shouldn’t be a automatic go-to tactic.

And when your child gets older, food should definitely not be used as an incentive.


Verbal praise is a great way to offer positive reinforcement.

Your kids want to please you (really), and knowing that they’ve made you happy and contributed to a happy atmosphere helps reinforce the good behavior.

Sometimes my kids slide back into bad behaviors.

Then I up my game in praising them when they do what I ask — it doesn’t take long for things to turn around again.


I’m not talking about the obnoxious bragging some parents do on the playground to the other moms. Instead, I’m talking about verbalizing how proud you are of your kiddo to the family.

Tell the rest of the family about the good thing that your child did.

You don’t need to overdo it, but let the other parent know in such a way that the child can hear you talking him up.

We even do this at the dinner table.

This makes anyone feel good!

Extra privileges

Does your child like to watch videos?

Does he like to read?

My boys are Minecraft freaks!

Try giving him some extra time for those activities as a reward for desirable behavior rather than taking them away when they don’t.

Use Positive Language

Avoiding negative phrases is key.

Instead of telling your kids they’re so annoying/frustrating/aggravating/hopeless/etc., verbalize their strengths and positive attributes.

It’s amazing how negative language can drag your kids down and cause them to behave badly.

(Imagine someone telling you how you’re always doing things wrong?)

Keep the negative language to a minimum, and when you do mess up, apologize to your kids and let them know why such negative words are not a good idea.

I never hesitate to apologize when I’m in the wrong.

You might ask them how it made them feel when you said those negative things, too. Then they’ll be likely to feel heard and validated – which means you just turned a negative “moment” into positive reinforcement!

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    1. I agree with so much of this – but I think the one I agree least with is bragging to others about them. I think that creates the idea that when they do well, or even just what they’re supposed to, they should brag about it.

      Positive language is so important! We kids of the 70s grew up hearing how awful we were many times. Don’t take your frustration out on your children.

      1. Perhaps bragging as in being boastful — I would definitely agree with that. But when we sit at the dinner table, I will “brag” about what my son did today to his dad. It lets my son know that he did a stupendous job.

    2. Trying to find my parenting “niche” . Its really hard to navigate through all the opinions. But positive reinforcement is something that needs to get practice more in everyone’s home!

    3. That’s not what positive reinforcement means…. giving extra treats or praise is positive reinforcement. But spanking or giving extra chores is positive punishment. Negative reinforcement is taking away an unpleasant chore or saying they don’t have to eat their veggies tonight. Negative punishment is taking away privileges or special treats. Skinner is rolling over in his grave at how modern misconceptions completely destroyed his life’s work.

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