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Positive reinforcement in children's education

Positive reinforcement in children's education


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On the path of education we sometimes find flat and pleasant sections and, at other times, they are uphill, cobbled and somewhat tortuous. To reduce obstacles we must know the strategies most used in educational psychology of the 21st century, one of the most powerful is undoubtedly Positive Reinforcement.

Positive Reinforcement consists of offering the child a pleasant stimulus every time he emits an appropriate response, thus he will tend to repeat it to a greater extent. For example, we offer him a smile and compliment after tidying up his room, we give him an ice cream if he has been good all afternoon at his grandparents' house, we allow him to watch TV if he has done his homework ...

In order to use the Positive reinforcement in an appropriate way and achieve the best results, we must take into account the following basic guidelines:

1. For positive reinforcement to be effective, it must be explained to the child before he or she performs the desired behavior and in positive terms. That is, we are not going to say 'As long as you don't do your homework, there is no TV this afternoon'. If not, we are going to sit in front of him, at a time when we can chat quietly, making sure he listens to us and we are going to say: 'From now on, as long as you do the homework planned for that afternoon, you will be able to watch TV'.

2. We have to be very specific about what the child is going to achieve: when and for how long. That it does not lead to misunderstandings or attempts at negotiation. For example, 'You will be able to watch TV for 20 min. after dinner'.

3. Positive reinforcement should be applied in the short term. That is, the child-friendly stimulus should be applied right after the desired behavior. If the desired behavior is for him to study every day and the stimulus we offer him is a trip in the summer, the child does not have the sufficient capacity to maintain the desired behavior every day due to that long-term motivating stimulus. The closer it is in time, the more efficient we will achieve.

4. Reinforcement adjusted to the desired behavior, which is consistent and fair.

5. Pleasant for the child. If we want to achieve an important change, he must have a high dose of motivation for him, we must think about what he likes in his day to day. Sometimes we don't realize that what our children like the most is spending pleasant time with us, playing a board game, going for a walk, eating ice cream together ...

6. Of course, we must be consistent. Whenever the child emits the behavior, it must be followed by the planned reinforcement. If we consider that we are not going to be constant with this stimulus, it is preferable that it not start, because the moment we lose credibility it is very difficult to achieve the following objectives.

Regardless of the appropriate application of reinforcements, these strategies must always be accompanied by unconditional affection. We do not stop loving them because they have done something that we believe is inappropriate and, thus, we must convey it to them. Otherwise, we could damage your self-confidence, your self-esteem and ultimately generate emotional instability.

Traditionally in our society, punishment has been used to achieve a correct education of children. However, continued punishment is not always effective as it demands the attention of the parents towards the children and is sometimes what the children themselves seek. In addition, they view it as an external imposition and it can even damage self-esteem.

It is preferable, employ positive reinforcement accompanied by extinction, I am not going to respond to those negative 'attention calls' that I want to disappear. Thus, little by little he will develop strategies to achieve my positive attention.

When parents learn to use positive reinforcement and extinction, coupled with unconditional affection and very little use of punishment (only when the child's performance is severe enough and misadjusted), children begin to repeat appropriate responses internally and begin to feel better with this change because their relationships with others and with themselves also improve.

Lucia Boto Pérez
Psychologist
Álava Reyes Psychology Center

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