The Best Way to Discipline Your Children: The Use of Positive Reinforcement

The best way to discipline your children is to create a situation that avoids having to discipline them altogether. The best way to do this is by using a technique called Positive Reinforcement. Positive Reinforcement is a fancy term that means rewarding your children for good (positive) behaviors rather than punishing them for bad (negative) behaviors.The best way I have found to do this is by creating a Happy Face Chart (for children five through eleven) or a Reward Chart (for tweens/teens, twelve through eighteen).

This is very easy to do. First, target 5 or 6 behaviors that you want to change or modify. For instance:

1) Joey will do what his parents say

2) Joey will do his chores

3) Joey will play nicely with his siblings

4) Joey will control his temper

5) Joey will not leave the yard without permission

On the left side of the paper are the rules.On the right side is a happy face and a sad face separated by a line between them that goes down the page. (For older children instead of a happy and sad face we use the words positive and negative).

Next comes the reward (also known as the positive reinforcer). For young children we create a grab bag filled with items from the dollar store (hopefully items that have several pieces such as a bag with 4 airplanes or cars or fake jewelry etc). With older children we ask them to specify something they would like to buy (usually in the twenty dollar range).

Each morning we have the child repeat the rules (this helps them internalize the rules). Each evening we go over the chart with them indicating whether they receive a happy face or a sad face for that behavior and why. Telling them why is very important because it allows them to repeat a positive behavior or avoid a negative behavior in the future.

For younger children, if they get 4/5 happy faces they receive one pick from the grab bag. For a perfect day, 5/5, they get two picks. With older children specify a maximum amount they can earn each day–lets say one dollar. For 4/5 they earn fifty cents, for 5/5 they earn one dollar. Now, instead of giving them the money in their hand remember we asked them what they would like to purchase in the $20.00 range. So we create a bar graph where we shade in the amount earned each day thereby providing a visual for them as to how close they are getting to their goal. When they reach the $20.00 we go with them to purchase their prize for positive behaviors.

If parents are consistent, this technique works very well with most children. In the beginning be lenient with the happy faces. When children see they are accomplishing a goal this excites them, motivates them and empowers them thereby increasing the chance of positive behaviors the next day!

Enjoy your time with your well behaved children!

Lawrence Ross Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist