What Are the Benefits of Positive Reinforcement in Kids?

By Kay Ireland
Looking on the bright side could help your child's self-esteem.
Looking on the bright side could help your child's self-esteem.

When your child is acting up in a grocery store or uses disrespectful language, it's hard not to focus on the negative. Punishment -- a time-out, or taking away privileges -- is a type of negative reinforcement. While negative reinforcement can be an effective form of discipline, you may be surprised to know that positive reinforcement -- praise and attention -- has some distinct benefits in getting the best behavior out of your child


One of the most compelling benefits of positive reinforcement in kids is the fact that it is, in a word, effective. A study published in a 2011 issue of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis found that when compared to negative reinforcement, positive reinforcement ensured quicker disciplinary results in a 10-year-old with autism. Positive reinforcement acts as preventative medicine for your child's misbehavior. Instead of punishing when your child acts up, she's motivated to seek praise and kudos before making behavioral choices.


Let's face it: putting your child in time out doesn't do much for his confidence. And while you might try to focus on his behavior alone, there's a chance he could associate his punishment with being a "bad boy." Focusing on positive reinforcement -- and being specific -- gives your child a self-esteem boost. Instead of thinking of himself as bad, he sees the ways he excels through your words and attention, which helps create healthy confidence.

Intrinsic Motivation

When you negatively punish your child for misbehaving, you're the motivation behind stopping the behavior. For instance, if you catch her fighting on the playground and remove her, it's because you want her to behave a certain way. Using positive reinforcement, however, helps create an intrinsic motivation for your child to behave. Instead of exhibiting good behavior because she might get in trouble with an adult, she's on her best behavior because she wants praise and the good feelings that go along with positive reinforcement. It means you can police your child less and let her make her own choices more often.

Parental Benefits

Your child isn't the only one to benefit from a kind word, a hug and attention when he's behaving well. You'll also get to see some of the benefits of positive reinforcement in your parenting style. Focusing on the positive and giving your child quality time can help grow your confidence in your own parenting skills and teach you to choose the appropriate type of discipline for various situations. A "Positive Reinforcement and Rewards" handout from the Purdue University Provider-Parent Partnerships website suggests using the following logic when deciding on a course of discipline: Can your child's poor behavior only be stopped by punishment, or can you use a positive method to get the behavior you want? Taking the time to think through the conflict can stop you from making snap discipline decisions that do more harm than good.

About the Author

Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.