Reinforcement: another series!

Reinforcement is such a hugely important part of behavior therapy that we can’t just get it down to one post! In today’s post, we are going to outline the different types of reinforcement and how they can be used in your home, whether or not your child has Autism. In future posts, we will provide you with specific tools and strategies to help your children. One tool we have already talked about is the Okay mommy! system of reinforcement.

First, we are going to outline the two main types of reinforcement: positive and negative. Positive reinforcement involves adding something reinforcing to a desired behavior to help reinforce that behavior. For children, this might be giving them extra time on the iPad if they help wash the dishes, or giving them dessert after dinner if they finish their homework before. Conversely, negative reinforcement is the removal of a negative stimulus to avoid a negative outcome. For children, having them put on a coat before going outside would remove the negative stimulus of them being cold. This would reinforce putting on a jacket before going outside to avoid being cold.

Now, we are going to clear up the confusion there is between negative reinforcement and punishment. The word “negative” often has implications of punishment or other negative consequences for the child. This is not the case, because the “negative” part of negative reinforcement implies that we are removing the negative stimulus and, in turn, increasing the behavior caused by that stimulus. Positive and negative punishment both serve to decrease a behavior in the future by either adding a negative consequence or removing a reinforcing stimulus. An example of positive punishment would be if your child eats a spoiled food and gets a bad taste after. This would decrease the likelihood that your child will eat spoiled foods in the future. An example of negative punishment would be removing your child from a positive stimulus (watching TV, playing on the iPad, etc) after a negative behavior.

We hope this helps you start to use the principles of reinforcement in your home! Stay tuned to find some specific tools to use with your children. Happy Friday!