Using Potential Reinforcers
Author: Thomas Altro
Another important aspect of using reinforcement is knowing when to use it. Sometimes, we may see a child engaging in appropriate behavior and think to ourselves, “Well that’s what he/she is supposed to do!” It is important to remember, however, that we all need to learn how we should behave in different situations, and that the way we learn to behave appropriately is through reinforcement. If you catch your child behaving appropriately in a situation in which he or she typically has difficulty, or see your child engaging in a behavior that you want to see more of, it is a great time to reinforce. The most important thing is to provide reinforcement while or immediately after your child engages in the appropriate behavior(s).
Often, it can be useful to be specific about what you are providing reinforcement for: “Great job playing nicely with your sister!” as you give your child his or her favorite snack. Caregivers sometimes worry that saying something might interrupt their child while he or she is behaving appropriately, and so they avoid interacting with their child altogether during those times. The wonderful thing about reinforcement, however, is that it works regardless of whether you say anything at all! For example, simply walking over and handing your child his or her favorite snack while he or she is playing appropriately with his or her sister will increase the likelihood of similar behaviors under similar circumstances.