Positive reinforcement is a discipline strategy that helps children learn socially appropriate behavior. Like children of all ages, toddlers seek approval from their caregivers. Your toddler is more likely to repeat good behavior when you reinforce it with praise or rewards. Providing positive attention also decreases the likelihood that your toddler will misbehave to get attention. Whether your toddler is using gentle touches while petting the dog or working hard to build a tower with blocks, reinforce these positive behaviors.
Praise your toddler's good behavior immediately. Get down on your child's level, look him in the eye and say "Nice job putting your toy in the toy box when you were done playing with it." Avoid generic praises, such as "Good boy." Instead, label exactly which behavior you are praising. Smile while you're praising your toddler and use a positive tone of voice to reinforce your message. Praise your toddler many times throughout the day to show him which behaviors you appreciate.
Reinforce good behavior with your body language. A hug or high-five provides positive reinforcement for a job well-done. Clapping and cheering also show that you approve of your toddler's behavior.
Provide your toddler with a tangible reward to reinforce good behavior. Toddlers often respond well to small tokens of appreciation, such as stickers. Other rewards may include things like extra playtime or a trip to the park. While outdoor play motivates some children, it won't motivate all children, however. Choose rewards that your toddler will enjoy.
Tips & Warnings
- Include feeling words in your praise whenever possible. Teach your child about feelings by telling her how her behavior makes you feel.
- Praise your toddler's efforts, not just successes. When you praise her for trying hard or not giving up, it shows that you're pleased with her even if the outcome isn't perfect.
- Compare your toddler's behavior to past behavior to point out improvements. For example, say "You're picking up your toys faster today than you did yesterday."
- Avoid complex token systems or sticker charts with toddlers. They don't have the cognitive ability to grasp the concepts.
- Don't give your toddler the reward before he exhibits the behavior. This constitutes a bribe. Instead, only give him a reward after he completes the behavior.
- Avoid using food as a reward whenever possible. It can send the wrong message to your child. Teach your toddler to use food to nourish his body, not to treat himself for a job well-done.