Positive Or Negative Reinforcement – What Works Best

We have tried spanking, hand smacking, yelling, time-out, removal of privileges and others. We are at a loss. We are currently researching positive and negative reinforcement. I am not an expert in … anything, but I will share what I have found and my opinions.

To figure out whether positive or negative reinforcement works best for you and which works best for me, we need to understand what they mean.


  • Positive reinforcement

    1. In behaviorism, positive reinforcement occurs when a reward, sometimes called a reinforcer, is given for a specific desired behavior. Other behaviors, even those that are negative, are simply ignored. Over time, this will lead to an increase in the desired behavior.
    2. Positive reinforcement must be individualized to the specific person receiving it. What reinforces one person’s behavior may not have the same effect on someone else.

My notes on Positive Reinforcement

    • There is absolutely NO discipline. My daughter is 2.
    • She throws things, kicks the dog, bites mommy and daddy, colors on the walls, tries to break the windows, spits on everything and more.
    • I can not begin to imagine just ignoring that behavior and praising what little good behavior she does have.
    • I understand the theory, but I don’t believe it will work with my little one.
    • It may, however, work for my six year old as he would understand the benefits of it.
    • I would also recommend explaining what “prizes” the child receives for each good deed.
    • And last I would keep the rewards steady and once a sticker is given for cleaning up their dinner plate then they always get a sticker for doing so, not an extra ten minutes of TV.
  • Negative reinforcement

    1. In behaviorism, negative reinforcement involves the removal of an unpleasant stimulus when a desired behavior occurs. It differs from positive reinforcement as the stimulus is taken away rather than given when the behavior happens. The principles of negative reinforcement may actually worsen a phobia.
    2. In negative reinforcement, a response or behavior is strengthened by stopping, removing or avoiding a negative outcome or aversive stimulus.
    3. Aversive stimuli tend to involve some type of discomfort, either physical or psychological. Behaviors are negatively reinforced when they allow you to escape from aversive stimuli that are already present or allow you to completely avoid the aversive stimuli before they happen.
    4. One of the best ways to remember negative reinforcement is to think of it as something being subtracted from the situation. When you look at it in this way, it may be easier to identify examples of negative reinforcement in the real-world.

My notes on Negative Reinforcement

  • This is what we are probably going to do.
  • It is close to what we have been doing and I believe it will be an easy transition.
  • It will mean less discipline, but we will not be ignoring bad behavior.
  • We will reward the good behavior by rewarding our daughter not the behavior itself.
  • Just like negative reinforcement we will set the rewards ahead of time and explain them to our little girl and hope that she understands them.
  • Instead of spanking or hand smacking we will attempt to divert her to a positive action (i.e. coloring on the walls to coloring on her easel)
  • My hardest transition: no time-out.

Our pediatrician suggested time-out only and if she ran away from it or tried to get away at all we should strap her into a five point harness while she is in times –out which should be 2 (her age) +1 minutes. I know that after a minute and a half she forgets what she has done and I refuse to restrain my child. I like the pediatrician, but I think that was a bit harsh.

Stickers and Mickey Mouse here we come. Time-out chair, you have served us well, but it is time to retire you – for now.

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3 thoughts on “Positive Or Negative Reinforcement – What Works Best

  1. Pingback: The Psych Life » Rewards are Better than Punishment [Guest Author - Mai Vue]

  2. Pingback: The Psych Life » Breaking Bad and Changing Behavior [Guest Author - Carmen Retana]

  3. Pingback: Self Injurious Behavior, and How to Stop it :The Psych Life

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