A Lesson Learned: Positive Reinforcement

Sometimes in the throes of disciplining a young child, it is easy to fall into the pattern of simply “punishing” instead of offering positive reinforcement…or at least it is for me. I concentrate so much on getting Big Brother to “obey” that I don’t really create positive consequences, only negative ones.

We’ve been having a bit of a hard time with some undesirable behaviors with “numero uno” since Christmas. He has been throwing huge tantrums when he doesn’t get his way and in those tantrums, talking disrespectfully to both of us (pretty typical behavior for a 3-year old, but in need of major correction nonetheless). After an utterly frustrating lunch with my family after church last Sunday, I decided we had to try something different.

So we made a sticker chart. A row for each day of the week with two columns:  morning and afternoon. If Big Brother talked respectfully to us for the morning, he received a sticker. If he didn’t, he had to try better later. It has worked really well for the most part. He needs a few reminders that he will, in fact, lose the privilege of putting a sticker up on his chart, but other than that it has been just the motivation he needed. And it’s been interesting to see the pattern…most of the week he did NOT receive his morning sticker. We tend to have more battles in the morning, apparently.

After earning 5 stickers, we went to the indoor “waterpark” at our local YMCA. Five stickers isn’t much, but we wanted him to feel successful and will gradually increase the amount needed for a fun activity such as this.

While reflecting on our recent “positive reinforcement” implementation, I started thinking about how God is the ultimate parent. He dealt swiftly (and many times seemingly harshly in our human eyes) with the Israelites when they disobeyed. But he also offered lots of positive reinforcement to them and he still offers it to us.

With Abraham:  “Now the Lord had said to Abram: Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” {Gen. 12:1-3}
With David (about Jesus coming from his lineage):  “When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son… Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12-14a, 16)

With us:  “They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”  -Acts 16:31

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” -Acts 2:38
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” -1 John 4:7

If looking for parenting advice, look no further than the B-I-B-L-E. :)


  1. Thanks for this post! Just yesterday my husband and I were brainstorming ways to help our two-year-old learn to use her forces for good. :o) She's a very independent child, and I am trying to find a way to help her learn to be obedient while still enrouraging her to use her strong personality in ways that our Heavenly Father would approve of. I know that being strong-willed can be a great attribute IF she can learn when to be strong and when to be submissive. Anyway, thanks for sharing your ideas. I had been thinking of a sticker chart as well and this might be something that will work well in our home.

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