Positive Reinforcement vs. Bribery
Somewhere on the parenting pendulum swing, positive reinforcement and bribery have gotten wildly confused. They are not the same thing.
The term positive reinforcement hit the mainstream maybe around 30 years ago. It was decidedly not in vogue when I was little and I’m 47. Before this term became a household phrase, parents tended to only see the bad or negative. You never got props for the good shit you did. Only hounding for the crappy stuff. And they’d hound you relentlessly and pick you apart for all the negatives.
Positive reinforcement literally is to reinforce the positive. Not bribe. Not give treats for good behavior or doing something you ask of your kid. It meant, to see the positive. To acknowledge and stress the positive over the negative. Maybe…maybe even let the negative slide by.
The theory is that humans rise to praise and others noticing the good. I, for one, am a prime example. I LOVE being told that I’m doing something well. And it makes me want to do better. Right? You follow?
Like when people tell me I look pretty after showering, it makes me want to shower more. But when people tell me I’m stinky because I haven’t showered in God-knows-how-long…then I tend to go to a-screw-you kind of place.
Paying off your child to do normal behavior is NOT positive reinforcement, it’s bribery. And it’s a slippery slope of entitlement.
Now, bribery has a place in parenting. I honestly believe that. I just bribed my kid…actually 2 kids…to stay quiet during a long car trip. Actually, we made it a contest; whoever could stay quiet to home would get a buck. Best $2 I’ve ever spent. BUT, that was above and beyond, in my opinion, normal, expected behavior. We all bribe our kids at some point. I’m a realist and I know that.
My problem with bribing for potty training…”I’ll give you a sticker when you go potty”…is that it’s young to start paying off your kid for expected behavior. Later in life, when you are jaded and your kid is jaded, and you’ve got parenting in the bag, it’s fine.
I’m kidding. It’s probably never okay. I haven’t checked the parenting wind today.
Positive reinforcement is seeing the good over the bad. And acknowledging that good. Stressing the times the job is done well. Reflecting back on the days that went well. Not harping endlessly on the bad.
There doesn’t need to be any physical treat to practice positive reinforcement.
Here’s my full diatribe on rewards and potty training.
I’ll give you a sticker if you read it.
PS…here’s the YouTube link to The Big Bang Theory: when Sheldon Trains Penny. I really hate this episode. I almost feel bad for Penny. You know?