The Difference That Positive Reinforcement Can Make!

As working adults, most of us would agree that we are more likely to feel motivated to do our jobs well when our successful efforts are accompanied by positive reinforcement. After all, positive reinforcement helps us feel appreciated and valued. Our hard work seems more worthwhile when we are aware that our management is grateful for our efforts. While it’s true, our paychecks are a constant source of adult positive reinforcement, and encouragement from our team goes a long way for morale.

Not to compare humans to animals, but simply as an example, therapy and service dogs are trained with positive reinforcement. Therapy dogs are incredibly impressive, and it takes months of consistent training for these intelligent canines to learn their roles. However, the root of training for therapy or service dogs is based on praise for their good behavior. Professional dog trainers recommend the use of encouragement over any sort of negative reinforcement.

Those facts considered, if positive reinforcement and praise work so successfully for service dogs as well as working adults, the same could be said for praising children. While it’s not an identical comparison, the concept is similar. Rewarding kind actions, responsible choices, and generally praising children for good behavior can go far. Let’s look more into the known benefits of praising children!

5 Benefits Exclusive to Praise and Encouragement

Traditionally, cultures around the world have relied on negative reinforcement for teaching children. An example of negative reinforcement would be if a child disobeys a parent, they are, in turn, grounded.  Additionally, positive reinforcement has not been relied on historically. In fact, offering praise has often been considered unnecessary from cultures believing children should not be rewarded for merely exhibiting the good behaviors expected of everyone.  

Even in our current generation, many of us were raised on negative reinforcement with positive reinforcement utilized as the occasional treat. As a specific example, a child may be disciplined for most instances of leaving their room messy, but rarely rewarded for the times they do clean their bedroom. It is possible for intense practice of negative reinforcement, combined with a lack of consistent positive reinforcement, to create a mental state of fear-based obedience. If a parent is looking for compliance alone, then negative reinforcement may do the job. However, if parents want their children to learn good behaviors while emotionally flourishing, praising your children can make a massive difference. Let’s look at several important benefits of praising a child!


  • Praise is a strong motivator. Even as adults, we are more motivated when people express gratitude, recognition, or interest in our efforts. Praise goes a long way in showing a child that their work and good behavior are worthwhile!
  • Praise can build self-esteem. There is a chasmic difference between healthy self-esteem and an inflated ego. Parents need not concern themselves with inflating a child’s ego when they are offering praise for a job well done. History has shown that negative behaviors, such as bullying, have been noticed in individuals with low self-esteem. When you praise your child, you are recognizing their efforts and thoughtfulness. Likewise, you are modeling kind behavior towards others.
  • Praise shows value. There is value in progress and attempts, regardless of success or perfection. When you praise your children for their efforts in spite of a perfect outcome, it shows that it was worth trying anyway. Sometimes, as adults, if we don’t get the results we wanted, it’s easy to think the effort was a waste, even when we learn something valuable from the journey. We want to show our children that the journey is important and it’s always worthwhile to give it our best shot. 
  • Praise focuses on the behaviors you want. You are looking for those good behaviors anyway, so why not focus on them? When we spend our time or energy responding to bad behaviors, that can be a type of accidental positive reinforcement for negative behavior.
  • Praise can encourage self-confidence. While self-esteem refers to how you feel about yourself, self-confidence measures how much faith you have in your abilities. Even if a child has a healthy level of self-esteem, their self-confidence can vary depending on their skill levels in various situations. Praising your children can help build their self-confidence to try new activities regardless of their known experience. Praise and self-confidence can help free your children from the fear of failure!

Our Top 5 Character Training Resources for Homeschooling Families 

Praising our children is all about looking for those learning moments to respond with encouragement and motivation. When you are committed to positive reinforcement, parents must learn to switch from being reactive about good behavior to proactively looking for actions and behaviors to praise. We want our children to choose certain good behaviors, not just because we told them, but because they want to do it for the right reasons. Results from negative consequences — fear-based obedience — only last as long as an authority is present to surveil and discipline.  

We all want our children to grow up to be good people, with good hearts filled with kindness and consideration. We want to hold our children’s hearts and to have a relationship with mutual respect, trust, and communication. Praising our children for their progress, for their intentions, and for their attempts (not just perfection), recognizes them as valuable people regardless of their productivity, and can have an incredible effect on their self-worth and character training. Here are a few of our favorite resources for character training!


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