I was raised in a very authoritarian household where my parents did not shy away from spanking. So I knew from a young age, I wanted to do things differently with my own children. And to be completely honest, before I had children, I judged parents who were very lenient and relied on what I thought at the time were bribes. Even as I learned more about parenting strategies in college classes (while working toward my degree in psychology) I was still skeptical.
Of course everything changes when you have your own children. When my sons were old enough to have responsibilities like cleaning up their toys and setting the table, I quickly learned they both responded to praise and rewards. As a first-time mom, I worried I was creating bad habits by using rewards when my children did something they were supposed to do. I didn’t want them to become dependent on needing a reward in order to use the bathroom or clean their room.
My oldest son also has autism and it can be a challenge to find parenting strategies that work consistently. After a few classes with his therapists and a behavioral specialist, I learned they used positive reinforcement to help encourage appropriate behaviors. Positive reinforcement is not a bribe. Positive reinforcement is when you add something in order to increase a response and can be anything from praise, to a piece of candy that is given to a child as a reward. When successful, positive reinforcement results in the desired behaviors occurring more frequently in the future.
When successful, positive reinforcement results in the desired behaviors occurring more frequently in the future.
My son’s therapists emphasized that it was the standard of care in early behavioral interventions that uses Applied Behavioral Analysis or ABA therapy, which strives to create behavioral strategies that will help individuals with autism or other disabilities, improve their daily lives, and create connections with others.
How do rewards help?
It has been found that children with autism who are provided rewards can increase social skills that involve communication and interaction. Successful ABA therapy programs can also help individuals develop healthy coping mechanisms that lower the risk of negative behaviors like aggression, self harm, etc. Rewards can also help a child with autism increase their attention span and language skills.
Despite my reservations about using rewards as a daily parenting strategy, I couldn’t deny the logic and research that supported using it. With the help of my son’s teachers, aides, and therapists, I could see the benefits in real-time.
From the moment we started implementing these strategies, my son has flourished. He went from throwing mulch at the kids at school, to asking to have playdates with his friends; from melting down at loud noises, to asking or grabbing his noise-cancelling headphones on his own.
I know I may now be judged by other people who don’t understand the benefits of rewards for children with certain disabilities. If you are considering using positive reinforcement or rewards with your child, just know that there are various different methods that you can use with your children, it just depends on their personality and preferences. And remember a reward doesn’t have to be a tangible thing.
Some of my son’s favorite rewards:
- One-on-one time
- Gummies or dried fruit
- Time doing their favorite activity
- A trip to their favorite store
- Movie night or extra screen time
Read More: Why I Fought for My Son’s Autism Diagnosis