Definition: A reinforcer is an item or event that follows a behavior and increases the likelihood that the behavior will occur again. Reinforcers are rewards for appropriate behavior. Reinforcers will differ from child to child, and will vary over time.
Here’s a step-by-step method for using reinforcers to increase appropriate behavior:
1. Identify a specific behavior to reinforce.
Examples: sitting, using toys appropriately, following directions, initiating activities, trying new things, transitioning calmly, making choices, following rules, playing near/with others, making eye contact, eating new foods, responding to name, etc.
2. Identify effective reinforcers for the specific behavior.
a. Choose the type of reinforcers to use based upon what motivates the child and bringshim/her pleasure. The types of reinforcers are:
(1) Social/Attention: Paying a lot of attention to the child’s good behavior through praise, hugs, etc.
(2) Tangible: Providing access to special objects when the child is behaving well.
(3) Stimulatory: Providing access to special activities when the child is behaving well.
(4) Escape/Avoidance: Allowing the child to take a break from demands, changes, or other people when he/she is behaving well.
b. Choose specific reinforcers which are natural to the situation where the good behavior occurs:
c. Find ways to combine reinforcers as they are often more effective when used together:
d. Choose reinforcers that are readily available and can be given to the child frequently and consistently.
3. Control how often your child is rewarded. Make sure that the child receives the reinforcers only when he/she is behaving appropriately.
Example: If you are using a special toy to reward calm behavior, make sure the toy is not available all the time, but rather is brought out only when the child is behaving well.
4. Observe whether or not the reinforcers you have chosen are effective. If, after reinforcing a behavior in a certain way for a few days, the behavior is increasing, then the reinforcer is effective. If the behavior does not change, try changing the reinforcer.
Note: Do not assume that praise is rewarding to the child. Observe how effective it is in increasing the child’s appropriate behavior. If praise alone does not increase appropriate behavior, combine it with other reinforcers which naturally motivate the child.
5. Be ready to continually change the reinforcers so that the child does not tire of them. Keep delivering the rewards that appear to bring the child pleasure and change the rewards which he/she does not actively seek.
6. Deliver the reinforcers immediately after the behavior has occurred.
7. Deliver the reinforcers consistently after the behavior has occurred. In the beginning, reward the child every time the appropriate behavior occurs. As the child shows the behavior more often, you can reward it less often.
8. Deliver the reinforcers in as many settings as possible.
9. Involve as many other people as possible in delivering reinforcers.
10. If the appropriate behavior is not increasing as you would like, consider:
- changing the reinforcer
- delivering the reinforcer more frequently
- combining reinforcers
- setting up more opportunities for the behavior to occur
- selecting a simpler behavior to reinforce