Is it best for a parent or teacher to reinforce successes as the best way to reduce mistakes?

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The concept of rewarding children and students for good behavior has come to be known as PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports). While some children and students naturally exhibit good behavior (given early operant conditioning), changing a behavior through positive reinforcement and operant conditioning can be achieved.

Operant conditioning relies upon either negative reinforcement (withholding) or positive reinforcement (reward). With operant conditioning, the goal is to train a behavior to occur naturally. For example, if the goal is to get a child or student to say "please," one would reward the student each time he or she uses the word "please." Over time, the schedule of reinforcement will change. Initially, the child/student will be rewarded every time the required behavior is exhibited. Later, the behavior will only be partially reinforced. Eventually, the behavior will continue even without reinforcement.

If the behavior fails to be exhibited when the schedule of reinforcement changes, one may need to return to continuous reinforcement (changing to partial again later). One must be sure that the behavior is actually changing and the child/student is not only relying upon the reinforcement.

Not all people agree with PBIS. Some parents and teachers believe that expected behavior should not be rewarded. They believe that negative behaviors should be punished. Given that PBIS does not punish unwanted behaviors, some disagree with this type of behavior modification.

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