Practices and Procedures Related to Reinforcement

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What is reinforcement, and why is reinforcement important?

Reinforcement is anything that immediately follows a behavior that causes that behavior to increase in the future. Just as we talk about reinforcing a building with steel or bringing in reinforcement on a battlefield, when we talk about reinforcement with children, we’re talking about anything that strengthens a particular behavior in a child’s repertoire. When we think of reinforcement, we may think of social reinforcement (e.g., behavior-specific praise, high fives, tickles), tangible reinforcement (e.g., stickers, toys), or edible reinforcement (e.g., candy, cookies, crackers). However, absolutely anything that follows behavior can serve as a reinforcer. This could include songs, activities, removing social attention, reprimanding, breaks from difficult tasks, and even reinforcers like stereotypy, which are not manipulated by the teacher.

EBIP_reinforcement_token board_2As teachers and parents, we reinforce a variety of children’s behaviors all the time, even when we might not intend to. If you praise a child for raising his hand during circle time, and he raises his hand more frequently, social praise may be serving as a reinforcer. However, if you scold a child after she hits peers, and this leads to the child hitting her peers more often, scolding may be serving as a reinforcer, too. By understanding how reinforcement works, and then by identifying and using child-specific reinforcement, you can increase appropriate behaviors in a child’s repertoire and foster development in all areas.

When should I use reinforcement?

Reinforcers can be used in conjunction with evidence-based teaching strategies to strengthen a variety of skills and behaviors for children with and without disabilities. This includes behaviors and skills in all areas of development:

  • cognitive skills (pre-academic and EBIP_reinforcement_paired choiceacademic skills, like reading words and answering math facts)
  • social-emotional skills (asking for a turn with a toy, greeting peers)
  • fine and gross motor skills (cutting with scissors, engaging in physical activity on the playground)
  • communication skills (asking for a turn with a toy, pointing to the correct picture, maintaining conversations with peers)
  • adaptive skills (washing hands, toileting, putting on a coat)
  • play skills (taking turns with a toy, putting shapes in a shape sorter, stacking blocks)

What are the important reinforcement-related procedures relevant to early childhood

To cite this page (APA 6th edition):

  • Chazin, K.T. & Ledford, J.R. (2016). Practices and procedures related to reinforcement. In Evidence-based instructional practices for young children with autism and other disabilities. Retrieved from