Teaching New Skills with Reinforcement

Reinforcement is the key to learning new skills and behavior. It is helpful as a parent to know some basic rules of reinforcement that you could apply to your daily routines with your child. Whether you are teaching your child new language skills, implementing ABA teaching sessions, or working on daily living skills such as brushing teeth, these few basic rules will be effective in promoting any new skill!

Basic Rules of Reinforcement:

  • Reinforcement is contingent on a specific behavior. Know what behavior you are reinforcing so it is clear to your child (i.e., picking up toys or requesting a toy)

  • Reinforcement is given after the occurrence of the target behavior, not during a tantrum or another inappropriate behavior, that is bribery and you will increase negative behavior.

  • Reinforcement should be given immediately following the target behavior, aim for 1-3 seconds

  • Label the behavior, be specific. For example: say “I love the way you listened” or "great job picking up your toys"

  • Praise with enthusiasm!

  • Always pair a tangible reinforcer with social reinforcement (praise, high five, tickles). It will be more meaningful and will increase the likelihood of transitioning to social reinforcement in the future.

  • Reinforcement should be reinforcing! That may sound redundant but, sometimes what we think is reinforcing is not (at least not on that day). Reinforcing items change quickly!

  • Be consistent. Consistency is key to learning any new behavior!

  • If using a tangible, give access to the reinforcer for a short duration (approx. 1-2 minutes). You may encounter some resistance getting the item back if your child has it for too long.

  • Limit access to highly motivating items that you may want to use for reinforcement.

Learn more about reinforcement and how to use if effectively with your child, subscribe to the ABA Parent Toolbox or purchase one of our courses on our website. Go to to rent one of our courses in the ABA Parent Toolbox.

Anything is possible with the right tools!

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