Positive Reinforcement – Behaviour Management for Parents and Caregivers

Positive reinforcement is the process of encouraging a pattern of behaviour by utilising a reward system each time a desired behaviour is exhibited, and current research shows that the positive reinforcement of desirable behaviours is more effective than punitive or punishing measures for undesirable behaviours. This doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be consequences for negative behaviours, but rather a clear system of rewards and consequences for all type of behaviours.

This article focuses on implementing The Marble Jar system of positive reinforcement, and also includes some excellent resources for parenting programs that can help you create an effective system for your family.

The Marble Jar System

file 44 | Raise the Bar Psychology

This process of positive reinforcement helps to establish and maintain positive behaviours. The key elements to remember with this system are:

  • Clear expectations – “These are the sorts of behaviours that earn rewards”
  • Consistent use – Ideally this is a system that is utilised and discussed daily
  • Clear outcomes – “These are the rewards you will receive when we reach this particular goal”

As a general rule of thumb, aim to identify and reward 4 desirable behaviours to identifying and providing an unpleasant consequence for 1 undesirable behaviour (4:1 rule).When first starting this system, aim to provide as many marbles as you can. That is, be sure to be on the lookout for all types of desirable behaviours that you would like to reinforce, big and small.

How to Marble Jar

  1. Place an empty, clear jar in a safe, visible place at home and explain the process and expectations to your child. “A marble will go in the jar every time you…”
  2. Add a marble to the jar each time your child displays a desired behaviour. Make sure to name and praise the specific behaviour they are receiving the marble for.
  3. When the marbles reach the agreed upon level, your child receives their reward. Be sure to explain why your child is receiving their reward so that the desired behaviours continue.
  4. You can use small jars and simple rewards like stickers or extra playtime, large jars and bigger rewards such as games or books, or even mark different levels on the jar for different levels of rewards. Earning minutes of screen time is also a common reward that many families use.
  5. The types of desired behaviours will vary from person to person but some examples include:
  • Waiting to speak without interrupting
  • Independently completing a task or chore
  • Sharing with a friend or sibling
  • Asking for help with a task when needed

Extra Resources

The ParentWorks program is a free online program for parents/caregivers of children aged 2 to 16 that uses evidence-based strategies to improve parenting skills, confidence and child behaviour – ,https://parentworks.org.au/#/

The TripleP Parenting program is also a free online program for parents/caregivers of toddlers, tweens, pre-teens and teenagers that focuses on increasing child resilience, building stronger relationships and a range of parenting strategies for managing challenging behaviours – https://www.triplep-parenting.net.au/vic-uken/triple-p/

Thanks to Dr Kate Jacobs and Samantha Donato of Raise the Bar Psychology for helping put this article together.