By Tania Duarte, M.S., BCBA
Most of us enjoy verbal feedback, especially in the form of compliments. People want to know they are doing a good job and that they’re appreciated. Praise is a valuable tool that can be used to motivate continued performance and promote learning opportunities.
In Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), praise is commonly used as a form of positive reinforcement.
What is Positive Reinforcement?
Positive reinforcement is when something is added to the environment following a behavior that increases the future occurrence of that behavior. A reinforcer is an added stimulus (praise, items, toys, etc.) that increases the likelihood of a behavior occurring. Let’s consider an example.
If a child sees a picture of a bear and says “bear,” receives verbal praise, and the child continues to label pictures of bears correctly, this is an example of positive reinforcement utilizing praise as a reinforcer. But what if praise is not reinforcing? What if the child did not find praise reinforcing and did not continue to perform the task correctly? Even if a child is not motivated by praise, it is recommended to pair praise with something they do find reinforcing so that you can eventually fade to praise as their main form of reinforcement.
The reason behind this? The child is more likely to encounter praise in their natural environment versus other forms of reinforcement. We want to ensure that a child can be successful outside of the ABA therapy clinical setting.
Why is Praise Superior Compared to Other Forms of Reinforcement?
Praise is readily available to be provided and requires little to no time or preparation. It is not often that you will see a teacher providing toys or snacks following a child completing a task.
However, in a classroom, you are likely to see a teacher providing praise and attention to students in response to task completion and participation.
Another benefit of utilizing praise as a form of reinforcement is that it does not have a negative impact on one’s health like highly caloric snacks may. While food may be highly motivating for a client, it is not recommended as a long-term reinforcer, and it is also recommended to weigh the risks and benefits of the reinforcer.
Is the reinforcer going to promote first words? Is it going to decrease significant maladaptive behaviors? Are the effects of the reinforcer reversible, and is there a plan in place to fade it out as reinforcement (typically through pairing it with praise)?
Three Keys to Success With Praise
The three keys to success with praise include providing praise immediately following a desired behavior, interspersing praise, and utilizing behavior-specific praise.
Just because praise is reinforcing to a client, does it really mean it is good enough? Not necessarily, just like any other form of reinforcement, a client may become satiated with praise.
So how do you combat the satiation? You intersperse your words of praise. Imagine how boring it is to hear “good job, good job, good job” all day long. Just because you utilize praise, does it mean the child understands what they are being praised for?
Not always; this is why it is important to provide praise immediately following the desired behavior and also provide behavior-specific praise. Some examples include “great job pushing your chair in; I love how you are sharing your toys or awesome job writing with your pencil.”
Praise is a valuable tool that can be utilized across settings. Even if your client doesn’t currently find praise reinforcing make sure you pair it with their current reinforcers. The three keys to success with utilizing praise include providing praise immediately following a desired behavior, interspersing praise, and utilizing behavior-specific praise.
For examples of different statements of praise you can use during client sessions, please download our resource below.
Words of Praise Tool
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