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Positive Reinforcement Ideas for Kids

Chatty class? Lots of interrupting? Or maybe students are slow to line-up? Or maybe you’re just plain tired of picking pencils up off the floor. Whatever negative behavior it is that’s got your teacher eyes twitching and nostrils flaring, you’re overdue for a change.

Two (life-changing) words.
Positive reinforcement.

Whether it’s individual students, small groups or your whole class, focus on reinforcing desired behaviors and see the rewards for yourself. There’s no denying—positive reinforcement works. 

When you spend all of your time focusing your energy and attention on the negative behaviors (what not to do), students sense that and, in the long run, you might be asking yourself why your students are still constantly showing those negative behaviors.

Let me explain.
You know that feeling of, “Wait a minute. It’s November. Every day I tell my class to stop talking and get in line. I give consequences and point out what the problem is. It doesn’t work, we’re always late to specials and they need to figure it out. I’m tired of repeating myself and the handful of kids that aren’t listening to me are ruining it for everyone else.” Sound familiar?  Right. So why are you expecting your students to change, when you, the adult that is also repeating something that isn’t working, aren’t changing either?

Let’s step back.
Think of that behavior that’s irritating you right now. Blurting out. Interrupting. Talking in the hallway. Play fighting in line. I’m sure you can pinpoint one and have one in mind. Now, has calling that behavior out worked? Maybe for a few students, right? The handful of students that don’t want to be embarrassed by their behavior will stop and (hopefully) not repeat it. Another handful of students will not care that you called the behavior out. For a variety of reasons, drawing negative attention to negative behavior isn’t working for you, or your students. So, what do so many teachers do? You know the phrase, “The definition of insanity is repeating something that isn’t working and expecting different results.” So that begs the question, why are you digging your heels in and continuing to be frustrated when you have the ability to do something different? Is it easier to just complain that “my class is so hard this year” or “these kids are so disrespectful these days” or passing the blame off to someone else (their home life, their previous teachers, their siblings…)? And who does that serve? Honestly. It doesn’t help anyone. Especially you. So what are you going to change?

Your mindset.
That’s right. You have total control of your own mindset. If you focus on negative behaviors and consequences and nothing changes, you need to be the one to change. Stop telling them what’s wrong, and start telling them what’s right. Shift your attention to the positive.
Let’s think about this beyond the classroom for a moment. What motivates you, as an adult? For me, I prefer to be motivated by positive things, like looking forward to vacations, a paycheck, date nights with my partner, fun activities like pizza and movie night with my kids. I don’t exactly enjoy thinking about the poor choices I’ve made or being shamed by someone drawing attention to them (i.e. if someone points out I was late to work, or that looks like a lot of lasagna for one person…those things don’t feel great). What I do enjoy, though, is thinking about all of the little things I do during the day to get to the fun parts in life. The positive reinforcement is the social praise we get, the little, “Thank you for bringing snack to practice this week” and “So glad you know how to fix the copier!” throughout the day that we receive. The rewards that we look forward to are a (much-needed) bonus.

Back to the classroom.
Now that I’ve shared the “why” for shifting attention to the positive, you might be thinking, “How on earth does that work?” The simplest way to explain this is to provide a ratio for you, the teacher, to work on in the classroom. For every negative behavior you call out, “No interrupting,” work on shifting your attention (and tone) and saying two praise phases of positive reinforcement (or more if your students are still struggling) such as, “It’s respectful when we raise our hand” or “I really appreciate how ____ is raising their hand to share their connection.” And yes, I realize that sounds just like the “2 put ups for every 1 put down,” but it’s what works for me when I’m “in the moment” and frustrated. But, like most things, you get back what you put in.

Be consistent.
Like all things, consistency is a key component of classroom management. So often that’s the root of the issue. Your expectations need to remain consistent. And your shift to positive reinforcement needs to be consistent as well. If you focus on the positive for a week or two and expect students to change immediately or to keep up the great behaviors with no follow-through on your end, go back to square one.
And because I know how difficult it can be for both students and teachers to make the shift to positive reinforcement, I’ve created a printable list for you (and your students) of positive behaviors and a goal ideas list for kids.
rewards list

I also know the importance of setting a goal and keeping things “fresh” while also keeping things consistent. Sounds tricky and counterintuitive, but it’s actually quite simple. I’ve created 36 different digital class rewards that are proven to motivate and engage students. The idea is that every time students display a desired behavior (i.e. raising their hands), you move a digital “piece” to the background scene. When the scene is complete, students earn a reward. The key to making this successful? If you’ve read all of the above and are following what I’m saying, you probably guessed it. Consistent positive reinforcement. And if it’s not obvious by now, I don’t recommend taking any of the digital pieces away if you see negative behaviors, as THAT would be the negative reinforcement we’re trying to avoid. Remember: keep your focus on the positive.

So, if you’re ready to try something new and shift your focus, I’ve got something to help you transition to this form of classroom management. A digital reward for you to try with your students is waiting for you right now in my Free Resource Library (a special place for newsletter subscribers to download over 100 free teaching resources). And the best part? Your students are gonna flip. And you? I. Can’t. Wait.

Love it already? Get ALL of the digital rewards in the money-saving bundle, plus a BONUS printable set of rewards.

digital class rewards

When you know something works, it’s inevitable that you want to share that excitement. Here’s what real teachers that are using the digital rewards are saying:

“I am so so so excited to use this in my virtual classroom this year! I was looking for something simple and customizable to whatever I want the tokens to equal, and this was perfect. There are enough options to do a different one every week so that it never gets boring. Thank you!” -Savannah D.

“The students really enjoy the thematic nature of this resource, and I love the visual reminder it provides them of our collective behavior/work habits goals! I just flash it on screen a few times throughout the day and it works like wonders.” -Sarah P.

“Great resource and easy to use, kept the students engaged with rewards and I allowed them to pick their own slide as some students had individual charts as well as the whole class.” -Jody C.
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