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Moms of Neurodiverse Kids: Post 6/8 “Positive Reinforcement”

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement – We all know it’s good stuff, but what exactly is it, and how do we use it every day?


Positive reinforcement is a parenting gem. It’s all about recognizing and rewarding those amazing behaviors your kids do, making it more likely they’ll do it again. It's not just about giving a pat on the back or some goodies; it's about how it makes your child feel about themselves and what behaviors they feel are important.



Active Recognition: Spotting the Good

One cornerstone of positive reinforcement is active recognition, which involves actively identifying and acknowledging positive behaviors. It's like zooming in on those fantastic moments and acknowledging them right away. Imagine simply observing and describing what your child is doing or feeling at that moment – no judgment or opinion, just pure acknowledgment. This recognition tells your child, “I’m worth being noticed” and “I can do it because I am doing it.” Check out some examples:

  • “Wow, you drew a picture of a tree with a trunk, roots, and leaves.”

  • “I see that you put your toys away after playing.”

  • “You're trying to use your inside voice, I hear that.”

  • “I saw that you were practicing your math facts for a long time. You seemed frustrated when you forgot one.”


Active recognition is all about observing what your child is doing. In the last example, the observation also includes how the child is feeling. As you may notice, these examples are fairly detailed, but they do not offer any sort of judgment. They are all relatively neutral. The details tell your child that you are really paying attention, while the lack of focus on judgment tells your child that they are recognized and accepted!


For more ideas of how to practice active recognition, here are some starters for what you may say:

  • “I see you doing…”

  • “I noticed that you…”

  • “I hear you…”

  • “I observed that you…”

  • “I’m seeing…”


Experiential Recognition: Making it Meaningful

Experiential recognition is still about acknowledging what your child’s doing, but it’s also about reinforcing those values that matter to you. You are not only reinforcing the action but also highlighting those values that matter to you. Let’s look at some examples:

  • “I saw that you were stuck on that math problem, but you kept trying. That’s persistence!”

  • “For the last ten minutes, you put a lot of work into that drawing. That’s focus and creativity!”

  • “You shared your toy with your brother. That’s being kind and caring!”



See what we did there? It’s not just about what they did; it’s about the values behind those actions. It’s like saying, “I see what you’re doing, and it’s super cool because it’s aligned with the awesome values we cherish!”


These examples send messages of worth to your child and help to encourage the values that matter to you. Consider some values that you may want to instill in your child: hard work, kindness, honesty, respect, courage, compassion, etc. Now, think about those times when you “catch” your child showing those values and tell them how much you appreciate that!


For more ideas of how to practice experiential recognition, here are some ways to help you know what you may say:

  • “I see you… and that shows you are…”

  • “I appreciate that you… and you are showing you are…”

  • “I want to celebrate that you… and that is evidence that you are…”

  • “I notice… which proves you are…”


Making it Routine

Making positive reinforcement a part of your daily routine is pivotal for its effectiveness. Here’s a few things to consider:


  • Consistency: Consistency is key. Establish clear expectations and consistently reinforce positive behaviors. This predictability helps neurodiverse children understand boundaries and expectations.

  • Personalize It: Recognize that what works for one child might not work for another. Tailor your approach to suit your child's interests, preferences, and neurodiversity. Understanding their unique needs is crucial in implementing effective reinforcement.

  • Balance it Out: It’s not all cheerleading. Sometimes, gentle guidance can help them see where they can grow. Constructive feedback helps children understand where they can grow while feeling supported.


Celebrating Progress

Positive reinforcement isn’t just about behavior; it’s about building their self-esteem and confidence.


Active and experiential recognition team up to boost those good behaviors. By shining a spotlight on achievements and weaving reinforcement into daily life, you’re empowering your amazing kids to tackle life with confidence.


Remember, every small win counts! As you journey through this parenting adventure, use positive reinforcement to help nurture growth, resilience, and an unbreakable confidence in your child.


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Michaela Zoppa, LPC, is a Clinical Therapist with Grace & Gratitude Counseling, a practice of women serving women in Downer's Grove, Illinois. GGC clinicians frequently work with moms and neurotypical sisters of children with neurodiversity challenges, as well as women and teen girls struggling with overthinking, toxic perfectionism, people-pleasing, and more. Book a free consultation today to get started!


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