With the use of positive and negative reinforcement, parents can help increase appropriate interactions among children and have play dates be more enjoyable for both children and parents. As a quick review (you can read my previous blog explaining the differences between positive and negative reinforcements here), positive reinforcement works by presenting a motivating/enjoyable item to the child after he/she exhibits the desired behavior, resulting in this behavior happening more often in the future. Whereas negative reinforcement is when a certain stimulus/item is removed after the child exhibits the particular behavior. The likelihood of the particular behavior occurring again in the future is increased because of removing/avoiding the negative stimuli. Below are some helpful tips that parents can utilize to help play dates run more smoothly.
Positive reinforcement on a play date:
• A play date can be seen as a positive reinforcer to a child if he/she enjoys activities that require other children/players. If they are an only child or a child with siblings not near to their age, a play date would be very reinforcing to them. The child would want more play dates in the future so that they can play games they enjoy.
• Play dates can also be a positive reinforcer to parents because of having access to other adult contact. Being able to interact with other adults, engage in adult conversation, and receive a little break can result in parents wanting to initiate and setup more play dates for their children.
• When a child is appropriately interacting and playing with another child, provide lots of verbal praise contingent on what he/she did.
- “Nice job playing with child’s name!”
- “Great work sharing the blocks!”
- “Awesome job handing the dice to child’s name!”
• Along with verbal praise you can also give high-fives, fist pounds, and pats on the back for appropriately playing with other children. However, be sure that these are reinforcers that your child likes to receive. If your child finds these types of contact uncomfortable, initiating them could result in your child changing his/her behaviors.
• Other tangible items that can be used with verbal praise are stickers, stamps, and candy. These items can be given throughout the play date when a child is appropriately playing and interacting with others.
Negative reinforcement on a play date:
• If a child is often interrupted while playing at home because he/she is required to intermittently do chores or non-preferred activities around the house in between fun activities, the child will be more likely to want play dates. When on a play date the request to do chores or other housework will be removed, resulting in the child wanting to continue future play dates.
• Some children do not like to be constantly watched, for these children you can use negative reinforcement to help increase appropriate play interactions. When the child is playing appropriately remove yourself from the situation and let your child continue to play. Periodically check in on them to make sure that they continue to do well.
• Play dates can be a negative reinforcer for parents whose children require a lot of attention and undivided one-on-one time. By having other children to play and interact with, the parent can have a break from providing undivided attention. It is more likely, that in the future, the parent will want to continue to schedule more social interactions for their children.