Deltas – Positively Reinforced

This is for parents who would like to have more positive relationships with their children despite the need to say no!

One of the main things I teach is how to use operant conditioning to improve interpersonal relationships.  I am also a parent and yes, I use these techniques on my child and my husband and no – it’s not manipulative, it’s positively reinforcing the positive behaviors I want to see in myself and them.

What you need to know is that this is all about positive reinforcement. When we think of parenting and we think of discipline, we tend to them of punishment. Discipline and punishment doesn’t really go together though.

If you want to teach behaviors, you have to positively reinforce the behaviors you want, which means you need to think strategically about your own behavior as the parent/trainer and whether or not your behavior is positively reinforcing the behavior you want or not. This is why dog and cat trainers on TV spend more time with the human than with the “problem” animal. It’s usually the animal parent that is causing and rewarding the bad behavior and they are totally unaware they are doing it.

Anyway, let’s get back to parenting. There are signals we give to our children. Some signals are positive – good girl/boy/kid. We call these positive signals Bridges. They tell the child what they just did was good and a reward might be coming. Some signals are negative – NO! We call these negative signals Deltas. It means what the child just did wasn’t good and you want them to stop.

What you need to understand is that these are signal and both the positive and negative signals have their place. Using Delta’s to signal your child to stop is just as important as using Bridges to encourage them. Parents need to be able to ask their kids to stop if they are doing something dangerous and have a reasonable assurance that the child will indeed stop. Deltas aren’t inherently negative. They only become negative if we associate negative things with them.

Just because you issued a Delta or a negative signal doesn’t mean you have to follow it up with a negative experience. Following up a delta or negative signal with punishment is usually counter-productive.

How to use Delta’s like “no” correctly and effectively.
When you issue a delta you are essentially asking the child to stop what they are doing. The signal needs to be disruptive enough that the child pays attention, but not so much that it harms them. It is after all just a signal: a way to communicate with your child that they should stop. The most common Deltas are the word “No” or “Stop” said with a sense of urgency or louder than normal volume.

If your child stops after you ask them to stop they responded correctly to your Delta signal. This is good. This is what you want them to do. If they stop you should immediately thank them for stopping and positively reinforce them, especially when you are first establishing the Delta as a signal. Most parents don’t. They immediately start punishing their child.

If you thank the child for stopping after you issue a delta (negative signal) and reward them for stopping, they associate the signal with a behavior – stopping  - and you giving them positive attention. They associate the Delta positively because your response to their response to your signal was positive.

If you punish them for obeying your Delta signal, you teach them that stopping is negative and they shouldn’t do it because even if they do stop, they are still going to be in trouble, so they might as well continue with what they were doing until you force them to stop. In fact, every time you punish them after asking them to stop, you are encouraging them to stay as far away from you as possible.

If your child is not obeying you – the problem is with you. #justbeinghonest. If you want that to change, change how you respond to them when they do what you want them to do – which is to stop! Always positively reinforce your Deltas!

More on parenting and how to stop unwanted behavior:
The Bully Vaccine -

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