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Reinforcement vs. Discipline

Parenting is a wonderful and exciting journey, but it is extremely difficult at times. Each child is different and can present unique challenges in problem solving, disciplining, and implementing routines. As a result, each parenting method is different. At Yellow Brick Road, we work with your child as an individual to positively and negatively reinforce them in healthy ways to encourage their unique personality and character. To help give a better understand, let’s take a look at what positive and negative reinforcement look like and some examples of each. Afterward, we will compare and explain reinforcements versus discipline, or punishment, and help distinguish the differences. Once there is an understanding of what each action looks like, you will be able to determine which is most effective for your child.

Before we dive into what positive and negative reinforcement can look like, let’s take a look at the definition of each. Contrary to popular belief, negative reinforcement does not mean it is bad and positive does not mean it’s good. Let’s take a deeper look.

Positive Reinforcement

First off, positive reinforcement does not mean it is the only, well, positive way to reinforce them.  Positive reinforcement simply means there is an encouraging response after a desired action is performed. Positive is the act of adding something with the intention of increasing the response or action. When there is encouragement response given after an action, the child is likely to perform the same type of action or behavior in the future.


  • Child cleans up her room: Parent gives praise.
  • Child brushes her teeth: Parent awards them their favorite treat (or the next day if it’s in the evening).
  • Child earns A’s on her report card: Parent gives her $5 for each A

Negative Reinforcement

Just as positive reinforcement does not equate to good, negative reinforcement does not mean it is inherently bad. Negative reinforcement is the act of removing something after a certain behavior is presented. This type of reinforcement shows that there is consequence when poor behavior is present. Something important to note with negative reinforcement is that it is not discipline. This reinforcement is designed to increase proper behavior.


  • Child is told that once they finish their brussel sprouts, they may leave the table.
  • Child is given the choice to play with a toy while their favorite toy is being played with. When offered they say no, and the toy is taken away.
  • Parent continues to ask child to put their toys away. Child puts away toys and parent stops asking.

It’s important to not parallel negative reinforcement with discipline. Negative reinforcement is designed to also increase desired behavior, through means of removing specific adverse stimulus.

Both of these reinforcement tactics are important to understand when raising a child. Learning to separate the concept of negative reinforcement and discipline is one of the most crucial aspects. Let’s take a quick look at discipline to compare and grasp the difference.


The purpose of discipline is to penalize a child for an undesired behavior through adding For example, if a child misbehaves and receives a spanking, this is a form of discipline. The act of spanking is used as a way of helping the child understand that negative behavior produces consequences. As a result, the child will understand if she does not act with said behavior, she will not receive the discipline. Much like positive and negative reinforcement, there is positive and negative discipline as well. As previously discussed, positive refers to something being added, and negative refers to something being removed.

Research has shown that forms of positive discipline, such as touching a hot stove top and getting burned from it, is more effective than negative discipline, like removing a child from her favorite activity if she wasn’t behaving appropriately. Once the undesired action or behavior is presented, follow up with the discipline as closely to the incident as possible, each time it happens. Consistency is key in achieving effective results and teaching your child the pattern of what she can expect when she misbehaves.

Understanding each action affiliated with reinforcement and discipline is necessary when approaching a child’s behavior. At Yellow Brick Road, we strive to teach each child the healthy stages of behavioral approaches and responses of reinforcements and discipline. We understand there are wide varieties of differences in personality for children, and provide a nurturing and compassionate staff to guide them through personal growth and development. Using the gold curriculum, your child will learn and grow based on the way they learn. With two locations, we provide an opportunity for multiple families in Plymouth and Minnetonka to become part of our family, while we invest in yours. Enroll your child in our early childhood development program today and visit our website to learn more about each class and age range we offer.