As I see so many parallels between my professional background and parenting techniques, I’ve decided to write a series of posts on All I Really Need to Know about Parenting I Learned in Marketing. After describing parental rebranding, I would like to move on to another commonly used parenting tactic used to shape desired behavior: positive reinforcement.

Psychology and Consumer Behavior were two of my favorite courses in college.  It is so interesting to learn how our minds work and how we can influence behavior. While the super power of mind control remains oh so elusive, we marketers and parents alike have to work with our current arsenal of tricks.   I commonly turn to operant conditioning.

Operant conditioning is

“…the process of altering the probability of a behavior being emitted by changing the consequence of the behavior.”[1]

When the desired behavior occurs, positive consequences are presented to increase the chances of that behavior occurring in the future.  This is positive reinforcement!

In marketing, you will see frequent purchase incentives, such as buy 5 get 1 free, rebates, coupons, or $ off by referring others to the site. I recently received a $15 credit on Zulily after one of the friends I referred made a purchase.  I happily returned to the site and made a purchase and will continue to do so with that positive reinforcement.

My BEST parenting example of positive reinforcement is potty training. We have been cheering and potty-treating our way to underwear. See this post for our real life story about potty training.  We started with a continuous reinforcement schedule, so every successful trip to the potty earned big sister a potty treat.  Now we are on a fixed ratio schedule for #2’s, so every fifth successful trip to the potty earns a special adventure to the store to choose a small “poopy present.” Big sister now refers to Target as the “poopy present store.” Nice, huh?! Our treat system has been extremely effective, though my son in diapers has also benefited from getting his own treats too.  Eventually we will phase out the treats, saving them only for dinnertime bonus – another form of positive reinforcement for eating well.

How do you use positive reinforcement as a parent?