What If I Don’t Want to Always Use a Treat?

After my bribery vs. reinforcement series, I had a lot of conversations and comments on the delivery of a reinforcer. I had parents suggesting that they sometimes feel frustrated when their kids only complete a task when they ‘get’ something for it. This seems unreasonable and frankly, not preparing them for the real world!

Okay, let’s talk about this! I completely agree and I had this EXACT conversation with my graduate learners in my lecture on the same day this topic posted on my blog. How do we avoid this? The goal is for your child to eventually reach a natural contingency of reinforcement. Meaning- we want them to be content earning a reinforcement that they would receive in the ‘real world’. This could include a high five, maybe verbal praise or even the satisfaction of the completed task! However, it is unreasonable to think that they will get to this point overnight if you are choosing to provide a tangible reinforcer… Below is a suggestion to getting from point A to point B.

gummy treats for reinforcement

Fade Out Your Reinforcement

You have to begin somewhere which is why starting with the presentation of a tangible (e.g. giving a treat after completing a homework assignment) is effective! However, you will eventually need to fade out the delivery of reinforcement because it is not reasonable to ALWAYS give a treat to ensure your child will complete a task.

Let me set the stage: Lets say you tell your child that if she independently brushes her hair, you will give her a sticker. Your child successfully completes the task which results in a sticker… YAY! But, now where do you go from here to ensure that you won’t ALWAYS have to give her a tangible reinforcer so she will complete this important self maintenance task? Enter fading!

  • Your child brushes her hair every day for a week and every day, she earns her sticker…
  • The next week, you give her a sticker every other day. Every day, you are either providing verbal praise or a high five after successful completion of hair brushing
  • The following week, you provide her a sticker every third day after successful completion of brushing her hair. Every day, you are either providing verbal praise or the child is proud of themselves after the completed task of hair brushing… Catch my drift?

kid earns sticker for brushing hair

You are fading out the delivery of the sticker and switching it out with verbal praise or a high five. The slow removal of the tangible reinforcer is helping to reach a natural contingency of reinforcement. It is also ensuring that you are continuing to strengthen the new behavior of brushing her hair… The result- a new behavior and one less thing mama has to do… BOOM!


If you have any other questions, please ask away! I want to ensure that I am addressing any lingering thoughts :).

7 Replies to “What If I Don’t Want to Always Use a Treat?”

  1. Hi! I would love to hear your thoughts on helping your child when they feel angry and yell or scream without hurting themselves or others. I feel like some children are sad or have a “tantrum” but my daughter is genuinely angry. I want to help her understand and work through her feelings.

    1. I will definitely get in to understanding WHY our children are behaving the way that they are. Having this knowledge will help us as parents address so many behavioral issues which results in helping our little ones regulate their own behaviors with more ease. I will private message you to obtain more information :).

    1. Yes! I definitely use treats with my girls because it is a great way to reinforce appropriate behaviors :). But, it is important to fade it out! But man oh man did we use a TON of treats during potty training, haha!

    1. Exactly… Which is why it is SOOO important to fade out those gummy bears if you choose to provide treats! BTW, I do not provide my girls treat for brushing their hair, haha. That was just an example that I used to try to explain :).

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