Reinforcement Workshop: Group Guide

In this workshop we will explore activities and interactions to help motivate your child to learn. Reinforcement is used to build self-esteem and independence.

Before the session starts

Materials Required:

  • Icebreaker Handout #1 (Task / Rewards)
  • Handout #2 (Case Studies)
  • Small Toys (cars, bubbles, books)
  • Picture symbols of an apple cut in half and a bus cut into three puzzle pieces

Workshop Content

Introduction of speakers and content.

Hello everyone. Tonight we are going to be talking about how you can motivate your child. This motivation will help him/her to learn to do new things but can also help him to do familiar work, more often. My job tonight will be to facilitate the discussion, to keep us on track and to record some of our thoughts. So let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves and maybe say what brought you out this evening. What would you like to get out of this session?


Provide participants with handout #1 “Tasks/Rewards”. Instruct participants to read each of the tasks listed on the handout. Ask them to check off any possible payment that they would accept to carry out the task. Participants should then circle their first choice for doing each task.


  1. Terms of Reference
  2. Using Reinforcers
  3. How to Select Reinforcers

Large Group Discussion:

(Prep: flipchart and markers)

In this presentation, we are going to use some terms that you may not be familiar with. One of the first ones you will hear is “behaviour”. So let’s spend a few minutes talking about this term. What do we mean when we use this word? (On the flipchart write down responses and the following definition of behaviour).

Behaviour is anything a person does that can be observed. It does not include thoughts or feelings.

Behaviour in children with limited expressive skills, often serves as a means of communication. Investigate the purpose and teach an appropriate alternative.

Another term you will hear is “reinforcement”. Reinforcement is anything, following a behaviour, which increases the likelihood that the behaviour will occur again.

When you hear the terms reward or reinforcement, what do you think of? (List responses on the flipchart).

View Slides 1-3

Large Group Discussion:

In your own life, what are examples of reinforcers and when do you find you need them? (List responses on flipchart).

Group Activity:

(Prep: Handout #1 Task Rewards)

Have everyone discuss the findings from the icebreaker handout within the large group. Discuss why different tasks may require different reinforcers? Why the amount of a reinforcer may be important depending on the task.

View Slides 4-8

Large Group Discussion:

(Prep: flipchart, markers, and several toys)
What are some things that motivate your child and activities that your child finds challenging? Flipchart answers.

How could you use motivating activities to help your child want to do a challenging activity?

On flipchart paper record the participants’ responses into the following categories: tangible reinforcers (favourite toy or video), activity reinforcers (playing a game with a parent) and food rewards.

View Slide 9

Explain how to simplify token economies so that they can be adapted to a greater range of children with intellectual disabilities. You can reference older children and sticker charts. Show several different examples of simplified token economies. Include examples such as an apple picture cut into two halves and/or a bus picture cut into three puzzle pieces. In both examples, the child receives part of the picture as reinforcement for appropriate behaviour. Once the picture is complete, the child gets the item. The item is chosen based on what is highly motivating for the child (a toy, activity, food).

View Slides 10-14

Divide parents into groups of 3-5 people. Each group must select rewards to reinforce the introduction of a new or difficult task. (Possible examples of tasks could be toileting, bedtime routine, safety issues [staying together outside], behaviours such as hitting). Ideally the task chosen should be one that a parent in the group is trying to teach their child. Have the group specify the task, break the task down into smaller steps if necessary and determine how often and for what behaviours the child will be rewarded. Ask them to explain how the reward will be gradually faded. If there is time, a spokesperson for each group can present their plan to the rest of the participants.

View Slide 15

Large Group Discussion:

(Prep: flipchart and markers)
What are some behaviours that children do that we do not want to reinforce? (e.g. hitting, biting, kicking, yelling, running away) What are strategies to try and extinguish these behaviours? (e.g., distraction, replacement, redirection, ignoring).

View Slide 16

Large Group Discussion

(Prep: case study handouts #2a-b Case Studies)
Divide the group into two smaller groups. Provide each group with Handout #2a or 2b Case Studies outlining an individual and challenges. Review the questions on the handouts. Allow the groups time to discuss and then return to larger group to share their answers.


Thank the participants for attending. Ask for any last comments or other topics of interest. Hand out workshop evaluation forms.