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Natural Reinforcers

From http://www.users.qwest.net/~tbharris/reinforcers.htm

Natural Reinforcer List

Give "go play" and pull child back to you by back of shirt. Do several times. It usually builds a smile and a lot of times when you don't grab the shirt the child will back up to you to do so.

"I'm gonna eat your toes!" Take child's foot toward your mouth with pretend chomping sounds. Doesn't seem to make a difference if the child has receptive language or not, just the anticipation after the first or second time of trying to pull away with laughter, the child usually gives you the other foot.

Say "do this" and make roar sound. When child does, act terrified and fall off chair. May take a few "do this" but most kids love the idea of making you react.

Instructor puts head into child’s stomach, tickly burrowing of head, real laughter zone.

Wind up your hand like it is a toy until your wrist hurts (almost), use cranking sound effects, then let it go and flap your hand wildly over the table and child in flip flop motion.

Fall asleep and snore loudly on child's lap then wake up suddenly for the school bell -- ding ding ding.

Do emotions like -- mad [ggrrrrrr], sad [real sappy boo hoo hoo and drip water on face for tears (all very fake)], happy [with the happy song and dance]. Sad has been number one requested for the last three years, I guess I got the drama right.

Say give me five or high five but lose your hand in your sleeve, have child help you find, then lose other hand, etc.

Position water bottle above child's head, tilt ever so slightly in anticipatory way, drop droplet. Most kids dig this big time. Fair play however is allowing them to get you and they are usually less reserved about the amount they drop!

Lean over until child leans on your back then pick him up, hanging behind you, "where is (child)?" "(Child's name), where aaaarrrreeee you?"

Wear a hooded sweatshirt with a draw string and make your head disappear as you tighten string, ask child to help to get you out.

Bubble gum -- 4 out of 5 dentists recommend chewing sugarless gum between trials -- just kidding but a big bubble with a big pop is a big reinforcer for most.

Hand grenade deliverance of primary reinforcers -- instead of giving an M&M, pretend to send it thru the air with a whistling sound until it gets to child's mouth then explodes (ie you make exploding sound).

Smell feet with dramatic "p.u.!!" and pass out on floor. Most children will proceed to put their feet in the proximity of your nose real soon.

Put child on table for some break dancing. Lay child's stomach on table w/head toward you and feet away. Put left hand by feet and right by head to generate a pretty good right moving spin.

Make child fly on your feet, then say "it's Barney's turn" and make Barney fly on feet, then child again, etc. (bonus--intro to turn taking)

Pick up telephone – "it's for you, (child)" -- add in dialog.

Say "raise arms" then tickle.

Have child push your nose and have your tongue come out -- pull left ear, tongue goes right and vice versa.

Make Barney, Buzz or Woody doll do trials.

Look for the "tickles" – "Where'd they go? Oh tickles, come out. Wait, there they are!" then find the tickle spot.

Turn table to side with legs toward you, hide until child stands up to find you, then either roar or act scared.

Disco -- "I hope I don't drop you..." with child in arms, then pretty low to floor with "whew! thank goodness"

The table is a tent when you put a blanket over it, crawl underneath in chase mode or hiding.

Swing cardboard in front of child to create wind.

Put socks on child's hands then say "do this" and clap or other wacky commands.

"Oh you want a (food) in your ear? Nooooooo. In your nose? Noooo. On your head? Nooooo. Oh, in your mouth!"

Put child on lap "Mr. Froggy's sitting on a rock, along comes instructor and the froggy goes kerplop!" throw child on couch or beanbag chair.

Thumb wrestle

Sing Barry Manilow songs "Copa cabana" brings out the dancing side in us all...(C'mon, admit it)

Give raspberry's to the belly and/or fake tickly kisses to the ticklish part of the neck.

Hair Torture -- lay child down and gently sweep your hair over their face with "oh, no" or whatever thing to let him know it is coming.

Pillow fights

Put child on lap, facing away from you, for motorcycle ride, use your fists as handle bars and rev up, go around curves by leaning child left or right with all important motorcycle sounds. Then crash!!

The palm as monster. Draw a monster on your palm. Use other hand to hold wrist of monster palm so it can't get you. However, we all know monster palm is stronger. elicit child's help to get rid of monster palm.

Have child feed you.

Do dance from ‘The King and I" with the dance where you just walk one way, then turn your body and cheeks and walk the other way.

Put tape over your mouth and try to talk, or pretend you're trying to keep your hand from covering your mouth but can't.


"I have a secret" then raspberries to the ear

"Jump" by Van Halen with a model, we jump when he tells us to.

Line your chairs up next to each other and go for a car ride. Seatbelts on. Check left and right for traffic, beep the horn, etc.

Achey breaky heart

Roll up tightly in blanket and give "come here", don't do with child who won't understand the silliness of the situation.

Pull child by blanket wrapped around his/her waist in circles then "nope we gotta go left, no right, left..."

"I'm a little tea pot" but have water pour out on just "tip me over and pour me out".

Aladdin's magic carpet -- put child on towel or blanket and pull him across floor.

Hit child's chest (gently please) with alternating palms so they can hear the funny difference between making a sound with reverberation.

Play kick the can

Water the plants

Imitate child -- child says uh and puts hand on table and you do. After a while child realizes he can run the show in reinforcement.

Elevator rides -- pick him up -- "First floor!" -- higher -- "Second floor" -- "Do you want to go to the third floor?" Then "Oh no, the elevator is going sideways!"

Chair rides -- "Fasten your seatbelt! Hold on to the chair!" Begin to lift chair off ground slowly. If child is fearful, go slow, but keep pushing with an eye on his face -- you may be amazed at how quickly he'll ask for more. Warning, this can result in injury to either of you -- only for the strong!

Chair tipping (same warnings!) -- "Fasten your seatbelt! Hold on to the chair!" Tip back just a bit at first. Next time a bit more.

Piggy back rides -- Go some place fun (imaginary!). Watch out for the pot-holes in the road!

Spiders with your hand: let him SPLAT!

(Pretend) removing body parts -- "I got your nose -- I'll put it in my pocket -- want it back?"

Mix up your nose and his nose, ears, trade fingers with the cat.

Stuffing stuffed animals down the back of his shirt, up his pants leg, in his sleeves.

Pick up by the armpits for a big spin (don't fall over!)

Also learned from a master, the face pump-up -- "Pump me up!" (mimic two-handed bicycle pump while inflating cheeks). Now you can't talk, but hold his hands and have him POP! your mouth. Next time, pretend you have a leak and have him plug it.

Hot hands -- his hands on yours, he has to pull them away before you can slap them.

Hand game -- hand over hand over hand over hand -- flat or on a pole, as you would do when choosing 'firsts' with a baseball bat.

Crack an egg on his head -- no, not a real egg! -- one fist on top, hit it with the palm of your other hand, then both hands 'dribble' down his face -- yuk!

Borrow science tricks -- baking soda dropped into vinegar makes a nice fizz!

Musical chairs or silly dancing then FREEZE! when the music stops.

Borrow magic tricks -- pull a candy out of his ear.

Electroshock (simulated please!) -- use your fists as 'shock pads' anywhere on his body -- or have him do it to you and get very silly.

"Glomulator" -- draw buttons on paper, have him press one -- it makes you "glom" (make something up!) press another one, you stop, another, you hop. He never knows quite what will happen.

Silly noises, may accompany pump-up (above)

Blowing or saying silly things into a cup to hear the echo



Holding his ankles and gently stomping his feet on the floor

Raspberries on his palm

Singing a line of a favorite song

Shaking his chair like an earthquake

Anything that makes him anticipate -- crawling a "spider" up his arm then quickly tickling him under the chin while making sounds that indicate "I'm coming to get you...."


Manipulating her arms and legs so she is "swimming" or doing a "cheer" for herself

Turning her chair into a "rocket" which lifts off after a countdown

Singing silly songs while you bounce her on your knee

Singing songs using her name within the song

Having her stuffed animals jump and cheer for her

Using a puppet which nibbles on her toes and fingers

"Chopping" tomatoes on her back

Whispering something silly in her ear

Hanging her upside down and pretending she's a broom

Imitating lines and characters from her favorite movies or cartoons, i.e. Pumbaa saying "Hakuna matata" or Donald Duck saying "That was just wonderful"

Having her push an imaginary button to turn on a "kissing machine"

Playing chase games

Put child between your legs facing away and pretend you are rowing a boat while singing "row, row, row your boat" gradually increase pace of rowing until it is very silly

Put a blanket over table and go camping. Share time in tent or go to tickle from varying directions while child is under table and you are outside, really mix it up so child doesn't know where you are coming from

In drawing especially, use drawing as a reinforcer i.e. child draws square appropriately and instructor draws character or letters of child's name or makes paper airplane

Long hair can be a plus. Be Cousin It with glasses over your hair

For those using crayola washable markers, "where is thumbkin" is a lot more fun with smiley faces on your thumbs

Silly String

Bob for apples

Put a tissue on your face and blow it into the air and have child do same -- this actually can be very fun!

Those hair clips that are big now fit neatly on your wrist or a child's and make great teeth when you are a lion or tiger -- they are also fun for "talking" when you squeeze and release them like a puppet

This sounds cruel, but I have one guy who loves it. I tie his socks together then give him a "come here" -- I stay within catching distance...

Blow up a balloon, start to hand to child then let it go dance across the room crazily

Make a box and change what you put inside and make it fun to feel gak or playdoh or rice and beans

Push child's chair back on hind legs (only on carpet with fisher price chairs or the likes) and then (while holding chair or shirt) pretend you are trying to grab him but can't "oh no, grab on, hurry...(I am trying to get this one across on paper but it isn't easy)

Attach two soda bottles together with that plastic thing to make a tornado--throw in food coloring, some sparkles, and even a small plastic cow if you want to get the twister effect...

Remember when we used to take crayons and color five or six different colors then cover all with black crayon and take a coin to rub it off? I suggest preparing in advance four or five sheets and then it is fun to rub off together

Throw child over your shoulder then let him slip down until you are holding his feet then pretend you can't find him and while you are holding him pretend you are looking for him

Put your shoe on your head and try to act like nothing is wrong

Smoke from your finger tips -- that you get from the same store that sells gum that turns your mouth blue and whoopee cushions

"I got your nose" -- grab child's nose and then put your thumb thru your pointer and ring finger and show child you have his nose

Rob a bank with bonanza music in the background

Especially on a squishy couch or back to the ole bean bag chair, sit on child (distribute your weight with your arms to side) and say "where's (name)?"

Play mad scientist -- get bottles of things that look or smell cool and pour away [alka-selzer or those bath tablets, etc]

Bob Marley (need I say more--reggae is the backbone of having fun)


Be Gallagher -- splat fruit with a hammer (outside therapy only)

Staple paper together--kids love this, we just forget how cool it is

High five, down low, no, too slow

Pretend phone calls with a banana -- hello, it is for you

Put a ball or pillow in child's shirt in the back and wait for him to get it

Shaving cream can be really fun into a mountain on table that car crashes thru or just to touch

Holographic wrapping paper or discs

Make blocks into a birthday cake and sing and blow out candle blocks

Wax lips or the glasses that have the eyes pop out

Karaoke -- most cheap stereos come with karaoke spots now and the microphones are cheap -- worth getting

That spot just above the knee that you squeeze and it can't help but tickle

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