Top parenting strategies


Whether you have a special needs child or a typically-developing child, these top parenting strategies for changing and directing behavior are key! We already know that guiding behavior is hard, but as we learn the science behind behavior, top parenting strategies emerge. The following strategies are used every day with ABA therapists and can be used by you, at home, too.

Prompting and fading:

What is it?

A prompt can include anything that helps a child respond to a demand or a command. There is a ‘hierarchy’ to prompts, from most ‘hands on’ to least.

How can I implement it?

  • Full physical involves full manipulation to get the child to complete the task or commend (hand over hand).
  • Partial physical is less intrusive, but still requires physical prompting, like a light touch or nudge.
  • Touch prompting involves a direct touch, but without direction, like a hand on an arm or a pat on the leg as a reminder.
  • Imitative prompting involves demonstrating the action you’d like to see.
  • Gestural prompting involves pointing at, looking at, or gesturing toward the task or thing you’d like done.
  • Positional prompting is when you simply place an item in a prominent place to prompt the child.
  • Verbal prompting can range from verbally giving the correct response before giving the command all the way to phonetic prompting, where you give the first sound or syllable, to indirect verbal, in which you give the child a hint.
  • Visual or demonstrative prompting is where you model the behavior you want to see.

The ‘fading’ part of prompting and fading is just that…the part where you phase out the prompt the child needs. Start with the most physical of prompts and slowly fade to visual or demonstrative, or nothing at all.

Task analysis:

What is it?

The breaking down of tasks into small, manageable pieces. This will make it easier for your child to
learn the skill, increase success in the process.

How can I implement it?

Start by doing the skill yourself, and writing down the steps along the way. Be detailed with the steps, bearing in mind the age of your child. It’s better to have too many steps rather than not enough. Make sure everyone in your child’s life is using the same task analysis steps, in the exact same order.

Note: ensuring every step is identified helps with ‘chaining’. With chaining, it’s important to teach only one step of a new skill at a time. Don’t rush the steps!

Once you have identified the steps, create a visual board or a written step-by-step reminder, and place it in the appropriate place. For example, if you are creating a task analysis for brushing teeth, it may look a lot like this:

  • Put toothpaste on toothbrush.
  • Get toothbrush wet.
  • Turn back off the water.
  • Brush teeth while counting to 100.
  • Spit and rinse toothbrush.
  • Wash out sink.
  • Place toothbrush back in holder.

Visual and independent activity schedules:

What is it?

Visual schedules are pictures or illustrations of steps in a routine that are displayed in order. They allow the child to see and follow the order of steps in a routine. You might use visual activity schedules when your child’s routine has changed, such as when they start a new school or have a new teacher.

Independent activity schedules are a series of pictures that direct a child to complete a sequence of activities on their own. You can organize an independent activity schedule in any way you’d like–a poster, a video, or a binder–but most parents use binders with pictures on each page to prompt the child to complete the tasks.

How can I implement it?

Create a visual schedule of your child’s day and place it on a bulletin board or on a door where they will see it every day. This process can help your child feel more secure about their daily schedule. You can also use visual schedules for routine daily activities, like going to the bathroom, washing hands, or doing a household chore. Just use the task analysis model above!

Create independent activity schedules by placing the steps to 2-3 activities in a binder and prompting your child to work through the binder independently. Make sure all the supplies and materials needed to do the activities are in their correct places in the room. For example, if one activity is to complete a favorite puzzle, make sure the puzzle is stored in the expected location and that all puzzle pieces are there! Remember that you may need to use prompting to get your child moving in the right direction at first.

Video modeling:

What is it?

In video modeling, your child learns by watching a video demonstration of the skill or targeted behavior. It’s that simple! The cool thing is, video modeling has additional benefits for your child, such as teaching social skills, empathy, and point of view.

How can I implement it?

Create your own video! First, create your script (it should be simple), and assemble the items you need. If your video will teach the steps for brushing teeth, film in the bathroom, using all the items needed. Go slowly and step by step! Allow your child to rewatch the video regularly.

First-Then boards:

What is it?

First-Then boards teach reward, cause and effect, and motivation. A board will show a first activity that needs to be completed, then a ‘rewarding’ activity that follows.

How can I implement it?

Using a poster or paper, draw two large boxes. Draw or write an activity in a first box that you wish for your child to do. Then draw or write a preferred activity in the second box. This must be something the child wants badly enough to complete the first task! For example: FIRST BOX = homework, SECOND BOX = video game time.

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Top parenting strategies for changing unwanted behavior!

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