Effective ABA Strategies for Parents

If you read our blog about ABA Techniques and Teaching Methods, or if you have done some outside research on the basics of ABA teaching, you probably have some foundational knowledge of the different teaching methods associated with ABA. However, you may be in a situation where more than just the basics are necessary. How can you implement these methods with the specific behaviors that your child is exhibiting? How can you alter the way you try to teach your child everyday activities, like brushing teeth or washing hands? The following article will illustrate ABA strategies that could be useful to you in these situations, and give you a head start in helping your child succeed and grow.

ABA strategies for common child behaviors

Any ABA therapy plan is comprised of some key ingredients that will be necessary as a framework for a more individualized plan. An example of some of these are reinforcement, behavior definitions, prompting, structured teaching moments, natural teaching moments, etc. All of these ABA strategies are taken as a general idea and would be specifically molded to fit your child’s needs and skill sets. They also are adapted and individualized based on certain behaviors that are being targeted or certain skills that need more development. The following will illustrate more about these specific ideas.

Strategies for tantrum behavior

It’s important to know that with all ABA plans, there are going to be times that are more difficult than others. When tantrum behavior occurs with your child, you have to trust that the ABA plan put into place will be effective, and in order for it to be effective, it should be followed as the plan states. Consistency in sticking with the plan or strategy developed is the only option – wavering from this can create setbacks in improving the behavior.

Before the tantrum

There may be certain factors or events in your child’s life that create more chance for tantrum behavior to occur. This could be a trip to a crowded place, or it could be a necessary daily task like brushing teeth before bed that triggers tantrum behavior. For these instances, it would be beneficial to keep your child in the loop. Talk to your child and make sure they know about upcoming events or expectations of daily tasks ahead of time to better prepare them for these instances. You could create a visual weekly schedule for appointments, trips to the store, etc. A daily schedule can be used for tasks and chores that come up throughout the day such as cleaning the bedroom or brushing teeth before bedtime. Going over these schedules with your child at the start of each day or week could serve as a huge help in preventing the tantrum behavior.

During and after the tantrum

The most important thing to keep in mind while your child is in the midst of tantrum behavior is to stay calm. While these behaviors can be frustrating in the moment, you have to remember that escalating with your child will only be detrimental to the progress you’re seeking. A lot of times children will feed off of intense energy and that reaction would be more likely to further escalate the behavior rather than to deescalate it. You as a parent shouldn’t be yelling, threatening to take things away, etc.

What is the reason for the tantrum?

When your child is exhibiting tantrum behavior, or after the tantrum behavior has occurred, you should ask yourself “what is/was the consequence of this tantrum?” or “what is/was my child looking to get out of this behavior?” When your child is exhibiting tantrum behavior, it’s usually because they are seeking some specific outcome, whether it be an escape from an activity, attention, and more. If your child is consistently getting access to this outcome at the end of the behavior, it’s more than likely the behavior will continue to occur in the future. If you know what the child may be looking for out of their tantrum, you can more effectively handle the consequences of the behavior next time it occurs.

Be consistent and follow through

In relation to this point, one other ABA strategy to keep in mind is to always follow through. No matter how frustrating and overwhelming tantrum behavior can seem, it’s important to not waver from your stance. If your child knows that all he or she needs to do to get what they want is to be persistent with their tantrum, the behaviors will continue. By not following through, you would be giving your child access to the outcome they’re seeking, basically reinforcing the behavior. If you stay consistent to what is expected in terms of behavior, you will start to see your child’s behavior improve in these situations.

ABA strategies for aggressions

Much like with tantrum behavior, addressing aggressive behavior requires trust in the ABA plan set forth by the doctors and BCBA’s involved as well as consistency and following through with that specific plan. It can certainly be an overwhelming experience to address these behaviors, but trusting the process is key.

Remain calm and neutral

Aggressions tend to be an action that children use to elicit a reaction and is usually looking for an immediate response due to something they’re feeling. For example, your child may exhibit aggression when hungry. Much like tantrum behavior however, it’s important not to give in to this impulse action that your child displays. By reacting and giving in to what your child is expecting out of the aggressive behavior, you would be more or less encouraging the behavior to continue. Instead, the best way to deal with aggressions acted out by your child is to remain calm and neutral. Like tantrums, intense reactions will only escalate the behavior. Remaining neutral and calmly redirecting your child to a different method of communicating what they want is the way to deal with this.

Use visuals or timers

Sometimes the aggressive behavior your child exhibits is an attempt to access something that may not be appropriate for that situation or just isn’t available at that time. For example, your child may be aggressive because he or she wants access to their iPad outside of the time you’ve designated for iPad. In this situation, again, it’s important to remain calm and neutral, redirect your child to another activity or item, and provide either a visual or verbal reminder of when the iPad is available. If appropriate, a timer could be used to allow your child to see how long before the iPad will be available.

ABA strategies for anxiety

When your child is experiencing anxiety with specific situations, it’s common to feel helpless as a parent. It’s a difficult thing to overcome for your child and at the same time, a difficult thing to address as a parent. The key to improving your child’s anxiety is to be patient and don’t try to rush your child’s exposure to whatever is making him or her anxious.

Introduce anxiety driven situations slowly and methodically

If your child is exhibiting anxiety in certain situations, there are certain ABA strategies that can help remedy this. For example, your child may have a fear over riding on a train. One way of tackling this issue would be to slowly introduce mild situations related to riding on a train. You could begin with showing your child videos of people riding on trains and talk about what the people are doing while on the train, what they’re talking about, where they’re going, etc.

Create a social story

Next, you could create a social story about going for a ride on a train. A social story is a story that you can write specifically about a situation your child will be experiencing. Be positive in the events you include within the social story, emphasizing that positivity throughout each step from planning the ride to arriving at the train station to actually stepping on the train.

Ease your child into the environment

Last, you could bring your child to the train station without actually stepping on the train,  showing your child that people every day are getting on and off the train. Slowly integrating different exposure steps is a great ABA strategy for making your child more comfortable in what would normally be an anxious situation.

ABA strategies for hygiene routine

ABA strategies are also perfect for difficulty with hygiene routines, such as showering or brushing teeth. Let’s say your child is having a hard time tolerating brushing teeth and is not allowing you to brush them thoroughly enough or refuses to brush thoroughly enough on their own; using ABA strategies that we’ve already talked about will also be beneficial in this situation.

Use visuals

Create a visual aid for your child to use during the brushing process. You could have an image of a set of teeth, marking off different sections of the mouth. After each section is brushed, your child could then mark off this section on the visual, providing a visual representation of how much left there is to brush.

Use a timer

You could also utilize a timer, either for each section of the mouth or for the entire process of brushing teeth. This will take the guesswork out for your child, allowing them a way of knowing just how long they have left.

Overview of ABA strategies

When trying to implement the ABA strategies necessary to decrease unwanted behaviors mentioned, it’s important to keep these main points and ideas in mind:

1.)  Keep your child in the loop

You shouldn’t be the only one who knows what will be coming next throughout the day, week or even month (when referring to big events). Keeping your child in the loop with scheduled events or tasks will go a long way in preparing your child and keeping unwanted surprises out of the picture.

2.)  Be consistent and always follow through

As a parent you should set your expectations for behavior as well as tasks that are necessary throughout the day or week. They should be appropriate for your child’s needs and skills, but once these expectations are set you need to be consistent with them. There should be little to no wavering on your part when it comes to them, and you should not ask for more than these expectations. If you believe your child is ready for more, then this should be addressed appropriately, and new expectations should be made apparent to your child.

3.)  Acknowledge your child’s compliance and good behavior

You will no doubt be happy to see your child complete a chore successfully without any unwanted behaviors or see them exhibit appropriate behavior in what’s usually a difficult environment for your child. This happiness should be shared with them. Celebrate the moment with vocal praise or rewarding your child with a preferred play activity so that the moment can be positive for everyone involved. Your child should feel the accomplishment of making their parents proud.

4.)  Always stay calm

No matter how frustrating it may get when your child is exhibiting the tantrum behavior in the store or is refusing to brush their teeth before bed, you can’t outwardly show your frustration. By showing frustration and yelling in these moments or making any sort of threatening comments like taking items away/threatening with “timeouts,” the behavior won’t improve. The behavior may stop in that moment, but there will be no long-term benefit and it may even cause your child to feel anxious, scared, angry, sad or embarrassed. It’s important to keep in mind that your child is learning to better cope with their emotions and to deal with undesired activities/environments in a more effective way. As a parent, it’s necessary for you to help that process progress and sometimes that means just taking a deep breath and trusting the ABA strategies that have been proven to work.

By following the ABA strategies addressed in this article, you and your child will see progress towards eliminating those unwanted behaviors, making each day an easier and better experience for everyone involved.

Scottsdale Pediatric Behavioral Services and its support with ABA strategies

At SPBS, we ourselves follow these main points during our therapy sessions. Having seen so much progress with our patients, we are confident that you can have the same success with your child. We are constantly providing support and more knowledge for you as parents to ensure you are doing everything you can for your child and in the most effective way possible.