Environmental Preparation

In this video, we will explore how parents can best prepare the environment prior to teaching a skill to a child. 

It is important that the area in which the skill you want to teach is prepared before you bring the child into the area to increase the chances of having a successful and less stressful teaching experience.

  • First, it is important that the area in which you are teaching the skill, whether it be in their bedroom, the bathroom or the kitchen, be paired with good things. Does your child actively avoid the bathroom because they are always asked to do something unpleasant like brush their teeth or wash their hands? Try to bring your child to these areas with some of their more preferred items and activities, during a time in which they don't need to complete a task. We want them to want to go to these areas when they need to, so by pairing preferred items and activities with these areas, we can increase the odds that they will come with us.
  • Second, make sure you have any items needed to complete the skill in the area where the task is to be completed, but in natural and appropriate places where they can be kept every day. For example, if they need a plate for a snack, always keep the plate in a cabinet that is easy to access near where he or she will usually be preparing their snack. Keep their toothbrush, toothpaste and hand towel near the bathroom sink, so that they have easy access to these items when it's time to brush their teeth. This will make achieving independence much easier, as they will always know where to get the items needed to complete the task.
  • Third, try to reduce the response effort as much as possible when you are first training a skill. Don't twist caps onto containers too tightly, or even loosen them before you bring the child in for a training session. Keep complementary items, like shoes and socks, in the same location if possible. Don't put items in places that are hard to reach, unless they are hazardous of course. You want to make completing the task independently as simple as possible!
  • Fourth, add visual prompts or aides to the environment before the session if you see instances in which they may be helpful. We like to use picture schedules, such as this one for washing hands, which may help your child keep track of the steps they need to take to complete the task. But prompts can also be smaller: put a mark on the faucet where the water temperature is appropriate to avoid potential burns. If your child often loses track of which cabinet his snack is in, put a sticker on the cabinet to signal where he should look. These small additions to the environment may be very helpful to new learners, and can be faded or slowly removed as he becomes more proficient at the task.

We hope you find these environmental preparation tips helpful when getting ready to teach your child a new skill.