Pairing & Engaging with Your Child

Autism Jun 28, 2021

In today’s blog, we’re going to share 5 tips to help with engaging and pairing with your child. In the ABA field, “pairing” refers to the process of building rapport with our clients, and is vital to the therapeutic process as it helps reinforce us as caregivers with items and activities that the child finds fun and exciting. When we become associated with those reinforcing items and activities, we become fun and exciting as well. When successful, pairing will also increase the likelihood of your child being motivated to follow instructions or complete tasks, as they know that they will be reinforced for completing that task with a fun activity with you. This process can provide two major benefits, as it will have a significantly positive impact on the relationship between you and your child, and will also improve their ability to learn new skills in the future.

#1: Get on their level and show open body language

Being on the same level with your child helps make you appear less intimidating and more open to your child than standing or sitting above them. If your child is playing with Lego's on the floor, try to join them on the floor. Being mindful of your body language will also help when trying to pair with your child. Certain postures, like crossing your arms or turning your body away, could indicate to your child that you are not really available or interested in what they are doing. Sitting facing your child with your arms open and leaning towards them will show a more open and accessible demeanor.

#2: Show enthusiasm!

Showing excitement about what your child is doing while providing praise and commenting on their actions is also a great way to pair. Additionally, you can imitate their play and give an animated narrative of what they’re doing. We all prefer to do things with others who share our interests, so when you appear interested in what your child is doing or talking about, it can make them more excited for you to join in their fun.

#3: Control the good stuff, but provide it often

Another great way to build rapport with your child is by directly providing access to their preferred items. While you and your child are playing with toys, you can provide access to additional items throughout play. For example, you could have a box of Legos set aside, and provide additional pieces to your child as they play. While building a tower with green Legos, you might find a few more of those pieces, present them to your child and say, “Here are some more green blocks for your tower!”. This allows your child to pair the presentation of their favorite items and activities with your presence, and makes you that much more reinforcing. When doing this, it is important that you are controlling those preferred items, but still frequently providing them. Essentially, you should be the one directly providing the reinforcers, but you don’t need to make your child ask for them.

#4: Make comments without asking questions or placing demands

Often, when we engage with children, we may be inclined to ask questions such as “What are you playing with?” or “What are you doing?” to engage or fill silence. Although the point of these questions is to learn more about what they are doing or express interest in their activities, they are also placing demands and indicating that you want a response. Additionally, if you ask your child to do something different with their play than what they are currently doing, this is perceived as a task being presented which is interrupting their preferred play, such as “Can you build a car?”. Instead of asking questions, practice commenting on or narrating what your child is doing. If you see your child playing with Lego's, you could say “I love that red car you built!” or “Wow, that’s such a cool house!” You can also add sound effects to your child’s play, as well as label objects or actions. Modeling new play actions around your child without asking them to copy you or try it themselves can also be great for pairing. For instance, you could knock a train off its tracks and say, “Oh no, it crashed!”. If your child shows an interest and tries it themselves, provide excited praise. If they continue with their original toys, simply move on to labeling or imitating their next action.

#5: Follow their lead

When engaging with your child, follow their lead in play. Simply put, do what they do! For example, if your child is building with Lego's, sit next to them and begin building something as well. If your child isn’t playing with a toy the way it’s intended, but they’re being safe and having fun, let them play their way and join in rather than trying to correct or guide your child to play a different way. If your child is making noises or talking while they play, repeat those noises back or respond to what they are saying. By following your child’s lead, you are showing them you are interested and think what they are doing is fun.

Thank you for reading! We hope you find these tips for pairing with your child helpful. Remember, pairing is a continual process and can be used daily, weekly, or whenever you feel you may need to build rapport with your child. If you’d like to learn more about how to pair and engage with your child, please reach out to us for strategies geared toward your child’s specific likes and interests. Have a great day!