How To Make Your Parent Sessions More Effective

Effective Parent Training Strategies

Remember my obsession with SMART goals? (I wrote about it here) Well, today I’m all about using “AR” to make your parent training sessions actionable and realistic (did anyone else think accelerated reading?).

A few years ago, I taught a parent how to take ABC data. It used a simple chart, and we went through plenty of examples through different handouts and shared ABC data from her son’s sessions. We were both wide-eyed and very engaged in the session, and I was very proud of how involved the parent was. We found an opportunity to collect ABC data over the weekend, since her son had a play date scheduled and we were focusing on his problem behavior with peers.

Mom was GREAT! She came back with 2 full pages of ABC data. However, I needed more details. While some entries were perfect, there were a few descriptions that weren’t written in observable terms. I found myself at fault because we focused on antecedents (A) and consequences (C) , but not so much on observable terms. To follow up, I coded the pages with my handy dandy highlighter and made notes of areas that needed elaboration. I also made sure to praise as much as I could because the parent did everything I asked her to. As for myself, I made notes. As the trainer, I should have:

1. Taken ABC data with the parent before I gave her homework.

2. Given definitions of observable behavior.

As I evolved in this field, I found ways to break down the parent goals into steps (and lessons), which I share in Roadmap to ABA Parent Training. To accompany the sets of SMART Goals for each topic (What is ABA? (ABCs of Behavior), Mand Training, and Prompts), there is a Parent Workbook that is guided by the trainer to make the goals actionable with each parent session.

Here’s an example of goal number 1 (out of 10) in What is ABA?

After reviewing the “Let’s Assess” section of the Parent Guide, What is ABA?, the parent will correct 5 non-example statements of observable behavior at 100% completion by the end of the parent session with the trainer.

S  |  Identify examples vs. non-examples of observable behavior.

M  |  5 statements at 100% completion.

A  |  Parent will correct list of non-examples.

R  |  Parent will learn differences between examples and non-examples of observable behavior.

T  |  Can be completed by the end of the parent session.

In the Parent Workbook, you’ll find worksheets similar to this one (below). You’ll see the numbers on top correspond with the SMART Goals (number 1) and instructions to complete the section. For this example, you see 5 corrected statements and 5 statements needing correction. Will you do them with me?



(non-example) I knew he wanted to watch TV.
I saw him sit on the couch.

(non-example) David liked his new toy.
David smiled and opened his new toy immediately.

(non-example) Sophie got excited when the kid asked her to play with him.
Sophie looked at me and shouted, “Mom! Can I go play?” with a big smile.

(non-example) I dropped everything and said, “Let’s go.”
I immediately stopped washing the dishes and said, “Let’s go.”

(non-example) He was being selfish.
He quickly hugged his toy and turned his body away.

How did we do? I noticed that using the Parent Workbook also opened the door for discussion of real-life examples going on at the family’s home, which, in turn, sets the parents up for success when needing to write their own ABC data.

My favorite thing about these goals is that they are simple. They can be done right there with me during my parent session, and we’re making progress toward 1 overall goal (e.g. learning the ABCs of behavior). I used to teach ABCs of behavior in 1 session, but I found I can teach this one topic over a series of sessions to really focus on each component.

As a disclaimer, I do want to note the Parent Workbooks are not meant as a self-guided practice for parents. I find more success when completing the workbooks together for immediate feedback. It also works like a data sheet to show parents are meeting their goals with each session.

Here is a list of ways to make your parent training sessions actionable:

  • Identify and write real-life examples relating to the topic.
  • Focus on a few behaviors at a time.
  • Role-play with the parent.
  • Take data alongside the parent in the child’s ABA session.
  • Establish specific time frames when assigning homework (e.g. 3 entries per day, or 5 minutes once per week).
  • Provide checklists of a procedure to implement.

What other things do you do?

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