Using ABA as a parent

By Leanne Page, M.Ed, BCBA

bSci21 Contributing Writer

Dear Behavior BFF, I’ve followed your column for some time and it sounds like the parents have to put in a lot of work up front to use ABA with their own children. So what’s in it for me? Why should I try so hard? Can I expect my kids to behave perfectly all the time?

In life, there are no guarantees. I wish I could make you some promises and 100% guarantees. I cannot. Every child is different. Every person is different. What I CAN give you is this: the only strategies you will find here or with a designation of behavior analysis are those that have been proven time and time again.

If you search for parenting books or resources online, you will find approximately one gazillion. So why turn to behavior analysis parenting help instead of all these others? Because behavior analysis isn’t just tips for parenting. Behavior analysis is the science of behavior.

Behavior analysis is a study of behavior and the ‘tips’ are actually research-based interventions that have been done repeatedly over several decades with any number of different populations.  Nothing that I write for you here is my own idea. I wish I had amazing original ideas to help improve behavior! I don’t. What I do have is access to a research base of behavior analytic strategies. I choose to find practical ways to share those strategies with parents.

So what’s the point in going to all the effort to learn about behavior analysis and implement these proven strategies in your own family? If your kids won’t suddenly act ‘perfectly’ all the time, is it worth the time and effort?

Here are some key benefits to using behavior analytic tools as a parent:

  • Increase the positives in your home. If you want to see an increase in a desired behavior, use positive reinforcement. Give your child praise, rewards, tangibles, token systems, etc. when they engage in the desired behavior. Focus on the positives. Spend your time and effort on praising your child, encouraging your child, and teaching the steps in the appropriate behaviors. Don’t spend your time scolding, arguing, yelling, or nagging. Behavior analytic tools can help you increase the positives!
  • Using any strategy- systematic application of positive reinforcement, the Premack principle, a token economy, differential reinforcement, you name it- the key is consistency. As a parent, it is only natural to have an emotional response to any problem behaviors your child has. If you have some systems in place, you are able to stick to the consistent response for your child. Building on that consistency can teach your child trust. If you engage in desired behaviors, mom/dad will give you rewards and praise. If you do not engage in desired behaviors, mom/dad will not. Your child can trust that these consistent consequences will be provided by mom/dad. If you are wishy-washy and changing your responses all the time, your child doesn’t know which response to trust. Consistency makes it easier for you to remove emotions from your immediate response to your child and it helps to build trust in your family.
  • Parents are often seeking out support because parenting is tough! If this weren’t true, we wouldn’t need all these parenting books, websites, groups, blogs, and what have you. With behavior analysis, you can find support and strength in the research base. You aren’t trying a new parenting tool that someone created out of thin air. You are using a strategy that behavior analysts have implemented and replicated over and over again with difficult and varying populations. You have the strength of science backing you up when you stick to behavior analysis.

Using the principles of ABA as a parent will not give you a picture perfect family of children who never misbehave. It will give you the consistency and support to increase the positives in your home! So what have you got to lose?

Don’t take my word for it. Learn more about the history of ABA and its effectiveness. Below is just a drop in the bucket of all the research out there, but an easy starting place.

Association of Professional Behavior Analysts. (2017). Identifying Applied Behavior Analysis interventions. San Diego, California: APBA.

Cooper, J., Heron, T., & Heward, W. (2007). Basic concepts in Applied Behavior Analysis (2nd ed., pp. 40-41). Columbus: Pearson.

Dunne, J. D. (2010). Behavior Analysis: No defense required.  Electronic Journal for Inclusive Education, 6, 1-13.

Skinner, B. F. (1978). About behaviorism. New York: Vintage.

Sulzer-Azaroff, B., & Mayer, G. R. (1991). Behavior analysis for lasting change. Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Walsh, M. B. (2011). The top 10 reasons children with autism deserve ABA. Behavior Analysis in Practice4(1), 72–79.

Leanne Page, M.Ed, BCBA

Leanne Page, M.Ed, BCBA has worked with kids with disabilities and their parents in a variety of settings for over 10 years. She has taught special education classes from kindergarden-grade 12, from self-contained to inclusion. Leanne has also managed a center providing ABA services to children in 1:1 and small group settings. She has extensive experience in school and teacher training, therapist training, parent training, and providing direct services to children and families in a center-based or in-home therapy setting. Since becoming a mom, Leanne has a new mission to share behavior analytic practices with a population she knows needs it- all moms of littles! Leanne does through her site and through her book ‘Parenting with Science: Behavior Analysis Saves Mom’s Sanity”.  You can contact her at [email protected].

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