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So what’s the difference between an instruction and a prompt?
An instruction is the initial demand given to a child. For example “please wipe your nose”.
Any instruction, cue, hint, signal after the first demand is a prompt. A prompt is added before and after the demand instruction to increase the rate of responding, lower frustration, and to help children learn more efficiently. As children achieve higher success (that is, they follow through with the instruction), children have more frequent access to reinforcers (e.g. praise and tangibles) which in turn increases the motivation to learn.
How do I make my instruction more effective?
Do you often find yourself asking your child the same thing over and over? For example, when you ask your child to clean up, do they keep on playing and ignore you, or do they argue with you saying ” no I’m not done yet’?
Well, when you are repeating the instructions, you are giving prompts. However, because there is no follow through with the prompts (and hence no success nor reinforcer after the prompt), the prompts were not effective.
Make sure when you give an instruction, you follow through to teach your child to complete the task. Helping or prompting the child to complete the task with success is fine. Don’t forget to praise when the work is done.
How do I prompt?
Give one instruction and pause. If the child does not respond within three seconds, give another instruction (aka ‘ the prompt’) and get your child to follow through with the instruction, which may be “start cleaning”, “moving towards the bathroom to brush teeth”, “picking up clothes to get dressed”.
Do I reinforce the child right after I prompt him/her?
No. Because we have not established compliance yet. Compliance simply means that the child did what they were asked to do.
I will explain. Here is an example I see a lot.
A parent asks the child to come to get her nose wiped. The parent chases down the child, puts their arms around them (to stop her running off), wipes her nose, while saying “good girl”. All the while the child is struggling to get away.
What you’re praising here is the chasing down, and the forcing the child to get her nose wiped – in other words, ‘non-compliance’.
The alternative is to:
- Give the instruction: “Let’s wipe your nose.”
- Chase down the child, hold her in your arms and get her to stand still first (Physical Prompt)
- Repeat the instruction “Let’s wipe your nose” (Verbal Prompt)
- The child then reduces her struggle and lets you wipe her nose. (Showing some compliance).
- Follow up with a specific praise “Good job wiping your nose!”
Obviously we want to shape the behaviour over time (with prompting and praising) so that when the child is asked to wipe their nose, they just do it!
I’m overwhelmed! Where do I start?
Don’t worry. Let’s put 15 minutes aside each day for ‘training’ for yourself and your child. During that 15 minutes, when you give an instruction, make sure to follow up. For the rest of the time, make sure don’t give instruction where you cannot follow up.
You’re also very welcome to contact the team for advice on 9274 7062.
Program Manager, ABACAS