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4 Steps to teach a new skill

It's as easy as A-B-C 1, 2, 3, 4,...Done!

Here are the 4 steps to teach a new skill:

Step 1: Identify a relevant reinforcer

Step 2: Explain

Step 3: Prompt/practice

Step 4: Reinforce

Infographic on the 4 steps guide to teach a skill

Mastering a new skill takes time and intentional practice. It is simple, but difficult. It is also highly rewarding as we notice improvements along the way until we reach the "mastery" level!

Once you identified the new skill you want to teach to your child and set clear objectives, you can start using the 4 steps process to teach a new skill.

Before you jump into the 4 steps, I want you to think about how you can break the skill down into smaller steps and practice one step at a time until your child has mastered it. Then, you'll move onto the seconds step and so forth.

A boy learning to complete a rubic cube

Step 1 - Identify a relevant reinforcer

Find out what your child would like to earn after practicing the skills. To be effective, the reinforcer must be relevant for your child. To learn more about how to identify a reinforcer for your child, read the blog post "Reinforcer Box - What's in there?"

Step 2 - Explain what your are practicing

Tell your child what they are practicing and for how long (start with something easy). Clearly articulate the specific goals of the skill you want teach. Break down the skill into smaller "bite size" steps. For example, if you are teaching your child "waiting" start by having them to wait for just five (5) seconds. Think of it as if you would be learning a new skill like play the piano as an adult. You would start by mastering the basics to play twinkle twinkle before moving onto Beethoven.

To increase your probability of success, provide clear, concise and easy to understand instruction. Using a social story and reading it through with your child before to start practicing will set them up for success as they will understand what it is expected from them or what the request is.

Step 3 - Prompt

Prompt your child to do the skill correctly. Model the skill, use gestures, visuals and even tell them what they are expected to do. With time, these prompts will be faded out as your child will understand what they need to do to access the reinforcer or receive praise.

By providing feedback on-the-spot and consistently, your child will be guided towards the skill you want to practice.

Practice daily if possible. Consistency, repetition and structured practice will help to master the skill faster. You can design a daily routine that will slowly increase the expectations and complexity of the skill. In the example of teaching "waiting", start with 5 seconds and slowly increase to 10, 20 then 45 seconds.

If your child responds incorrectly, give them gentle corrective feedback by saying “Uh oh, let’s try again." Give them more prompting to display the skill (for example waiting) and reduce the demand (i.e. the amount of time they have to wait) so that they are successful.

Step 4 - Reinforce

Celebrate small victories along the way!

Boy happy to have completed a rubic cube

Positive reinforcement boosts motivation and reinforces the connection between effort and success. Your child can acquire new skills while enjoying the process!

The use of a token chart with smiley face tokens or their favorite super hero can help your child know how much they need ot practice before accessing the highly preferred reinforcer. Pairing the reinforcer with immediate praise and positive attention is also essential!

Over time, you can fade out the tangible reinforcement and support children to be intrinsically reinforced by having positive self talk and feelings of pride.

The process of learning a new skill can be both exciting and challenging. Using this guide "4 steps to teach a new skill" will increase the chances of success for your child to learn the skills they need to acquire as they grow, develop and go through different phases of life.

Young boy acquiring new skills and develop his mindset

If you would like some guidance to teach a specific skill to your child, book your complimentary call with our Board Certified Behavior Analyst to develop a teaching plan and get a social story.


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