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The Importance of Establishing Instructional Control with Your Child

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Have you ever asked your child to do something and instead, they say “no,” or they do not do anything at all?  This can put parents in situations where they are not listened to and have less authority over their children. Simply put, there is a lack of instructional control in the home.

What is Instructional Control?

Instructional control may sound like it is cold and uncaring, but it is actually a method of establishing clear expectations for behavior in ABA therapy. When done properly, your child will think of you as an authoritative figure, but one who is fair and maybe even fun.

When you have established instructional control, you have a positive working relationship with your child. You are in charge of the tasks, plus the reinforcers that your child gets for listening and completing those tasks. Your child should learn that they will not get what they want by bargaining or ignoring you. You control the reinforcement, and you should only let them have it if they listen.

How to Establish Instructional Control

First, you need to decide what your reinforcement will be. What works best here depends on your child. It may be access to a certain toy, listening to certain music, or even something like blowing bubbles. It is important that your child does not have free access to their reinforcer. However, you have to control it and then begin the pairing process.

Pairing is an important part of instructional control. You want your child to associate you with the fun reinforcement. This is part of building the relationship so that your child wants to listen to you. For example, show them how much more fun it is to listen to their favorite song when you both dance and sing along!

When you give your child a task, you can prompt them as needed. What you should not do, however, is bargain with them. The point is to teach them that completing your task will give them a positive outcome. Let’s look at an example where you have asked your child to take off their shoes. If they do so, great! Play with their toys together or engage in the reinforcement you chose for them. If they do not, however, you will want to wait patiently. Prompt them if needed, but do not argue.

Reinforcement is also established through your responses. Telling your child “You did that wonderfully” with a big smile and enthusiastic tone will help build your positive relationship. You should have a more subdued tone of voice if you need to ask your child to try something again or think about their choice.

Let’s say you want your child to clean up their blocks. Let them know that once their blocks are picked up, you both can play with the toy cars. If your child tells you no, let them know that you will play with the cars by yourself until they make a better choice. If they try to play with something else, gently stop them, and once again redirect their attention to the blocks that need to be cleaned up.

Why Instructional Control is Important

Instructional control is important because it establishes you as an authoritative figure, but also promotes a positive relationship. Set expectations and schedules help all children feel more secure. Instructional control can also involve giving your child choices, such as whether they want to put on their coat first or their shoes. When instructional control is established, the relationship will feel more balanced for the child.

Limitations of Instructional Control

There are several ways that parents and caregivers can unintentionally undermine their success with instructional control. Arguing with your child, or engaging in bargaining, will erode your position of authority. Avoiding making demands of your child altogether will also prevent you from finding success through instructional control.

Structure and routines are a key part of ABA therapy. Naturally, it is difficult to plan out every minute of every day. Having as many things as possible occur at the same time each day, however, will help. For example, wake up at the same time, have meals around the same time, and go to bed around the same time. It is also important that you and any other caregivers are on the same page. Having different expectations depending on who they are with can be challenging for a child with autism spectrum disorder.

Instructional control is a wonderful tool that can create a fun relationship and create positive outcomes. Establish clear expectations, know what reinforcers work the best for your child, and then stick with it.