Teaching and Increasing on Task Behavior

Repeatedly, caregivers come to me pointing out that that their kids have difficulty sitting down, listening or playing nicely with toys, or in other words, tend to lose focus easily and not finish task at hand.

In order to teach or increase on task behavior, I recommend the following:

1) Establish a working table for your child (a small table with 2 chairs)  so that you and your child  discriminate when he/she needs to sit and finish demands and when it’s free play time. By working/playing at a table you may also prevent your child from walking away when you place a demand.

2)  Have available appropriate toys:

  • Toys should be age/skill appropriate
  • Toys  should allow structured play and should have a clear end. It should be clear for you and your child when he/she is finishes with the task at hand.  For examples of more structured toys, click here

3) Set realistic goals for your child.  Start with a goal that is below or at your child’s skill level. Do not start teaching on task behavior by jumping to fast into setting bigger goals. This may trigger problem behaviors.

4) Have available strong and various reinforcers/prizes. They can be edibles, preferred toys or activities. Provide strictly small quantities (I.e. one mini m&m, one gummy,  a few cheerios)  in order to keep your child’s motivation on-going. You want your child to work/finish activity in order to access more of his prize (reinforcer).

5) Follow the principle First – Then. Your child should complete task at hand (First) and get access to reinforcer/prize (Then). As needed, you may want to visually show and remind your child what will he/she get when he/she completes activities.

6) As soon as your child finishes task praise him/her for the good job by telling him/her “good job”, “you did awesome” or gesturing “thumb up”, “smile”, “pat on the back”. Allow him/her to have a break and then repeat the sequence with a different task.

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