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ABA Education for Parents: 7 Steps to Coach Parents in ABA

training parents

As a BCBA training parents, you’ve probably heard this more than once: “I’m a mom, not a therapist.”

While we’ve met some parents who would make stellar therapists, remember that most parents don’t have the same training we do. Not to mention: many parents want to be just that — parents — and enjoy their children.

However, generalization is an essential part of ABA programming since it allows us to extend our reach beyond the actual ABA sessions and into the child’s everyday life. That means that parents are usually the ones that play a large part in this generalization.

As a result, we, as ABA professionals, need to be aware of how we’re training parents in ABA (we prefer the word, “coaching”) and empowering them to carry over and generalize the skills that we’re teaching our kiddos.

So here’s the big question: How can we structure ABA parent coaching to empower parents and give them the tools to generalize their child’s skills? Let’s dive in.

Why is ABA Parent Coaching Important?

While ABA therapy is certainly performed by trained therapists, it’s not always restricted to us, as professionals. For the most successful ABA program possible, there’s a growing need for parents to become active participants and collaborators in the therapy process.

ABA parent coaching helps foster their child’s growth and independence using the necessary skills. By training parents in ABA principles and procedures, families learn how to identify and reinforce positive behaviors, as well as implement effective strategies to decrease replacement behaviors.

Ultimately, training parents (coaching!) empowers families to support their child’s development and promotes positive behavior change both at home and in the community. ABA parent coaching is a critical component of any comprehensive treatment program.

7 Steps to Support Parents in ABA

1. Pick One Goal at a Time

We know that parents often have a laundry list of things they want their child to learn or improve. It can become overwhelming.

Start by coming up with a list of 5-8 things that you’re working on with the child. Then, encourage the parents to pick their biggest priority to focus on. That’s what they should tackle first.

2. Discuss: “What’s in it for the Child?”

Help the parents understand reinforcement and motivation by reminding them to think: “What’s in it for the child?” The good news: there’s a lot of behavior change that can be accomplished when these principles are met.

Does the parent want their child to take a bath? Discuss what’s in it for the child. It could be as simple as incorporating some favorite bath toys or putting in some sort of first/then contingency (eg: first bath, then favorite video).

This means that parents must understand how to limit certain preferred reinforcers to keep motivation high. Help the parents master these concepts, so they have the skills to be able to apply them in many situations.

For more on satiation and deprivation, check out our post on Too Much of a Good Thing.

3. Identify the Replacement Behavior

It’s not only important to define the behavior we want to reduce, but we have to help parents identify a replacement behavior.

For example, if a child struggles to complete their morning routine, the replacement behavior might be: “Get dressed in 5 minutes.”

4. Practice & Role Play with the Parents

With ABA parent coaching, we’re shaping parents’ behavior as much as the child’s behavior. This means we want to give the parents practice and feedback on their behavior as well.

Create opportunities for the parents to practice new skills they’re learning. If a parent struggles with taking their child on an outing, go with them! Have the parent practice implementing reinforcement and visual schedules while you’re there to help, support, and provide feedback.

5. Teach the Parent to Reinforce the Replacement Behavior

It can be a change in mindset for parents to pay more attention to positive behaviors than negative behaviors, which often requires coaching on reinforcing replacement behaviors.

For instance, if you’re working on toilet training, teach the parent how to reinforce successful eliminations in the toilet (i.e. right away, with a preferred item, paired with praise, etc.) At this point, ensure parents understand the possibility of an extinction burst and are prepared for it!

6. Collect Data

Come up with a simple data collection method for the parents. Remember, parents aren’t therapists so data collection has to be a lot more user–friendly.

A simple idea is to have the parents hang up a calendar and tally mark every day/time that a specific behavior happens — this will give us an idea of frequency.

For example, if you’re targeting the duration of a behavior, how long did the child’s morning routine take? Have the parent mark the amount of time on the calendar.

ABC data sheets are also helpful for some parents to be able to see trends in the antecedents of certain behaviors. Whatever the data collection method is, make it doable and monitor it closely to look for trends.

7. Include a Plan for Fading Reinforcement

Don’t let parents fall into the trap of thinking that skill is mastered so they stop providing reinforcement. Reinforcement must fade at an appropriate pace, so that the skill is maintained even without reinforcement.

Once you’ve determined that a skill has been mastered, move on to the next priority!

Tips for Successful Parent Education in ABA

When it comes to successful parent coaching in ABA, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind.

Consistency is Key

ABA strategies thrive on consistency. When the same techniques are used regularly and across different environments, children can more easily understand and learn from them. As a parent, applying these strategies consistently at home and in other settings can significantly improve your child’s progress.

Patience and Understanding

Learning new skills and modifying behavior takes time. As a parent using ABA, it’s important for them to have patience and understanding during this process. Celebrate small victories and progress, no matter how slow it may seem.

Celebrate Small Victories

Each step forward, no matter how small, is a victory. Recognizing and celebrating these small milestones can motivate both the parent and the child to keep going. It also helps build confidence and positive reinforcement.

Encourage Open Communication

Open dialogue between you as the ABA therapist and parents/caregivers is crucial. Regularly share your observations, ask questions, and discuss any concerns you may have. This collaborative approach can lead to better strategies and improvements in the learner’s progress.

Training parents in ABA (coaching!) is an essential component of effective therapy. It empowers parents to actively participate in their child’s development and progress, fostering consistency and continuity that are crucial for skill acquisition and behavior modification.


8 thoughts on “ABA Education for Parents: 7 Steps to Coach Parents in ABA”

  1. greetings
    I have finished 40 hours training of RBT
    I need a plan for my son for some behaviors
    please let me know if you can help me besides if there are other fees for setting the plan and supervise me .


    1. Hi Wafaa! Congrats on finishing your RBT and doing what you can to help your son! Unfortunately, according to our board’s code of ethics, we are not allowed to supervise you to work as an RBT with your son. We currently don’t offer any extra parent training services but we recommend finding a BCBA in your area that you can work with to help with behaviours!

    2. Hi Wafee, I am a mum too who wants to do the RBT training. Which one did you do? Do you do the exams and are you fully qualified now?

      1. Hi! There are lots of RBT courses offered online. It is 40 hours of online coursework. However, part of the RBT training and certification is ongoing supervision by a BCBA.

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