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  • Ashley Musial

How to Use “Time Banking” and “Reinforcement” to Help Your Child Develop


Every parent has been there: you try to get your child to pay attention, try a new skill or develop a new behavior, and they just won’t listen. For kids with autism or other developmental issues, these can be especially challenging. That’s why ABA providers use a process called “pairing with reinforcement.” One variation of pairing we like to use can be referred to as time banking. You can use this technique to at home to get buy-in from your kids.


To explain time banking, let’s start by thinking about how human relationships work.


When we first meet a new person, we need to build up a sense of mutual trust. We need to create a familiarity and a series of shared, positive experiences before we start challenging each other to improve. Imagine if, five minutes after meeting someone, they told you that a certain area of your life needed improvement. You would immediately recoil—rightfully so—and probably never talk to that person again. Yet if a trusted friend issued you the same challenge, you’d probably take their ideas to heart. In fact, you might forgive your friend for nearly anything they would say or do to you. That’s because you’ve already banked a large number of positive experiences together.


The same theory applies when we’re working with children and trying to teach them new skills. We need to build a positive relationship together, making them feel increasingly comfortable with us before we challenge them to do something difficult.


So how does this work in ABA therapy?

Let’s say your child loves going to Disney World. When they meet their therapist for the first time, the therapist can leverage that fact to build immediate trust—engaging your child in conversation about Disney World, playing with Disney toys or perhaps even wearing a Minnie Mouse shirt. Through this association, your child will begin to have a positive impression of the therapist. And soon, they’ll trust them enough to do the more challenging exercises that ABA therapy requires.


The same technique applies to your interactions with your own child. The more positive experiences you have together, the more you can leverage those experiences to create a feeling of trust for when challenging moments do occur. Each moment together adds to your “time bank,” giving you the freedom to make a “withdrawal” when your child does need to work on a certain skill, or when you need to correct their behavior.


Now, let’s connect time banking to the process of teaching your child new skills. The role of time banking is to get your child paying attention to you when it’s time to learn. Instruct your child on what you want them to do and praise them for being successful (or offer other forms of reinforcement if praise is not highly preferred). Without follow-up praise or something similar, the behavior will weaken until it goes away. Don’t let all your hard work go to waste.


Now, let’s learn a bit more about strengthening skills using reinforcement.


The role of reinforcement is to make the behavior you are trying to teach more likely to occur in the future. In ABA therapy, we can use reinforcement to accomplish three things:


Jumpstart: Start a behavior that’s not happening at all.

Strengthen: Turning an occasional behavior into a more permanent one.

Maintain: Continue a behavior at its current rate.


Reinforcement is simple. When your child behaves in a desirable way, respond with something preferred. For example, reward your child with a treat, give them a smile or tell them how proud you feel. You and your child can decide what positive reaction will mean the most, but make sure you’re responding immediately after the behavior.


You can also unintentionally weaken desirable behavior by reacting in a way you believe is preferred but is not preferred by your child. For example, if your child does not prefer hugs but you give him a hug every time he engages in the behavior you taught him, you may find that behavior going away. This doesn’t mean reinforcement doesn’t work for him; it just means he does not prefer hugs. Try high fives, statements of praise, a pat on the back, a few minutes of playing video games together, or anything else he may enjoy. The possibilities are endless.

Parenting isn’t always easy. Especially if your child has autism or another behavioral challenge. But through time banking, reinforcement and other approaches you’ll learn from your ABA therapist, you can build a strong relationship that helps you and your child tackle anything that comes your way.


Ready to take the next step and learn how ChildFirst can help your son or daughter? Contact us today. We have immediate openings at our Arlington Heights location.

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