Pairing & Engaging with Your Child
This blog will outline 5 tips for engaging and pairing with your child. Within the field of ABA, the term “pairing” is used to describe the process of building rapport with our learners. Pairing is an important process as it helps correlate us—as parents or caregivers—with items, activities, and actions that are fun and exciting. When we are associated with these reinforcing items and activities, we in turn become fun and exciting. Successful pairing also increases the likelihood that your child will be motivated to follow instructions from you or complete presented tasks. This can have a positive effect on your relationship with your child, as well as their ability to learn new skills.
#1: Get on their level and have open body language
If your child is playing on the floor, try getting down on the floor yourself to play with them. Being on their level helps make you more available to your child and is less imposing than if you were to stand or sit above them. Additionally, be mindful of your body language. Sit with your body oriented toward your child and leaning forward. Looking at them can also be very impactful—it helps them to know that you are open and available to interact. Avoid crossing your arms or sitting with your knees up or with your body turned away as this could signal that you are not accessible to play.
#2: Be enthusiastic!
It’s important that you are enthusiastic in your interactions when pairing with your child. Be excited about what your child is doing and provide praise as well as comment on their actions. You can also imitate their play actions and provide an animated narrative of what they are doing. We all like to do things with people who have the same interests as us. When you appear excited about the things your child is interested in, this can make your child more eager for you to join them in play.
#3: Follow their lead!
When engaging with your child follow their lead in play. Simply put—do what they do! For example, if your child is driving a car back and forth on the ground, find another car or toy with wheels and drive it back and forth next to them. By following their lead, you are showing that you are interested and think they are doing is fun. If your child is making noises or talking during play, repeat back those noises or respond to what they are saying. If your child isn’t playing with a toy the way it’s intended, but they’re remaining safe and having fun, allow them to play their way and join them rather than attempting to correct them or guide them towards a different avenue of play.
#4: Make comments without asking questions or placing demands
Often when we engage with children, we may be inclined to ask questions such as “What are you playing with?” or “What are you doing?” to engage or fill the space. Although these questions are meant to learn more about what they are doing or what they like, they are also placing demands and indicate that you are looking for a response. Similarly, if you ask them to do something different with their play this is perceived as a task being presented that is interrupting their preferred play, for example, “Can you crash the car?!” Instead, practice commenting on or narrating what they are doing. If you see that your child is playing with cars you could say “Wow you’re driving the car up the ramp, that’s awesome!” or “That blue car is going so fast!”. You can add sound effects to your child’s play, label objects, or label actions. You can also model a new play action without asking your child to copy you or try it themselves. For instance, you may crash a car and exclaim, “Oh no it crashed!”. If your child is interested and tries it themselves, provide excited praise. If they continue on with their play, just move on to labeling or imitating their next action.
#5: Control the good stuff, but provide it often
Another great way to pair and build rapport with your child is to directly provide their preferred items. When your child is playing with toys, you can provide access to additional items throughout play. For example, you may have a box of Legos set aside, and provide additional pieces to your child as they play. When they are building a tower with long blue Legos, you might find a few more of those pieces, present them to your child and say, “Here are some more blue ones for your tower!”. This allows your child to pair the presentation of their favorite items and activities with your presence. When doing this, it is important that you are controlling the items, but still providing them liberally. In other words, you want to be the one handing the items to your child, but you don’t need to require them to ask for them intermittently or when it fits in to their play actions.
As you can see pairing is an effective way to enter your child’s world and engage with them. It is an ongoing process that can be used daily, weekly, or anytime you might feel you need to gain some momentum and rapport with your child. There is no end to pairing and these 5 tips can be revisited and practiced time and time again. We hope you find these tips useful for pairing and engaging with your child.