How Parents Can Build Social Skills Through Behavior Skills Training


Guest post by: Jill Fuller, MEd.

As a parent, you want to do everything in your power to help your child. The question often becomes how to go about helping them? This question may be more complicated to figure out if you have a child with a developmental disability.

Individuals diagnosed with developmental disabilities often have deficit in social skills. While the clinicians you work closely with try and improve your child’s social skills they may have trouble improving this deficit because their access your child is limited to how many hours of services per week they see your child. The clinician can only expose the individual to a limited number of environmental settings. However, it is important for your child to practice the social skills they learn in different environments and circumstances, and with variety of people. This is where parents can really be wonderful facilitator in their child’s treatment. Parents are with their child in novel settings, situations where the parent can help facilitate acquisition.

A proven and researched method that parents can use to improve social skills is social skills training. While there are many types of social skills training, one proven intervention that increases social skills is a multicomponent treatment package, sometimes known as behavioral skills training (BST). BST is comprised of four components: instructions, modeling, rehearsal, and feedback.

1) Instruction

During the instruction component of BST, it is important that directions be understandable and specific.  A parent can do this by providing a rationale for why the skill is important. For example, one such rationale may be “it is important to say, ‘excuse me’ so others know you want to get by and can move over.” Other ways a parent can insure their instructions are understandable and specific are to state all the steps to complete the skill either visually or vocally, and then have their child demonstrate understanding by asking questions about the instruction, or receptive directions (i.e. “Find the card that says “My turn.”)

2) Modeling

The modeling phase of BST allows your child to have several chances to view you perform the desired skill. There are five methods that can be use during the modeling phase to make sure your child benefits from modeling.  First, say that you will be modeling the skill while they observe. Next, verbally describe a scenario, or physically set up a scenario where your child will need to use this skill. For example, “you are on the playground you want to play with a friend.” The parent then follows the scenario by modeling the correct, and if appropriate developmentally incorrect, behaviors. To make sure your child is clear on what steps were done correctly the parent should explain what steps were shown correctly. Finally, allow time your child to ask any questions they might have.

3) Rehearsal

During the third component of BST, the rehearsal phase, your child will practice the skill being taught. They should be told directly that it is now their turn to practice the skill. The parent then verbally describes a scenario, or physically sets up a scenario where they need to use the skill, and your child can practice the steps and skills previously modeled to them.

4)  Feedback

The fourth, and final component, is feedback phase. During this phase it is important that the feedback is given quickly after your child’s rehearsal; in the best-case scenario within ten seconds. This feedback should include at least two positive comments. The feedback should contain more praise then correctives. Finally, if your child skipped a step during the rehearsal phase the parent should repeat that step and return to the rehearsal phase.



Dogan, R. K., King, M. L., Fishetti, A. T., Lake, C. M., Mattews, T. L., & Warzak, W. J. (2017).  Parent-implemented behavioral skills training of social skills. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 50 (4), 805-818.

Miles, N. I., & Wilder, D. A. (2009). The effects of behavioral skills training on caregiver implementation of guided compliance. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 42, 405-410

Stewart, K. K., Carr, J. E., & LeBlanc, L. A. (2007). Evaluation of family-implemented behavioral skills training for teaching social skills to a child with Asperger's disorder. Clinical Case Studies, 6, 252-262.


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