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6 Must - Teach Topics in ABA Parent Training: Be Sure to Cover These Topics in Applied Behavior Analysis Parent Training

6 Must - Teach Topics in ABA Parent Training: Be Sure to Cover These Topics in Applied Behavior Analysis Parent Training

Ever wonder what the essential topics are that you should focus on in ABA parent training services?

Sometimes, its hard to clarify exactly what it is that we should be teaching since there is, literally, unlimited number of things that we could teach.

Let’s take a closer look at what the literature says about what the most important topics are to teach parents when providing ABA-based parent training.

There are some common themes across the credible resources available on applied behavior analysis, parent training, and autism spectrum disorder (for those parents who have a child with ASD).

Parent Training Topic #1:

Antecedents, Behaviors, & Consequences (ABCs)

One common theme that arises throughout the literature that is important to address in parent training services is the topic of ABCs: Antecedents - Behaviors - Consequences.

Understanding the specific antecedents, behaviors, and consequences for a particular child’s behaviors can help a parent to learn “why” their child is doing something which can then help them to figure out what to do to proactively address and reactively respond to their child’s behaviors in order to help their child grow and develop in more productive and appropriate ways (Boone, 2018).

To learn more about the parent training topic of ABCs of behavior, get the free parent training lesson on this topic by entering your email below.

The lesson plan that you can download above is taken directly from our ‘One-Year ABA Parent Training Curriculum’ and can be used with parents that you are working with. It includes

  • two pages of research-supported background information from the literature,

  • one page summary in the format of a easy to read handout,

  • a form that can be used to support provider and parent collaboration,

  • and also a homework assignment activity that parents can use to get more familiar with the topic of ABCs of behavior.

Parent Training Topic #2:

Function-Based Intervention

Related to parent training topic #1, the second topic recommendation addresses function-based intervention.

Function-based intervention helps a parent to implement strategies that truly make a difference in helping their child improve skills and behaviors (Luiselli, 2017).

It can be helpful to teach parents how to analyze the ABC data they may collect on their child’s behavior and how to really observe their child’s behaviors in order to identify the function of the identified behavior.

Included in function-based intervention, parents should learn about the four functions of behavior:

  • Escape

  • Attention

  • Access

  • Automatic

After teaching parents about the functions of behaviors, help them to learn how to identify function-based strategies they can use to help their child reduce maladaptive behaviors and increase adaptive behaviors.

Here is a snippet of text from the ‘One-Year ABA Parent Training Curriculum’ about functions of behavior:

4 Functions of Behavior

  • Escape: The individual behaves in order to get out of or avoid doing something he or she does not want to do.

NOTE ABOUT ESCAPE: Escape-maintained behaviors may be due to lack of motivation to perform the task (they don’t want to) or lack of skill (it is too difficult).

  • Attention: The individual behaves to get focused attention from parents, teachers, siblings, peers, or other people around them.

NOTE ABOUT ATTENTION: Attention doesn’t have to simply be positive attention. Unpleasant examples include the caregiver talking in a stern voice or trying to explain reasons why the child should behave.

  • Access to Tangibles: The individual behaves in a certain way to get a preferred item or participate in an enjoyable activity.

NOTE ABOUT ACCESS: Access-maintained behavior may be simply the child gesturing toward something he wants, or it can be more problematic behaviors like whining, throwing, etc.

  • Automatic Reinforcement: The individual behaves in a specific way because it is reinforcing to them and is not maintained by behaviors from others or outside stimuli. This is sometimes referred to as sensory behaviors.

NOTE ABOUT AUTOMATIC REINFORCEMENT: Sometimes behaviors that look like self-harm may have an internal cause (such as medical issues).

Parent Training Topic #3:

Positive Reinforcement

Although positive reinforcement is a very common and regularly used concept in typical ABA-based direct service intervention, it may not be as common as a topic emphasized in parent training.

Positive reinforcement is one of the most effective and most highly recommended strategies for changing behavior and improving skills. This is why it should be emphasized in parent training services. Parents can help their children grow, learn, and succeed through the use of positive reinforcement in their daily lives.

Plus, by using positive reinforcement, parents can experience greater personal well-being as well as improve the quality of life and well-being of their family overall. By focusing on what is going right, what their child is doing well, on a regular basis, parenting and life in general can be more enjoyable as compared to focusing on the bad stuff - what the child is doing wrong or what is not going so well.

Positive reinforcement can be used to teach countless behaviors and skills and can be used in practically any setting. From teaching a child to tie his shoes to teaching a child to learn to speak in vocal words, sign language, or picture exchange communication, to teaching a child to display appropriate mealtime behaviors and any other skill you can think of, parents can use positive reinforcement in their everyday routines to help their child (Boone, 2018).

If you’d like a parent training handout on the topic: “Reinforcement & Punishment in ABA” you can get one by entering your email below. We also have more information about reinforcement and punishment in our parent training curriculum.

Parent Training Topic #4:

Life Skills

Life skills is a name for a broad category of behaviors or abilities that everyone needs and uses (to some degree) on a daily basis.

Teaching parents about how to help their child develop life skills is an excellent topic for parent training services.

By learning more about effectively helping their child develop a variety of life skills, parents can have such great impact on positively influencing their child’s current and future life.

Parents who focus on supporting their child’s life skill development in a deliberate, committed, and strategic manner can have great influence on helping their child live life on a journey toward their greater potential.

By supporting a child’s life skills or daily living skills, that child can live life with more independence and strength. No matter the developmental level of a child compared to their biological age, life skills are important (Myers, 2010).

Jennifer McIlwee Myers, author of “How to Teach Life Skills to Kids with Autism or Aspergers,” makes an excellent point. She says (Myers, 2010, p. 5-6):

“The nature of schooling and our society mean that children are often judged and ranked by their academic skills. But there are jobs you can hold if you can’t read. There are jobs you can hold if you can’t write. There are even jobs you can hold if you can’t talk.

There are few or no jobs you can keep if you yell or scream when you don’t get what you expected. There are very rarely jobs you can hold if you can’t stop talking when your boss is trying to tell you something. Being on time and being dressed right for that activity are so important to employment that being late to or dressing badly for an interview are job-killers….

And even kids who will probably never be independent adults get more respect and more support if they can do the little things… A guy who has occasional meltdowns but mostly understands the idea of doing his fair share and of apologizing for causing others pain or inconvenience is simply more likely to be treated with a modicum of respect and friendliness than one whose behavior constantly triggers defensive responses from those around him.”

To get a handout on the topic of life skills (or daily living skills), enter your email below. You can give this to parents for a very brief overview of life skills.

Parent Training Topic #5:

Generalization & Maintenance

In addition to teaching parents about basic ABA concepts including those listed above in this article as well as how to individualize it all to their own child, it is also essential to teach parents about generalization and maintenance of behavior and skill development (Kazdin, 2005).

Parents have the ability to help ensure that the progress their child makes in therapy, at school, or even at home with the parent is maintained over time and generalized to new settings, to new situations, and with new stimuli (Luiselli, 2017).

No one else has as much power as a parent does to help a child maintain progress and expand upon what the child has learned.

The below text about generalization is a sample extracted from our ‘One-Year ABA Parent Training Curriculum:’

What is Generalization? A behavior has generalized if it has appeared in a wide variety of environments, it has spread to other related behaviors, or it lasts over time. Generalization can be defined as: “the occurrence of relevant behavior under different, non-training conditions (i.e., across subjects, settings, people, behaviors, and/or time) without the scheduling of the same events in those conditions. (Stokes and Baer, 1977 as cited in Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007).

The three types of generalized behavior change include:

  • Response maintenance: Response maintenance refers to whether a behavior continues to be displayed even after treatment or intervention has stopped. The behavior lasts over time.

  • Setting/situation generalization: Setting/situation generalization is when a behavior occurs in settings other than where it was originally taught.

  • Response generalization: Response generalization is when a learner displays untrained responses that are functionally equivalent to the trained behavior

Parent Training Topic #6:

Rapport Building (Pairing)

Although the topic of rapport building (or pairing) between parent and child seems to be less often emphasized in the literature within the field of applied behavior analysis, the topic does seem extremely relevant and is often recommended in traditional parent training interventions such as in treatment of children with disruptive behaviors or in the evidence-based intervention known as Parent Child Interaction Therapy.

When parents are taught or learn to implement any strategy with the intent to change their child’s behavior in some way, it is very important for them to also focus on developing a healthy relationship with that child - in behavioral terms, the parent should pair themselves with positive reinforcement so that the child will view the parent as a positive reinforcer and be more willing to comply when demands and pressures are placed on them.

By associating the parent with the child’s preferred stimuli (activities, toys, etc.), the parent can become a generalized reinforcer for the child. The child then prefers the presence of the parent. He will be more likely to make choices that align with what the parent wants to see.

To develop rapport and engage in pairing activities, a parent should spend time with the child and around the child following the child’s lead, showing interest in the child, making no demands, only speaking with declarative language (which serves to share information about your positive observations and feelings such as “This is fun.” or “We’re playing with blocks.”).

Although parents can spend set time each day with their child engaging in pairing activities such as by spending 15 minutes of quality time together, pairing should regularly be intertwined with learning opportunities so that the child can easily go back and forth from experiencing the parent in a pairing activity and then within a learning opportunity.

It shouldn’t typically be clear to the child that there is a difference between playing and “working” with the parent (Schramm & Miller, 2014).

For instance, while playing at the park in a fun way consistent with “pairing,” the parent can insert a learning opportunity by saying “What’s this called?” for a child learning to tact items in the natural environment.

For more information on rapport building (pairing), check out the lesson in the parent training curriculum.

Since rapport building is strongly related to instructional control, you may also want to check out “The Seven Steps to Earning Instructional Control.”


This article provided you with an overview of the top 6 recommendations that a service provider should address in parent training services based upon research within relevant literature.

As a review, the top 6 parent training topics to address in parent training services include:

  1. Antecedents, Behaviors, & Consequences (ABCs)

  2. Function-Based Intervention

  3. Positive Reinforcement

  4. Life Skills

  5. Generalization & Maintenance

  6. Rapport Building (Pairing)

Must-Teach Topics in ABA Parent Training Reference List

*The links below include affiliate links.

Boone, V. M. (2018). Positive parenting for autism: powerful strategies to help your child overcome challenges and thrive. Emeryville, CA: Althea Press.

Kazdin, A. E. (2009). Parent management training: treatment for oppositional, aggressive, and antisocial behavior in children and adolescents. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Luiselli, J. K. (2017). Applied behavior analysis advanced guidebook: a manual for professional practice. Amsterdam: Academic Press, Elsevier.

Myers, J. M. I., & Grandin, T. (2010). How to teach life skills to kids with autism or Aspergers. Future Horizons: Arlington, Tex.

Schramm, R., & Miller, M. (2014). The 7 steps to earning instructional control: a program guide for developing learner cooperation with Aba and verbal behavior. Place of publication not identified: publisher not identified.


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