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with Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA

Considering the Application of ABA Concepts to ABA Parent Training

Applied behavior analysis parent training incorporates the principles of ABA into teaching parents effective ways of improving their child’s skills and decreasing their child’s maladaptive behaviors. There are many different concepts in the field of ABA that could apply to ABA parent training. However, this article will present you with some of the basic concepts of ABA that you may consider applying in your parent training curriculum.

ABA is based upon the science of learning and behavior. In learning, there are three different types of learning. These include: respondent or classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and observational learning or modeling.

See this article on the 3 types of learning for more information.

Within the area of operant conditioning, we can look at the ABCs of behavior. A is for antecedent. B is for behavior. And C is for consequences.

Contingencies of reinforcement consist of the relationships between behaviors and environmental stimuli or events that influence the likelihood of a behavior. The contingency includes antecedents, behaviors, and consequences.1

The antecedents are what happen right before the behavior while the consequences are what happen right after a behavior. Parents may be taught various antecedent strategies that can influence their child’s behavior including those that will make it more likely for their child to behave well. Parents may also benefit from learning about things that may increase the chances of maladaptive (or problematic) behaviors being displayed. For instance, a parent can learn to use clear instructions or gestural prompts to increase appropriate behaviors.

One type of antecedent is known as a setting event or an establishing operation. A setting event is something that might “set the stage” for the occurrence of a behavior. An establishing operation changes the value of the potential reinforcer and increases the likelihood that a person will display a behavior that will lead to a positive outcome or that will help them to avoid an unpleasant outcome. An example of this for parents may be when a child (who really likes video games) is not able to play video games all day but in the evening, the parent wants the child to clean their room. By not having played video games all day, the child is more likely to do something to earn the chance to play video games rather than if he had just played video games for 12 hours straight, for example.

ABA parent training may also include teaching parents how to use the concepts of shaping and chaining to teach their child new skills. Shaping is when a final target behavior is identified and then it is broken down into smaller steps. These smaller steps are called successive approximations. By reinforcing successive approximations, the child will eventually achieve the final target behavior.

Chaining refers to when multiple behaviors or responses are expected to occur in a certain order. For instance, brushing your teeth requires multiple different behaviors to create the outcome of brushing teeth. It includes things like getting the toothbrush, getting the toothpaste, opening the toothpaste, and so on. Teaching parents to use chaining can help them to teach their child various skills. Chaining may be used in skills like getting dressed independently or completing a morning routine.

A parent may also learn various consequences to their child’s behavior that will increase or decrease the likelihood of the behavior happening again. It is important to define and explain any term used from the ABA field when providing parent training. This includes defining the term consequences as well as the concepts of reinforcement and punishment.

Parents should learn to identify examples of how to use positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment, and extinction in daily life to help their child improve skills and decrease undesirable behaviors. For the purposes of ABA parent training, it can be helpful to remember to teach parents how to use naturally occurring reinforcers in addition to contrived reinforcers. Things that serve as naturally occurring reinforcers may include getting to go outside after the child ties his shoes or getting a spoon after politely requesting a spoon. Contrived reinforcers would include things that aren’t necessarily connected to the behavior in a natural setting. This may include use of a token board or providing a piece of candy for getting homework done.

Remember to define ABA concepts when completing parent training. Be sure to help parents to apply ABA concepts to their child as well as to daily life so that the child can generalize skills and the parent can obtain skills that can be used outside of treatment, as well.

You can also help parents to learn about what ABA is as an intervention at this link ABA Defined and also use the free ‘ABA Defined’ download for one of your parent training sessions.


1Kazdin, A. E. (2005). Parent Management Training. New York, New York. Oxford University Press.

Considering the Application of ABA Concepts to ABA Parent Training

APA Reference
Gilmore, H. (2019). Considering the Application of ABA Concepts to ABA Parent Training. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 19, 2019, from