Behavioural Skills Training (BST)

Want to learn a super easy way of teaching your child that’s step-by-step???

I love a straight forward step-by-step teaching strategy and one of my favourites is called Behaviour Skills Training (BST).

BST can be defined as a procedure consisting of instruction, modelling, behavioural rehearsal, and feedback that is used to teach new behaviours or skills (Miltenberger, 2004). This is a strategy that can be used to teach many different skills (such as social skills, play skills and how to make smooth transitions) and has been proven to be effective for training people in a wide variety of populations, including children and adults with and without disabilities.

But the most exciting part about this strategy (just like all of the strategies we use!) is that it really works and it’s actually kinda fun!

BST teaches a child exactly what to do; the specific responses that are required under specific circumstances. For example, when someone says hello to you, say hi back. It also allows for practice so that the child can become fluent with the skills (that is, they can do the skill correctly and at ease) and as always in our field of ABA we can individualise the strategy to suit each learners needs.

BST involves 4 simple steps:

1. Verbal Instruction
2. Modelling
3. Rehearsal or role play
4. Feedback

Instruction; this is when you explain the skill to the learner by describing what the skill is, why it’s important and when and when not to use it. The important part here is to give them a rationale for the skill and why you are teaching it.
The second step is modelling. This is when you show your child exactly how to do the skill – a bit like role-play. In-vivo modelling (where you do it in person) is the best but video modelling can be done too, in fact one of my clients recently made a pretty impressive video for her son to teach him self-calming strategies that starred the Incredible hulk and Spiderman!

The third step is rehearsal which is when you invite your learner to rehearse the skill with you. You can switch roles, especially if doing so makes the process more fun for your learner. During role-play, you can give the learner live feedback on their performance. Role-play typically continues until the learner consistently demonstrates they know what they’re doing; practise makes perfect!

The fourth step is providing feedback. This is when you provide praise (or some other form of positive reinforcement) for correct responses and some constructive feedback for incorrect responses. If your learner is struggling with the skill then give in situ feedback and implement further rehearsal. I typically find parents massively underestimate how many times their kids need to practise a skill to really master it….

The final step is arranging for a real-life test of the skill!

Also, before you jump into BST there are some pre-requisite skills your learner should have including; your child must know how to follow a chain of behaviours (that is a number of skills) and be able to imitate (i.e. copy your actions).

I’m currently using BST in my social skills clubs for teaching children how to have a conversation that includes taking turns rather than taking over the show and talking at 100 mph about their preferred topic. The kids think it’s funny to see us pretending to be in their shoes when I model the behaviour with my associate therapist. Then they have a chance to rehearse the behaviours we want to see happen and then we give them feedback.

Miltenberger, R. (2004). Behaviour Modification: principals and procedure (3rd ed.) Belmont, CA. Wadsworth Publishing.

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