Providing Simple and Clear Instructions
To ensure that the child is able to understand and to perform the instruction, keep the instruction simple and use words that are in the child's language repertoire. For example, 'give me the toy' vs. 'hand over the toy'. It is important as teachers or parents to have a good grasp of what is in the child's language repertoire. Clear instructions are also important to reduce misinterpretation of the instruction. For example, a long instruction would be 'We're going out now, get your shoes and your bag, don't forget your bottle, and hurry up'. In such a situation, the complexity of the sentence makes it difficult for the child to follow.
Giving Clear and Informative Feedback
Being able to provide clear and informative feedback allows a child to understand what he/she is being rewarded for. This would enable the child to form the contingency that his listening (behaviour) had led to a certain reward (consequence). An example of informative feedback would be 'Thank you for listening when mummy told you to get ready for bed'. When feedback is specific, the child is more likely to display the behaviour of listening.
Providing Meaningful Consequences
Other than providing clear feedback that is provided to the child, the consequences conferred should also be meaningful and of a reinforcing value to the child. For example, rewarding a child for brushing their teeth with a bedtime story could be something meaningful for the child if he/she enjoys bedtime stories. Similarly, if the child enjoys taking the train, it can be used as a reward for when the child walks nicely to the station. The child is hence more likely to engage in the behaviour to achieve the meaningful consequence. Providing meaningful consequences also enables the same contingency to be generalized in a natural setting.
Following through on instructions
Instructions should also be followed through on. For example, when an instruction is issued, it is crucial that the parent or the caregiver ensures that the child performs the action of keeping toys by prompting the child. The child then learns that the instruction issued needs to be done and escaping would be less likely.
It is difficult to adhere to instructions when they have a high response effort. A strategy that can be used is to build momentum with easier, higher probability instructions. For example, issuing an instruction 'stand up' instead of 'come here and pass me the tissues' would be of lower response effort and one that the child is more likely to engage in. By starting with higher probability instructions, the success rate of subsequent instructions will also increase.
In all, Behaviour Therapists facilitate a child's listening response by forming clear contingencies and expectations for the child. We follow through and build momentum to ensure that listener responding is achieved. This is crucial to ensure that a child would subsequently be able to begin on the acquisition of more complex skills.