Who is in Control? Instructional Control In ABA

Guest Authored By Melissa R, BSC HONS, RBT

Blue Bird Day and ABA Instructional Control

Instructional control is a term commonly used in ABA; it refers to building a relationship with a child that uses a firm but respectful approach. 

Instructional control is the motivation that will enable the child to listen and follow the demands you place each day. 

In most cases, instructional control is lost or not apparent when the kids are the ‘boss.’

(Meadows, 2013) 

 7 steps to gaining instructional control with your child: 

  1. Show you are in control of the items/tangibles they want and decide when they get access to them.
  2. Show your child you are fun, making them want to spend more time with you.  
  3. Show your child trust- always say what you mean and mean what you say. 
  4. Show your child that following directions gets them what they want. 
  5. Reinforce your child for every positive response in the early stages of gaining instructional control
  6. Know your child’s priorities (e.g. know what they like).
  7. Show your child that not following directions or demands results in a lack of reinforcement.  


Here are some tips on how to build instructional control with your child 

  • Determine what items your child likes to play with- once you know them give them to your child when you decide.
  • Create a schedule with your child for them to follow and be sure to follow through. 
  • Offer choices to the child to make them feel in control. 
  • Ensure that all family members are following your decisions.
  • When providing demands, always follow through with them even if you are required to complete hand over hand prompting. 
  • Always provide reinforcement immediately after the demand or direction has been completed. 

How can you maintain your instructional control? 

  • Remain in control- always maintain the reinforcer after the direction/ demand. 
  • Restrict reinforcement when you need to and deliver on your terms. 
  • Associate yourself with fun activities and reinforcement the child is more likely to want to play with you.  
  • Demonstrate that not following directions will result in no access to the preferred reinforcer.  
  • Always follow through with the direction or demand before giving reinforcement.