Planning Ahead


What is planning ahead?

Planning ahead includes:

  1. Anticipating common behavioral challenges that your child may have in certain settings/activities/events (e.g., going on long car rides, going grocery shopping), and 
  2. Developing and carrying out a plan to help improve these challenges.   

Why is planning ahead important?

When children demonstrate the same challenging behaviors over and over again, it can be really frustrating! To better prepare us for these situations, it can be helpful to think about how we can best set the child up for success by planning ahead of time. This includes creating a plan in advance and then trying it out, using several key principles/steps (noted below). Planning ahead can lead to improvements in behaviors that often happen in certain situations, leading to a better experience for both children and parents/caregivers.

How to do it?

There are key principles/steps to consider when planning ahead:  

  • Identify activities/events or situations where your child often has behavioral challenges. For example, grocery shopping, long car rides, church/temple/synagogue services, or visiting certain family/friends.

  • Determine if the following common reasons for children’s behavioral difficulties need to be addressed:
    • Boredom: Children may simply be bored and act out to get attention. In these cases, try to provide the child with something to play or interact with. You can also consider involving the child in the activity when possible.
    • Exhaustion: Be sure that the timing of the activity takes your child’s energy level into account. It may be important to ask your child to rest prior to the event or reschedule to a time when your child is more rested. 
    • Hunger: Be sure that your child isn’t hungry prior to the event/activity. Bring a preferred, filling snack in case they become hungry. 
    • Stimulation: Some children have difficulties with too much stimulation. For these children, it will be important to minimize sensory overload. Consider distractions or activities they can engage in and limit the intensity of the sensory input (e.g., using headphones to listen to music/watch a video). Consider removing these sensory inputs if possible. You can also have the child participate in the activity/event at a time when there will be less sensory inputs.
    • Time pressure: When there is time pressure, parents and children may have a more difficult time managing their behaviors. See if the event/activity can be postponed or if the expectations can be changed (e.g., instead of going to two stores, go to one), so there is less time pressure for everyone.
  • Set Expectations: Develop 2-3 rules that address the common challenging behaviors. It’s helpful to frame these as positive behaviors (‘do X’ versus ‘don’t do Y’). As an example, for a child who wanders off in the grocery store, a rule can be, “Johnny must be within 10 feet of the shopping cart at all times.

  • Practice Skills: Be sure that children can follow the rules/expectations! For example, for a child who is supposed to be within 10 feet of a shopping cart, show the child what ten feet looks like!

  • Identify rewards: Collaboratively identify some rewards with your child for rule following. Keep these rewards small but meaningful.

  • Praise: Provide lots of praise for rule following throughout the entire activity.

  • Establish consequences: Collaboratively determine what the consequences would be for not following the rules. For example, if the child has to be reminded more than X number of times for not following the rules, they will…[lose the reward, lose an activity at home, etc.].

  • Ignore minor difficulties: Don’t sweat the small stuff! Minor behaviors like complaining or whining are best ignored.

  • Plan and practice with your child: Before going to the event/activity, plan, review and discuss the details of the “planning ahead” plan. Your child should know the rules, rewards, and consequences ahead of time to set them up for success.

  • Debrief: After the event/activity is done, find a low-stress time to review how the plan went, collaboratively problem-solve issues, and tweak the plan (if needed).

Between-Session Practice:

Pick a situation where your child routinely has some difficulties. What are the common behavioral challenges that typically show up in this situation?___________________________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________

Are there any common challenges (e.g., hunger, boredom) that may affect your child? How will you address them ahead of time? ___________________________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________

What are some helpful rules to create?
(Hint: remember to frame the rules in a ‘positive’ way – “do X” instead of “don’t do Y”.) ___________________________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________

What might be an example of praise you’d offer when your child follows the rules listed above?  What rewards will the child get for following the rules? ___________________________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________

What are some consequences if your child does not follow the rules? ___________________________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________

When can you collaborate with your child/family and finalize this plan? When can you practice the plan? When can you debrief on how the plan went? ___________________________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________________

Recording what you’re doing is a helpful way to know how things are going. Here is a table that can help you:

Date Which event/activity did you target with planning ahead? How well you did Your child’s response
    😀 🙂 😐 🙁 😀 🙂 😐 🙁
    😀 🙂 😐 🙁 😀 🙂 😐 🙁
    😀 🙂 😐 🙁 😀 🙂 😐 🙁
    😀 🙂 😐 🙁 😀 🙂 😐 🙁
    😀 🙂 😐 🙁 😀 🙂 😐 🙁
    😀 🙂 😐 🙁 😀 🙂 😐 🙁
    😀 🙂 😐 🙁 😀 🙂 😐 🙁