Pairing is an essential component of intervention. When a new person begins to work with a child, there are several factors that can influence how that initial session will go. Sometimes a new therapy space or even the sight of a new therapist can evoke problem behaviour. When problematic behaviours occur at initial sessions, this can have an effect on the following sessions.
Before beginning any intervention with a child, to eliminate or even reduce the potential aversiveness of the session, a procedure called pairing can be carried out. Pairing is another word for rapport building. We pair ourselves with the things the child likes to do and become someone they want to work with and trust, before they place any demands on the child, or introduce any non-preferred materials.
The therapist should engage with the child, spending time doing what the child loves. You should follow their lead, imitate their play actions, and give lots of praise and attention for all of the good behaviours that you see. Pairing teaches the child that that I am fun, predictable and when I show up good things happen.
So…how do I pair up with a child?
1. Speak with parents or caregivers about the child’s preferences. Find out what their preferred activities and items are. Determine if they typically enjoy the company of unfamiliar adults, or if they are slower to build relationships.
2. Observe the child, and how they like to occupy their time.
3. Pair yourself with someone who already has a good rapport with the child, such as a parent or caregiver.
4. Have materials that the child likes. If they like bubbles you can begin to blow some bubbles. If they like cars, offer them to the child freely. Praise the child when they show appropriate behaviours such as making eye contact, smiling, requesting. Be playful.
5. Follow the child’s lead, imitate their behaviours.
6. Once the child is happy in your company, we can begin to place minimal demands. Demands should be ones that are easy for the child to perform, and offer loads of praise and then reinforce immediately after they perform the demand.
7. Demands than can be gradually increased, while continuing to offer loads of praise and reinforcement.