Community Outings

Participating in community outings is an important skill for children, but can often be overwhelming to practice. Writing a behavior plan can help provide guidance to increase tolerance of community outings for your child.

While creating a plan, it’s important to have contingencies in place to support your child and to facilitate success while in the community. Identifying common places in the community that you and your child frequently encounter is a good place to start. Brainstorming what can go right – or wrong – ahead of time can help everyone involved. Consider a scenario in which a child frequently engages in tantrums while grocery shopping. To begin, we would identify the grocery store that parents typically go to, select a time in which the grocery store is not busy, and plan for specifically challenging aspects of the grocery store (e.g., avoiding the candy aisle). Additionally, collecting baseline data may be helpful while planning for outings. For instance, if baseline data suggest that your child typically begins to demonstrate negative behaviors after 15-minutes of shopping, we may want to design our trips to be 10-minutes long to facilitate success. As your child learns to tolerate these trips, we can systematically increase the length of the outing.

Reinforcement systems are also an important part of the plan. Examples of reinforcers could include small treats delivered throughout the store for appropriate behaviors (e.g., sitting nicely, using an indoor voice), descriptive praise, and a larger reward at the end of a successful trip (e.g., selecting a toy). However, it is important to withhold these rewards if your child engages in inappropriate behaviors while shopping. For instance, while entering the grocery store you may describe to your child that they will receive treats for sitting nicely, and if they walk nicely the entire trip they will get to pick out one item from the toy aisle. If your child engages in a tantrum, we would want to ensure that the child does not receive attention or get to pick out a toy.

As your child becomes successful with the initial steps of the plan, we will want to fade the program to resemble typical trips to the grocery store. Examples of fading could include going to the store at higher-traffic times, increasing the length of trips, reducing the frequency of delivering treats, or providing a toy after every-other trip to the store. Data should be collected (e.g., duration of trip, time of trip, instances of problem behavior) to see whether the child is ready to move on to the next step of the program.

Overall, community outings can be overwhelming, but with a concrete plan we can increase tolerance of outings and facilitate success for our children.