March Mand-ness

In honor of March Madness, a sought-out time for avid college basketball fans, we will discuss manding – hence the title of today’s blog March Mand-ness. Manding is a critical skill frequently taught in applied behavior analysis (ABA). To simply define, a mand is a request. Requests can be for an item, activity, attention, information, help, or to stop something aversive. Mands occur due to motivation and reinforcement following the mand. For example, a child who is thirsty might say “water” to their parent, in return the parent gives them a glass of water. In this case, the motivation is being thirsty, the mand is “water,” and the reinforcement is getting a cup of water. Furthermore, learning to mand is very important as challenging behaviors often arise due to being unable to communicate wants and needs. Manding is also crucial to learn for socialization and communication.

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Basic Steps for Mand Training

  • Select a variety of highly preferred (reinforcing) items and activities. This assists in teaching a diverse set of mands and motivation.
  • Identify target responses. This will vary based on the child’s current skills. For example, sign language or a picture exchange system may be used if the child is non-verbal. For a child who is verbal, the target response may be a single word such as “hug,” “I want hug,” or “Can I have a hug?”

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  • Maintain motivation throughout teaching, which can be accomplished by varying reinforcers or limiting access to reinforcers.
  • Provide modeling and additional prompts as needed. For example, “if you want this, say ‘ball’” or if using a picture exchange system, guiding the child’s hand to the ball card and placing it in either the parent or therapist’s hand.
  • Fade prompts as soon as possible to facilitate independence. Using the example from step 4, only saying “b—” for a ball or only pointing to the ball card.

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Tips and Ideas at Home

  • Encourage your child to mand across all settings (at home, at the grocery store, at grandparents’ house, at the park).
  • Limit access to highly preferred items as this will provide more motivation to get the item.
  • Set up the environment where your child is required to mand (request). For example, placing cookies out of reach to encourage your child to mand for the cookie.
  • Even though you may know what your child wants without them manding, pause before providing the item, attention, etc.,
  • Depending on your child’s skill level, withholding a preferred item/activity until your child appropriately mands. For example, if your child typically screams or hits to get your attention, model or prompt the desired response. Once your child mands appropriately, provide the preferred item/activity (reinforcer).
  • Praise (e.g., “I love how you asked me for juice!”) and deliver the item immediately when your child uses appropriate mands.
  • If you are unsure of what the “just right challenge” response to expect from your child (e.g., “park,” “I want park” or “Can we go to the park?”), consult your BCBA!

In conclusion, providing as many opportunities to mand as possible, will best promote learning and outcomes. Not only is manding a vital skill to learn, it may help decrease challenging behavior and increase communication.


Bourret, J., Vollmer, T. R., & Rapp, J. T. (2004). Evaluation of a vocal mand assessment and vocal mand training procedures. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis37(2), 129-144.

Hozella, W. and Ampuero, M. (2014). Mand Training Basics.