Let's watch some parents undertake object focused play and see some of the techniques they employ to make it successful. This parent who had difficulty getting and maintaining her child's attention is now able to focus him sufficiently and can move forward into imitation. You can see how she uses a jelly bean to fix Zack's attention on the object before demonstrating the activity for him.
Having secured attention, this parent-child team is now having success with imitation. Particularly since the parent has introduced support - what we call a Prompt.
In this case, another adult guiding the child's hand.
A prompt is a helper that the adult employs initially to aid the child in giving a particular response.
There are a variety of useful prompts, such as:
- changing the position of the object
- exaggerating an action or hand over hand
Here, this parent is using hand over hand to assist the child in imitating.
Prompts can be a little tricky. Use one only if it's necessary and only as much as the child needs to demonstrate the response because unnecessary prompts can create a dependency on them and actually interfere with your child's ability to acquire a behavior.
For learning to have taken place, the child has to be able to do something independent of prompts.
If the prompt is too strong or too obvious, it will interfere with the child's own efforts. On the other hand, if it's too subtle, the child won't understand what is expected.
As the child begins to acquire the behavior, the adult decreases the problem and eventually eliminated over time.
This is called fading the prompt.
But if this is done too abruptly, it can confuse the child. Choosing and using prompts well comes with practice.