What is Pairing? Advice for Pediatric Therapists

Pairing is a very important part of starting a therapy program with a child.  It helps you, as a therapist, build rapport with the child and establish a pairingrelationship.  When working with a child, one of the main things you want to do is pair yourself with fun and reinforcing items.  You want the child to find you, and the environment, exciting and pleasing.  If the child is having fun and likes being with you, then he will be more motivated to come to therapy to work and play.

6 tips to help with pairing:

  1. Play!  When you first meet a child show him the different toys, games, and activities that are available.  Allow him to play with the different items to familiarize himself.
  2. Use Preference or Reinforcer Assessments.  To find out the items that might be possible reinforcers/motivators, conduct preference/reinforcer assessments to get a better idea of what toys/activities are reinforcing to the child.
  3. Place Items Out of Reach.  Place items up on shelves or in cabinets where the child can see them.  By putting the toys/activities up, the child needs to come to you to get access to the items they want.
  4. Give!  Make sure to deliver reinforcement and preferred items non-contingently.  This means you provide the child with new toys, fun activities, and games without placing demands on him.  Using an apron or wearing clothes with pockets can help you have access to small reinforcers as you move from room to room.
  5. Don’t Take!  When pairing yourself as a reinforcer, remember that you do not want to place demands on the child.  In addition, you do not want to stop the fun.  Allow the child to explore and to find new, exciting toys/activities.  Be sure to join in playing with him.  If the child becomes uninterested in a toy/activity, then find a new toy/activity that will be enjoyable.
  6. Set The Table/Work Area Up with Reinforcement.  It is also very important to pair the table/work area with reinforcement.  You want the child running to the table/work area because it has been well-paired with reinforcement.  If the child is avoiding the table/work area or trying to escape from it, then it has not been paired well, and you should work on making the table/work area more reinforcing.

When doing pairing, make sure to keep the above tips in mind.  It is critical that a therapist develop a strong rapport with the child in therapy for success to occur.  At the end of the day, it is about therapist and client having fun and learning!

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