What is Shaping?

Shaping is a technique many counselors use to teach kids new behaviors. It allows you to build a desired behavior in children using small steps. Once the child has mastered a step then you move to the next one. 

This technique also requires the adult to provide a reward as the child completes each step to encourage them to go to the next task. An example of a reward could be a praise specific statement such as “Good job at putting all your stuffed animals in the toy box.” Another example of a reward is telling a child they can play outside once a step is complete or attempted.

Shaping provides a great way to set goals as you and your child are learning something new. Also, it requires you to adjust if you see that a child is stuck on one step. Adjusting means you may have to take a break or divide the steps into smaller increments.

Another important point is to BE PATIENT. Some children learn new behaviors quickly while others move a little slower.

Below are two examples of how shaping can be used in your home. 

Example 1

A mother has a child that won’t sit during reading time. The child thinks reading is boring. She would like for her child to sit through a whole book while she reads.   The book she picks has ten pages. Below is how shaping can be used…

  1. Pick a short book when reading to the child.
  2. Pick a book that aligns with the child’s interest.
  3. Set a small goal like have the child listen to the first two pages.
  4. Next time have the child listen to the first four pages.
  5. Next time have the child listen to the first six pages.
  6. Keep going until the child can listen to the whole book.
  7. Give the child verbal praise after each small step.

Example 2

A boy has a fear of dogs. He will not go outside to play because his neighbors are constantly walking their dogs. His parents want him to be comfortable walking pass dogs on his way to the play ground. Below is how shaping can be used…

  1. Tell the child a story about a friendly dog.
  2. Show the child pictures of dog while telling a story about a friendly dog.
  3. Read a story with pictures about a helpful dog.
  4. Watch a cartoon about a friendly dog.
  5. Have the child look out the window while neighbors are walking their dogs.
  6. Have the child stand or sit outside (near the door) while a neighbor across the street is walking their dog.
  7. Have the child stand or sit outside while a neighbor on your side of the street is walking their dog.
  8. Have the child take a certain number of steps on the street while a neighbor is walking their dog.
    • If they are not ready for this, you may have to carry them while doing this.
  9. Have the child walk a quarter of the way to the playground while a neighbor on the same side of the street is walking their dog. 
  10. Keep progressing until the child can walk the entire way to the playground.

I hope this helps!


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6 thoughts on “The Power of SHAPING New Behavior in Children

  1. Love this article, shaping is very effective, particularly with my 7y old who has ADHD. Shaping has been used in his 504 and IEP plans because he’s a very reward driven child so this works great for correcting and toning behavior. It should definitely be used more often with kids of all learning abilities, though, because to them it doesn’t feel like punishment and so they’re far more likely to take to it.

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