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Teaching Parents to Use Values-Based Behavior Strategies: From Helpless to Hero

By Beth Harlan
May 6, 2020
1 Comment
By Master Trainer Beth Harlan

Superheroes have dominated pop culture over the past few years. While we're used to looking for them on screen, all we really need to do is look in the mirror. We all have superpowers in some way. In the era of Covid-19 it is imperative that behavior analysts and other related personnel use their skills to help us all unlock those superpowers by teaching parents how to use values-based behavior strategies.

Some ways to accomplish this were outlined in the article “From helpless to hero: Promoting values-based behavior and positive family interaction in the midst of Covid-19” by Szabo et al., 2020. Below, I've grouped the article’s recommendations of how professionals can help families and clients unleash their superpowers. I've broken it down into the categories of set-up, values, time, and activities.


Designate different rooms in the home for different activities. Indicate which room is for work, leisure, sleep, etc. You can do this through the use of colored cards, giving the room different names. Include children in the naming or color-coding process.

Additionally, you can create a daily schedule with a picture of the room where each activity will occur. There can be many benefits to having children and parents change rooms for different activities across the day. Doing so can help with some of the stress of being home every day.

Visual modeling of skills involves using pictures to demonstrate how you want someone else to complete a skill. Parents can take pictures of how to complete various tasks and post those images around their home.

Use of cues like colored cards to indicate when a room is, and is not, available for use. For example, say a parent is on the phone for a business call in the guest room. In this case, the guest room would have a red card visible. Or let's say a parent is watching a movie in the guest room. For this instance, a green card would be visible in the guest room to show it is okay to enter.

Visual Schedules can be used to help provide structure to the day at home. Show parents how to set them up, how to include visuals and how to make sure that reinforcement and breaks are included in this schedule for everyone in the family.


Verbal statements that make following rules, sharing, helping others, and making the best of a difficult situation heroic, could help increase children’s engagement in those skills. Teaching families to use these statements could also empower all members of the family to engage in these behaviors more often.

This could potentially even improve the overall morale of the family. Examples of these statements include stating things like, “…superheroes model being patient for their sisters and brothers: I love seeing you show your brother how to be so patient” (Szabo et al., 2020, p. 14).

Daily Visioning is a skill that involves teaching families to start their day by coming together as a group. They will then review a written statement of their family vision, or goals, and the family’s schedule for the day. This skill could be combined with the visual schedules that were addressed above.

Displaying rules visually involves teaching families to not only set rules, but also post those rules visually for all members of the family to refer to. Combine this with verbal statements that make following rules a heroic action. This encourages and reinforces the entire family for following the rules and reminding others to do so as well.

Value clarification involves teaching family members to identify each other’s values by drawing a coat of arms, that includes visual representations of their top four to six values.


Beat the timer is a strategy that parents could be taught to use. The goal of this strategy would be to decrease the time it takes family members to complete various activities.

Families can also be taught to use timers to indicate how long an activity will occur. They can also be used to tell how much time is left before an activity will end. This use of timers is aimed at improving transition between activities.

Pausing when upset is a very important coping skill that practitioners could teach caregivers and clients to help families respond more effectively to stressors.


Tootles are an activity where the whole family is given cards, post-its, or a piece of paper. They are then told to record, and later share, when they catch their family member engaging in prosocial or heroic behavior.

Jumble Jar is a container full of sentence starters, topics, or statements. This can help provide structure to family conversations at meal times.

Life timeline is another activity families can do together. In this activity, you put out a line of tape on the floor. On the tape, you place pictures, drawings and life events in chronological order, then review/relive those events as a family.

PAX Good Behavior Game is a set of practices that parents can be taught to apply at home. Small alterations can be made when taking the game out of the classroom and into the home. All members of the family can be on teams. This could be a great way to provide more reinforcement for prosocial behavior at home.

Math mountain is another activity you could teach parents. It involves solving problems to climb the mountain and get safely down the other side. It also includes ways to get and give support when someone gives an incorrect answer.

Computer cleanup is a simple activity that caregivers can be taught to use. This activity involves setting up a structured schedule with timers. Once a number of minutes of work is completed, then that family member can have a number of minutes of computer time.

5-4-3-2-1 is a simple activity that families can used to stay in the moment. This activity can be done by stating a different number of things they can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste.


Above, I have described some ways to teach values-based behavior strategies that the article recommends behavior analysts and related professionals teach to parents. It is especially helpful for those with children with special needs, to teach prosocial skills at home. These skills will help caregivers, parents, and children unlock their personal superpowers. It is important to note that many of these skills can be combined. Any practitioner teaching these skills to families should individualize their instruction of the skills above to match their clients’ and families’ needs.

For more information, and to read the whole article, please click here.

Additional Resources

Check out other articles to help parents with kids at home: How to Work From Home With Kids: Learning, Leisure, and Love in the time of Coronavirus, 4 Tips for Keeping Your Kids Physically Active During the Stay-at-Home Period, and Escape Maintained Challenging Behavior.

QBS offers a webinar training program called Safety-Care for Families. It is a training program that allows organizations to train families working with behaviorally challenging individuals at home.
To sign up or learn more, please email info@qbs.com.


Szabo, T., Richling, S., Embry, D. D., Biglan, A., & Wilson, K. G. (2020, April 3). From Helpless to Hero: Promoting Values-Based Behavior and Positive Family Interaction in the Midst of Covid-19.

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