Behavior Technique of the Month

Ok, parents this is a great tool to add to your toolbox: Shaping!

Shaping is the process of reinforcing approximations of a desired behavior until the complete desired behavior has been exhibited. The provider/caregiver provides reinforcement for a predetermined likeness of a desired behavior in multiple steps. This continues until the “likeness” closely resembles (if not completely mirrors) the desired behavior.


When we shape a behavior, we accept the child’s attempts at a desired behavior…but increase the expecation over time. Each time the child shows that she can “do” the desired behavior, we up the ante and push the expectation. We keep doing this in steps until the child shows the full or whole desired behavior with ease!

Let’s use an example:

Dana has a 3-year-old son named Scott. Scott recently graduated from a baby bed to a new toddler bed. Now he refuses to sleep in his room. Every night, Dana puts Scott in his bed, reads him a bedtime story, gently kisses him on his forehead, and leaves the room. As soon as Dana gets in her bed, Scott runs out of his room, into Dana’s room and cries until his parents allow him to sleep with them.

After a month of this, Dana begins the process of getting Scott to sleep in his bed. For the first week, after Dana completes her night time routine, she sits at Scotts’ door and tells Scott to stay in his room. He can move around in the room but must stay in the room. Dana provides him with hugs, kisses, and verbal praise for staying in his room and redirects his attempts to leave the room. She remains there until he falls asleep (anywhere in the room) and then places him in his bed.

The following week, Dana begins to reinforce Scott staying on his bed. He can play, jump, look at books, color, etc…as long as he is on his bed and he cannot leave the bed. She provides hugs, kisses, and verbal praise for this behavior. She does this until he falls asleep on the bed and exits the room.

The next week, after they complete their nighttime routine, Dana instructs Scott to lie in his bed with no toys, except his favorite stuffed bear. He can continue to snuggle with his stuffed bear, but that is all. Dana continues this until Scott is staying in his room and sleeping in his bed.

Dana has “shaped” Scott’s behavior. Ultimately, she wanted him to sleep in his bed. She began by accepting and reinforcing a similar behavior; that is, accepting approximations of the desired behavior…(1) staying in his room, (2) staying in his bed, (3) lying on his bed without toys, etc…until he could finally sleep in his bed on his own!

For more information on Shaping or if you would like assistance incorporating this tool into your everyday life, please contact us at or call 765-400-4021.