The Step Up, Step Down Strategy
A Step up/Step down approach to teaching children is about always being mindful about your child's needs and your child's availability to respond to you on any given day.
Step up /Step Down is a strategy that includes a range of prompts and adaptations to activities so that each part of the activity is easily adapted to suit your child on any given day. This is an approach that is individualized to suit your child’s learning needs. The Step Up/ Step Down strategy provides parents with advice on how to adapt each element of an activity and how to incorporate prompts if required so that your child can achieve the skill at their own pace.
Step Down means we made need to consider extra prompting on certain days depending on your child's ability to respond on that day. We are always considering how to Step Down so at all times we can Step back up again.
Sometimes if children don’t understand what we are asking them to say or do, or if they find it hard to emit the sound, word or action that we want them to, they can become frustrated and distressed by the interaction.
In those situations, there is lots that we can do to support our children in times of frustration or distress.
If we see signs or signals of distress, it can be helpful to introduce a prompt to support your child. There are many different types or prompts that we can use. The type of prompt we use will often depend on the skill or activity we are engaging in at the time.
See below different types of prompts and things to consider when using them.
Types of Prompts
Full Physical : ( This is when we place our hand over our child's hand to help them do something physical)
Partial Physical : ( This is when we gently tip their wrist or tip at elbow or tip at shoulder to help them do something physical)
Gesture : (This is when we simply point at something to help our child understand what we want them to do. Or alternatively we can hold out an open palmed hand to help them to understand that we would like them to approach us)
Model : (This is when we say nothing and just show our child what to do)
Echoic : (This is when we give our child a full vocal verbal word/sound e.g. “Mama” “Dada” “cat” “doggie” to help them say the word)
Partial Echoic : ( This is when we give our child parts of the sounds to help them to say the word “ma........ mm...mm...mm” "da.....dd....dd....dd")
Verbal Instructions : (This is when we tell our child how to do an action "put the block on the white one", "look do it like this", "open the door" "find the ball" "do what Mammy does”)
Verbal Instructions :(Tell a child to say a sound or word, “Say Mama, say Mama “ , "look a cat, say cat, say c…a…..t….. )
Be very careful with verbal prompts.
Verbal prompts and verbal instructions are prompts that we tend to use a lot . Sometimes though overuse of verbal prompts and instructions but can cause frustration and distress. If we give a child too many verbal instructions, we may be overloading them with too much verbal input. If they are struggling to process our verbal input, they may grow frustrated or distressed. They may begin to find interactions aversive and they may begin to try and avoid certain activities. Sometimes, it may be better to use Non-Verbal prompts or simple echoics when teaching new actions, sounds or words. If you see signs and signals of frustration or distress, be sure to fade back the verbal prompting and verbal instructions. You can use modelling, gesture and single word echoics.
When to Use Non-Verbal Prompts and Simple (Verbal Prompts) Echoics.
Use prompts if your child finds it hard to do the action or say the word that you want them to.
Use the prompt that best supports the skill (word/action) you are teaching your child. Children benefit from full physical or full echoic prompts when encountering a new word or action for the first time.
The most important thing to note about introducing prompts is always remember to fade them.
Children like adults will have good days and bad days. The Step Up/Step Down strategy is a good strategy to use to support children who are showing signs of frustration during any activity. As a parent you are always best placed to read the signals that your child is sending you. Always remember that you can go back to implementing the Step Up/Step Down strategy on the days your child may be under the weather or anytime that they may be showing you signs of frustration during an activity.
Example of Using a Fading scale for Physical Prompts:
Skill :Putting a block on top of another block
Use a Physical Prompt for a Physical Skill
Full Prompt: Put your hand over your child’s hand to support them to put the block on top of another block. If they do the skill with the prompt, praise them for completing the skill.
1st Fade: Next time direct your child to do this action by gently tipping your fingers to their wrist and gently guide the action from there. If they do the skill with this prompt, praise your child for completing the skill. If they cannot complete the skill, go back to the full prompt.
2nd Fade: Next time direct your child to the skill by placing your fingers at your child’s elbow and guide the action from that place. If they do the skill with this prompt, praise your child for completing the skill. If they cannot complete the skill, go back to the 1st fade prompt.
3rd Fade: Next time wait and see if your child can do the skill without a prompt, if they show signs of an attempt, but are still showing signs of uncertainty, you can gently prompt them by a touch at the shoulder, or go back to the previous prompt if you feel they need that one. Praise your child for completing the skill.
Full Fade : When your child completes the skill independently, Give the praise and label what they did (e.g. “Well done, you put the block on all by your self !!)
Keep Watch Out: for signs of frustration or distress. Don’t worry about reverting to previous prompts, if you feel they need that support. You can always fade the prompts back out again as they show independence up and down the prompting scale.
What Next? When your child has reached independence with this skill, it may be time to move on to a higher level of that skill. (For example, adding more blocks independently; place two blocks on top, then three on top etc…) Keep the prompt fading scale in mind with all new skills, and move up and down the scale as needed.
Example of Using a Fading scale for Verbal Prompts:
Skill :Saying “Mama”
Use a Verbal Prompt for a Verbal Skill
Full Prompt: (Echoic) If your child is reaching to you and making any sounds at all. You say the full word “Mama” and pick them up or give them a tickle or a smile and some verbal interaction and praise. Keep doing this until you start to hear your child making sounds that are approximations of the word “Mama” e.g (mmmmm aaaa, )
1st Fade :If your child is reaching towards you and making an “mmmm” sound. You say the full sound (Prompt and Positive Reinforcement) “mmmmmamamammaaaa” and pick them up or give the a tickle or smile and some verbal interaction and praise.
2nd Fade: If your child is reaching towards you and making an “mmmmaaaa” sound. You say “mmmmaaaa that’s right it’s Mama, Mama”and pick them up or give them a tickle or smile and lots of verbal interaction and praise .Repeat this interaction a number of times if you keep hearing the sound
3rd Fade: Each time you hear “mmmaaaa” Repeat back “maaaamaaaa” Lift up and Tickle/Smile/Verbal Interaction and praise. Keep repeating “maaamaaa” over time.
Full Fade: When you hear “mama” from your child, the first time, be very very excited and make sure you give lots positive reinforcement (lift/tickle/verbal interaction and praise).From then on only give the positive reinforcement when you hear the full sound. You can prompt them to make the sound “maaamaaa” give them a chance to make the full sound, and praise them for that,
Watch Out: for signs of frustration or distress. Don’t worry about reverting to previous prompts, if you feel that they need that support. You can always fade the prompts back out again as they show independence up and down the prompting scale.
What Next? When your child has reached independence with this skill, it’s time to move on to more words (dada, doggie, etc…) (Keep the prompt fading scale in mind with all new skills, and move up and down the scale as needed.
For more information on playful activities you can do with your child
- Check out our Activity Box.
- If you would like to create a developmental milestones profile for your child. Check out the myToddler Talk Passport.
- If you require further 1:1 support you can book a consultation.