rapport building activities for therapy

Rapport Building Activities for Therapy

Rapport building—also known as pairing—is a foundational concept in applied behavior analysis (ABA). During the first few sessions, therapists pair themselves with reinforcement to build a connection with the child. It focuses on creating a positive relationship with the learner so that therapy is associated with joy rather than work. Rapport building activities for therapy make learners more willing to engage and follow instructions during sessions.

As emphasized by ABA expert Greg Hanley, the goal of pairing in ABA therapy is to create a trusting relationship where the learner feels happy, relaxed, and engaged. This approach lays the foundation of the therapeutic relationship but should also be a continuous practice for new teachers, interventionists, and parents to maintain a supportive learning environment.

In this article, you will learn more about the importance of rapport building activities for therapy and some common examples that are used in ABA.

Building Rapport 101

The way an ABA therapist interacts with their client significantly impacts the child’s engagement in therapy. A study by Kelly et al. (2015) identified seven essential skills for pairing with a new client:

  • Commenting: Describe and comment on appropriate play.
  • Praising: Praise the child for displaying appropriate play behaviors.
  • Imitating: Imitate the child’s play actions.
  • Reflecting: Reflect and imitate the child’s vocalizations.
  • Initiating: Offer tangible items to the child, preferably things that they enjoy.
  • Creating: Change the function of a toy to create a new activity.
  • Proximity: Stay in close proximity to the child during the pairing period.

Rapport building is only one of the many different techniques used in ABA therapy. It’s important to understand how to use it effectively to maximize its many benefits.

3 Main Steps on Building Rapport

1. Avoid Turn-Offs

  • Building rapport starts with gaining the trust of the child, so you will need to avoid activities that could create conflict.
  • Try not to say “‘no'” to the learner during the initial sessions. Let them be as independent as possible at first. If you need to set limits, offer alternatives instead of just saying “no.”
  • Focus on building a connection without giving instructions. If you’re constantly telling the learner what to do, they might not enjoy your company.

Know their Interests

  • Get to know your learner’s favorite games, toys, foods, and activities. Use these as “reinforcers” that will help build rapport in the long run.
  • You should also consult with the child’s parents, teachers, and caregivers to confirm what the child does for fun. There could be specific hobbies, movies, TV shows, or songs that the child enjoys but may forget to tell you.
  • Join in on the learner’s favorite activity without giving any demands. Prioritize declarative comments over questions (e.g., “It’s so fast!” instead of “Where is it going?”).

Engage in Activities and Games

  • Play is the number one way to build rapport with your learner. Engaging in play that aligns with the child’s special interests create moments of shared joy. For example, if they prefer lining up LEGO bricks rather than building structures, join in their way of play. This will make the child more open to your participation.
  • Provide opportunities for the child to lead the play. When adults encourage and participate in child-led play, we show them that their ideas are valued. This helps build a sense of trust and security, which are important in building rapport.
  • Save special toys or activities that you two only do together, so the next time you bring them out, the child will associate it as playtime with you and they will look forward to it.

Examples of Rapport Building Activities for Therapy

Below are some rapport building activities for therapy that can help caregivers, parents, and ABA professionals create a positive and trusting relationship with the child. Keep in mind that these are just examples. It’s more important to join in on the kind of play the child prefers. If they decide to switch it up, be ready to follow their lead.

1. Imaginative Play

  • Toy vehicles. Set up a track and play with toy cars or trains. Make engine noises when the vehicles are moving and create different scenarios like traffic jams, emergencies, and races.
  • Building blocks. Stack blocks or build structures and creative worlds using LEGO and similar playsets. Show enthusiasm for their creations.
  • Miniature figures. Dolls and action figures offer lots of options for pretend play and creating stories depending on the child’s interests. Recreate scenes from their favorite movies or TV shows.
  • Pretend cooking: Use a play kitchen set to “cook” meals together. Pretend to mix, bake, and serve food. If they want to, let them act as the head chef who “directs” you on what kind of meals to create. Or if they prefer to be the chef and you as the customer, compliment whatever food they serve you.
  • Dressing up. Provide costumes and props for you and the child to dress up and act out different roles. Recreate scenes from TV shows, movies, musicals, documentaries, or whatever media that you child prefers.
  • Household role-play: Engage in pretend play scenarios like playing house, store, or school.

2. Art and Crafts

  • Drawing and coloring: Sit together and draw or color. Praise their efforts and join in by drawing your own pictures.
  • Clay-making: Create shapes, animals, or objects together using modeling clay. Follow the learner’s ideas and build upon them.
  • Crafting projects: Work on simple crafts like making paper airplanes, origami, decorating picture frames, or creating collages.

3. Interactive Games

  • Board games: Choose age-appropriate board games that the learner enjoys. You will probably have to let them win on the first few rounds to keep them encouraged!
  • Puzzle solving: Complete jigsaw puzzles together, offering help and encouragement as needed.
  • Memory or matching games: Play games that involve matching cards or finding pairs, celebrating successes together.

4. Music and Movement

  • Musical instruments: Play simple instruments like tambourines, maracas, or xylophones. Create rhythms and songs together.
  • Singing: Sing favorite songs or nursery rhymes, encouraging the learner to join in
  • Dancing: Put on music and dance around the room. Follow the learner’s movements and introduce fun dance moves.

5. Storytelling

  • Reading books: Read favorite books aloud, using expressive voices and engaging the learner in the story.
  • Improvisation: Create your own stories together. Let the child contribute ideas and characters and play along as the story builds itself.
  • Picture books: Look at picture books and discuss the images. Make observations and ask open-ended questions that encourage the child to respond.

6. Sensory Activities

  • Sensory bins: Fill bins with rice, beans, or sand and hide small toys for the learner to find. Engage in the discovery process together.
  • Water play: Use a small water table or a bowl with water and toys for splashing and pouring activities.
  • Textured materials: Engage in sensory stimulation from different textures by playing with fabric swatches, squishy balls, textured mats, and more.

Other Methods of Building Rapport

Aside from the main steps mentioned above, here are a few more tips that promote a good relationship between you and the child.

  • Telling jokes to promote laughter and lighten the mood during activities can build positive associations.
  • Relate to common experiences between you and the child so they can feel understood and validated.
  • Use the name of the learner whenever you address then to make your interactions feel more personal.
  • Observe and learn their habits. If the child has a specific way of playing a toy The more you know about them, the more you can tailor to their interests.
  • Get on their level. If the child is playing on the floor, it’s a good idea to also get down on the floor. If the child prefers to do an activity on the table, grab a chair and join in. Staying on their level makes the child feel that you are truly engaged and supportive of their interests.
ujala life rapport building activities for therapy

One last thing to remember—pairing in ABA therapy is a proactive intervention; therefore, it should be used before behaviors arise. If an unfamiliar adult enters a session without taking time to pair with the child and immediately starts giving instructions, the child may become upset or avoid the adult as an expression of discomfort.

We at Ujala Life understand the benefits of rapport building activities for therapy not only in the productivity of our sessions but also the well-being of our clients. Contact us if you want to learn more about our ABA services for the families of Short Hills and Union in NJ.

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