Count & Mand Procedure

Source: The Verbal Behavior Approach

I dont know what it is about me and grocery stores. I feel like I see so many more meltdowns/ tantrums when I'm inside grocery stores than the average person. Maybe Im just paying more attention because Im a behaviorist...or maybe these people follow me around. Im not really sure.

 This morning I was standing in the checkout line behind a toddler having a serious meltdown, and a few checkout lines down from me a maybe 5 year old kiddo was kicking up a massive tantrum. Thats not too unusual, as most professionals or parents know behaviors can be "contagious", in that one crying child can set off children all around them to begin crying. What was somewhat unusual, and what tends to catch my attention is the way parents react to these situations. I see lots of begging, pleading, whispered threats, stern looks, grabbing candy bars/toys/keychains to distract the child, picking the child up, digging inside of bags for juice or milk, etc. To summarize, I generally see a reaction of panic.

My goal when working with a client is to give so much support, parent education, and training, that the parents don't have to feel panic in a public situation ever again. Its never a good feeling when inside of a quiet store with tons of people in close proximity your child begins to tantrum. Inevitably, all eyes around you either look at you accusingly, or you see people trying very hard and quite noticeably not to look at you.

So the question is, "As a Therapist/Parent/Aunt/Uncle/Grandparent how am I supposed to react?"

Understand that ABA is about principles of behavior. There are a handful of basic principles (see my ABA Beliefs  post) that give you an infinite number of choices you can make. The possible ways to react to a behavior are only limited by the information you have and what you know.
So here is 1 more choice to add to your arsenal: The Count & Mand Procedure.

You would use a Count & Mand procedure for a child who wants something and is using an inappropriate method (tantrum, screaming, aggression) to ask for it. You are basically teaching the child how to ask you for things appropriately. Similar to the Count & Mand, is the Walk & Peel technique. This technique is used when the child is asking for something they cannot have. Both procedures are explained in detail below:

  • Tell the child to stop behavior or say "quiet" and begin counting. Counting can be out loud, or by showing fingers and doing a countdown. I usually count to 10. 
  • If problem behavior continues during count, re start the count. Do not restart the count more than 3 times (child only has 3 opportunities to calm down).
  • If child runs off/walks away, stop the count. 
  • When you have finished your countdown with no problem behaviors, prompt child to request desired item or activity with acceptable form of communication (this can be sign language, PECS, pointing, touching, or verbal).
  • Deliver item for proper communication and be sure to reinforce appropriate manding.

  • Say no and if child accepts the no provide reinforcement or praise
  • If problem behavior occurs, walk in opposite direction
  • Return only to protect the child or property with no talking, and minimal eye contact. Walk away again
  • If child grabs you or pulls at you, “peel” them off and go about your business
  • When child stops problem behavior for 1 minute return and redirect them to something else.

  • Say no and if the child accepts the no provide reinforcement
  • If problem behavior occurs, place a compliance demand on the child specific to the setting. If in school direct to next activity (“Clean up toys”). Once the child has completed the compliance demand you may reinforce him/her.
  • If problem behavior continues, be prepared to ignore it (always remembering to ignore the behavior, not the child). Try to avoid reinforcing the inappropriate behavior, such as leaving the grocery store because the child won’t stop crying.

**Quick Tip:

  • Reinforcement and Bribery are not the same thing. If you are unsure if you are using reinforcement or bribes, ask yourself if the target behavior is likely to go up or down in the future. You are only using reinforcement if the target behavior goes up.
  • A good way to help children accept "no" is to teach "no but" first. For example "No you cannot have ice cream, but you can have some juice". Basically you are providing the child with an alternate choice. Eventually you want to use a mix of "no but" and "no", until the child can successfully accept a "no".
  • If a count and mand procedure does not work wait at least 10 minutes before trying again. Do not feel rushed to calm the child down or to make the problem behavior stop. The child will realize that there are a finite amount of opportunities you will give them to mand properly before you walk away, and the door to reinforcement is closed.


  1. This post was really helpful to read. I feel like in my training it was discussed that tantrums would happen, and we talked about ignoring the inappropriate behaviors, but we didn't really discuss just HOW to handle the tantrums. I have yet to experience one, but I know it's just a matter of time!

  2. Oh its absolutely just a matter of time! :-)
    But just know when you do have to start dealing with severe behaviors that there are SO many options available to you for how to teach more appropriate behaviors. Count & Mand is just one option of many.

  3. I really need to research more of those options, for my own sanity. I don't feel prepared to deal with them which is nerve wracking. I'm also still getting used to simply giving a demand without saying "Please do ____" or "Can you please _____". I'm still trying to step of my previously role as a nanny and step into the behavioral interventionist role! It's taking some getting used to.

  4. I agree with you, and you're not alone in feeling that way. For educators, parents, babysitters, etc, it is often hard to learn to act like a "behaviorist". Just simple things like learning to state a demand, not ask a question can be a challenge. I see that a lot.

  5. I love this! You made it so easy to understand a concept that I had been struggling with (my work hasn't explained it just expected us to know!)

  6. Hi Tameika!
    I have been doing ABA for about three years now, I used to be an EI therapist and now I have a 6:1:1 classroom and coach other teachers at my school. I will be going back to school in the fall to get my BCBA. Anyway (enough about me).. I have a student who I can't seem to figure out the solution to this issue. This is my favorite student I have been working with for two years, if you looked up autism in the dictionary, his picture would be in the definition. The past two weeks, when I run IT, he has been answering in whispers. He uses a token board to earn his reinforcer. I have not been giving him tokens for answers that are whispered. As it is, he is a low talker anyway. When he whispers, I will typically error correct until he gives me something better than a whisper, in which I will give him a token. Because of this, I have upped our manding sessions. He will speak in a regular voice if he is requesting a desired item (for the most part). If he whispers the item he wants to me, I will just say "I can't hear you, you are whispering, speak louder." If he wants the item badly enough, he will say it louder and I will immediately reinforce. It is difficult because this student is completely content if he doesn't get the item he wants. He is just happy sitting by himself starring into space. He has a very low motivation for things, and believe me... I have done an extensive interest inventory. My closet looks like Toys R Us and a candy store. Today at snack time, he wanted cookies. I was making him mand for the cookie but he would only whisper "cookie." I had started out by saying I can't hear you, and modeling the word cookie louder. He was still whispering. I kept modeling the word cookie louder, occasionally saying speak louder, I can't hear whispers and he would still whisper. It then occurred to me that he is probably enjoying hearing me yell cookie and trying to get him to say it nicely so I ignored him for ten minutes. He sat in his seat and did nothing. Had no access to reinforcers and was completely content sitting alone doing nothing, and was unfazed that he couldn't get a cookie. I then decided to try something new and thought maybe I could put this on extinction, so I modeled the word cookie louder again and he whispered it. Then, I just kept saying "cookie, cookie, cookie, cookie, cookie." over and over again in a regular tone. He continued whispering it, and then it was time to go home so I had to stop. Please help! I am at a dead end.

    1. Hi Regina,

      This sounds like a situation where a Functional Behavior Assessment needs to be conducted, to create a Behavior Plan. Do you have access to a Behavior Specialist or a BCBA at your school? I don't know enough about your student to offer specific suggestions, but without determining the function of this behavior any intervention selected isn't likely to be effective.

      Good luck!

  7. Yes, we have one during the year, not for summer school so I will just ask her in Sept. Thanks anyway!

    1. You're welcome! Sorry I couldn't offer more specific recommendations but definitely your 1st step should be a quality FBA.

  8. Hello! To treat a tangible function the replacement skill is to have the child request items/activities using appropriate tone i.e. without target behavior (whining, pouting, crying). This child is on grade level (kinder), verbal, and has ADD and ODD. Is it ok not to offer an alternative? For ex, adult will provide verbal model of language to use and if child attempts, she will be reinforced by getting what she requested. If she continues with target behavior, adult will provide two choices 1) try again using nice words or 2) whatever the other natural, non-preferred choice is. Ex, if student wants a peer to move she will be given the choice of using kind words to ask peer to move or she can choose a different seat. If student ignores both attempts to use appropriate language or does not choose the non-preferred choice and engages in target behavior, that bx is to be ignored. This child escalates into physical aggression against adults so once she calms would it then be realistic to have her make a choice of two acceptable choices (teacher's choice) based on whatever is going on in the classroom at that time and accept either an appropriate verbal choice or non-verbal choice? Thanks! Sometimes I get confused with incorporating a compliance demand and don't really understand where this would be implemented and why.

    1. Hi there,

      Is there a BCBA or Behavior Specialist at your school? Without knowing the specifics of the case, or observing directly, I cannot make individualized recommendations.
      I suggest if there is not a BCBA at the school, requesting the school contract with a community provider to conduct a FBA and possibly provide additional teacher training.

      Good luck to you!


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