Count & Mand Procedure

Source: The Verbal Behavior Approach

I don't 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 I'm just paying more attention because I'm a behaviorist...or maybe these people follow me around. :-)  I'm 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. That's 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/key chains 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. Thank you this. This was really helpful to me.

  6. Hi Tameika,
    Great information. In regards to the count and mand procedure, do you start the count when the child is screaming, or you wait till he is a bit calm and then start the count? For example, how would you approach it when the screaming and crying is continues?
    Thanks a lot

    1. It's going to depend on the learner/client. I have seen variations of this strategy to help teach what to do (such as silently prompting touching a photo symbol). If a vocal response is not required, then emotional responding would not be a barrier.


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