Step 2.1 Select target behaviors

Select your targets from the toddler’s individualized goals and objectives.

a. Determine the specific responses to prompt

Vary tasks. While following the toddler’s lead, parents and practitioners should vary tasks, materials, and activities to maintain their toddler’s interest and engagement. Mix up the activities and the tasks within activities. You should be alert to a toddler’s behavioral cues (e.g., lack of attention, attempts to change activities) that signal that they are becoming bored and that it is time to change to a new item or activity, or change the tasks and demands within an activity. It is best to vary the task before the toddler disengages, so that motivation can be sustained.

Target response variation. If appropriate, mix up the skills. Varying the target responses helps maintain a toddler’s level of responding and initiating during learning interactions. Varying targeted responses also helps avoid “drilling” the toddler. If attempting to improve a toddler’s motivation to engage socially and learn, avoid drilling by varying the target responses. Again, be alert to a toddler’s behavioral cues that signal that they are becoming frustrated or bored and that it is time to vary the targeted responses.

Mix up the instructional cues, prompts, and contexts. Increasing the variation in cues and prompts for a task, and other environmental conditions, also helps to link desired responses to a variety of antecedents and contexts that could be present in a toddler’s everyday environments. An example would be: teaching colors on a variety of child preferred stimuli during a variety of games in different rooms of the house. This increase in variation allows for the possibility of greater spontaneity and generalization beyond the initial learning situations and fosters the toddler’s responsiveness to a range of stimuli.

b. Intersperse maintenance and acquisition tasks

You can maximize a toddler’s motivation during learning and interaction by mixing maintenance opportunities with acquisition opportunities. The acquisition trials involve tasks that are new or currently being learned and are often times more difficult trials than previously mastered items in maintenance trials.


Identify skills that are easy for individual toddlers (i.e., maintenance tasks) and ones that are more difficult (i.e., acquisition tasks).


Provide a mixture of easy and more difficult tasks so that toddlers can be successful at using a variety of skills.

Build momentum

To facilitate maintenance of previously learned target skills and to build behavioral momentum for good trying on harder tasks, provide a few short requests that are easy and within the toddler’s current repertoire of mastered skills to complete followed by one or two requests that are slightly more difficult for the toddler to complete.


A parent might ask a toddler to point to a familiar picture in a favorite book (a maintenance task), then ask them to identify a less familiar picture, or perhaps by asking what is happening in the picture.

This is an acquisition task targeting verbs.

By attending to a toddler’s behavioral cues that signal that adding maintenance tasks prior to the next acquisition task might help optimize the toddler’s motivation to learn and socially engage, the ratio of maintenance and acquisition tasks can be varied.

The toddler's behavioral cues might include: lack of attention, avoidance responding, escape-driven challenging behavior, lack of trying, and indications of frustration.