Rewarding your child for breathing! Is this a candidate for the Lame Brain Parenting Hall of Fame?

Spread the love

autism, help, tagteach, ABA, positive reinforcement

You can help your child calm down!

This is actually fun to do. I found that one way to help my son with autism calm down was to reward him for breathing. You heard that right: I reward my child for breathing. I’ll show you how this works as part of a calm-down technique.

You can try it too, and when your friends are sitting around talking about the latest lame brain parenting ideas, you can tell them about this one. And, before slap their foreheads and moan that this idea has to be the ultimate candidate for the Lame Brain Parenting Hall of Fame, tell them the reason.

On the surface, the idea of rewarding a kid for breathing seems preposterous. But let’s look at how important breathing is. Descriptions of breathing tell us a great deal about the emotional state of a person, for example: panicky breaths, labored breathing, gasping for air, or holding one’s breath with suspense.  A sigh can be a sigh of relief, a sigh of grief, or a sigh of resignation.

And what do people who attend meditation and yoga classes learn to do?  They learn to control and regulate their breathing to achieve a calm emotional state and reduce stress.

Kids with autism often agitated

Now, let’s look at our kids with autism. Our kids experience neurological and sensory feelings that we do not experience and that we can neither comprehend nor relate to. We know our kids experience sound, light, and movement in a different way, and that these sensory issues can create problems for them. We also know our kids with autism can be quickly overwhelmed by the combination of sensory issues and performance demands, with the result that they become angry and agitated.

How to calm him down?

So what do you do when you have a child who is upset, agitated, screaming, angry and cannot calm himself down?  One day when my son had such an episode, I immediately started marking and reinforcing the following physical movements to help him calm down: Quiet Mouth (or Appropriate Vocalization), Hands Still, and Feet Still. When you “mark” a behavior, you press on a clicker-like device the instant the child performs the movement, and then immediately follow-up with a treat of the child’s liking (the reinforcer).

We were making good progress and he was calming down nicely when I noticed that the muscles in his throat were pulsing, and that he had a lot of rapid, irregular breathing. At that point, the idea popped into my head to try marking and reinforcing him for breathing! Every time he exhaled, I marked and reinforced. To my surprise, this worked very well.

The more I marked and reinforced exhaling, the more he breathed. The more he breathed, the calmer he became. There was an unexpected bonus: not only did he calm down, but I calmed down too. My breathing became more regular, and after about eight or nine minutes, we were both happily and calmly breathing and no one was upset anymore.

In the context of autism, marking and reinforcing a child for exhaling during a period of tension or agitation can be a good idea. A lame brain idea? Not at all. Maybe it will make it into the Great Ideas Parenting Hall of Fame.

Review of tag points to achieve calm

Quiet Mouth

Appropriate Vocalization

Hand(s) still

Foot (feet) still


 What is TAGteach?

TAGteach stands for Teaching with Acoustical Guidance. TAGteach is a teaching and communication method based on the scientific principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

TAGteach enables extremely precise positive reinforcement of behavior by using an acoustical signal to “mark” the behavior – at the precise moment the child performs the behavior! The acoustical signal is a short, sharp sound made by a handheld device (the “tagger”). When the child performs the correct action, the parent/instructor immediately presses the button on the tagger and hands over a treat (candy, treat, token, praise, social recognition, or money) as a reinforcer.

With TAGteach, it is easy to reinforce behaviors precisely and quickly. The immediate, accurate feedback and positive reinforcement result in the child performing the correct action more often, and for longer periods of time. With immediate feedback and learning tasks broken down into small steps, children can learn many new skills with TAGteach — at their own pace.


autism, TAGteach, ABA, positive reinforcementFor more information see the TAGteach International website.

Join the free TAGteach Yahoo Group.

TAGteach taggers are available here. 

See Martha’s book about TAGteach for Autism or ask a question.

Sign up for my mailing list to receive updates, new articles and free tips right in your inbox!

If you liked this article, please share it via the vertical gray menu bar on the far right.



Spread the love

Joan Orr

I am a co-founder of TAGteach International and co-founder of non-profit Doggone Safe. I am co-owner of Doggone Crazy!, which produces the Doggone Crazy! board game, the Be a Tree teacher kit, the Clicker Puppy training DVD and several ebooks. I am co-author with Teresa Lewin of the book: Getting Started Clicker Training with Your Rabbit. I was a member of the faculty of the Karen Pryor Clicker Training Clicker Expo for 9 years and was a consultant and content creator for the Karen Pryor Academy for Dog Trainers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.