Self-Instructional Training

Whatever a man does he must do first in his mind. –Albert Szent-Gijorgyi

You meet a couple whom you haven’t seen for years, and invite them over for dinner. Impulsive act? Your husband thinks so–he never did enjoy their company. Come to think of it, either did you! You acted without thinking. Luckily you don’t act before you think often. Some children however do it all the time.

Donald Meichenbaum in his book Cognitive Behavior Modification (1977) suggests that some children are more impulsive because they are not as good at talking to themselves as other children. He developed a series of five steps to help children think before they act.

1. An adult model does a task while talking to herself out loud.

2. The child does the same task by following the model’s instructions.

3. The child performs the task while instructing himself aloud.

4. The child whispers the instructions to himself while doing the task.

5. The child does the task by thinking through the steps.

Say you’re teaching children how to go through a maze using the above five steps. At the same time you would also talk aloud these problem-solving strategies:

(a) identify the problem–“What do I have to do? I have to get to the end of the maze.”

(b) focus attention–“How do I do it? I have to be careful, and not go in any blind alleys or cross over any lines.”

(c) self-reinforcement–“What do I say when I do it right? Hey, I’m pretty good; I made it out of the maze.”

(d) coping with frustration and failure–“What do I say when I make a mistake? I can’t expect to be perfect right off the bat. At least I’m getting better.”