Pairing Yourself as a Reinforcer

The Giver of All Good Things

When we begin working with a student (or client) the first stage in the process is very well the most important, yet it is often bypassed.  This initial step is known as pairing yourself as a reinforcer, or literally being the giver of all good things!


o   What is a reinforcer?

  • A reinforcer consists of any item, person, or activity that increases the future likelihood of a certain behavior occurring.  If we as clinicians, therapists, teachers, parents become a reinforcer, we are increasing the child’s likelihood of coming TO us, instead of running away from us.

o   What does pairing mean?

  • Pairing yourself as a reinforcer refers to associating yourself with items or activities that the individual finds enjoyable.
  • Establishing yourself as someone that the individual enjoys coming to.

o   Why is it important?

  • As stated above, the goal is for the student to COME to us! Not to dread us. Because the idea of working or learning is not always enjoyable, this issue can be solved by engaging in enjoyable activities and then eventually introducing the work.  Once this has occurred, often times the student will not even be aware that learning is actually taking place!
  • If we want learning to occur, we must make work enjoyable! Learning can be fun J

o   How do we do it?

  • When beginning the pairing process, we may not always know what items or activities are enjoyable or reinforcing for the student. For this reason, it may be helpful to have several items and activities in your possession.
  • We want the student to go through the teacher or therapist in order to receive the item.  Make sure only you have access to the items or activities at first instead of having the items or activities all readily available to the student. This is to ensure the association between you and the preferred items and activities will occur.
  • As the learner starts to approach you, you may hand out preferred items such as candy, toys, games, coloring utensils, etc.  
  • As you hand the learner the item, a good idea is to say something like, “Here, have some candy Timmy!” while smiling and providing eye contact.
  • Place NO demands on the student.  Even something as simple as “How are you doing today?” may be considered aversive or demanding.
  • Do not take any items from the learner, but always offer additional items so the learner does not become tired of the item he is engaging with.
  • Be patient! Pairing yourself as reinforcer means gaining the student’s trust and being someone they want to be around.  Do you trust someone after meeting them just one time? This doesn’t typically happen after one meeting with the student either.
  • Once pairing has occurred, you can progressively introduce work or demands and learning can occur





  1. I have always found that my day goes so much smoother if my students “like” me. I know that regular education teachers may not see this as a big deal, but many of my kids have trust issues or are set into a routine and I must find a way to make myself part of that routine. I recently moved schools for personal reasons, but I STRUGGLED with the idea of leaving my babies and taking on someone else’s. Ultimately, I found comfort in that I was leaving them with a person who knew my schedule and how I ran things and promised to keep this going.

  2. So true! Great point!


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