Managing Behaviors in Public Settings

  • Situation

    The Watson Institute has received a number of questions from parents looking for resources to help them manage their child’s behavior in various public settings. Community activities such as going to church, visiting the library, going out to eat, and going to a doctor’s appointment have been our most requested topics.

    Families are seeking help with preventing behavioral meltdowns while in these public settings.

  • Summary

    Utilizing a mini-schedule for community activities provides your child with a series of tasks, with each step in the sequence depicted in picture or word format. An example for the library could be as follows:

    1. Play with a toy
    2. Choose a book
    3. Check out the book
    4. Go for a treat

    The style of mini-schedule you use (be it visual or shown as text/checklist) will be dependent upon your child’s needs and preferences. As you complete each step in the mini-schedule, be sure to cross it off so your child can see what is next and when the task is completed.

    You’ll also want to be sure to include the motivating item your child will receive by successfully completing the mini-schedule. The item could be a favorite toy or snack, but should be highly motivating to your child.

  • Definition

    A mini-schedule depicts a sequencing of events covering a short period of time, but not for an entire day. It should be a smaller chunk of the day, such as going to a doctor’s appointment, or checking out a book at the library. Each step in the sequence will be represented by either a picture, object, word, or numeral. The purpose is to set expectations for your child and give them a sense of how long an activity may take and what they can expect to happen.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 3-5, 6-10, 11-13, 14-17, 18+
    • Planning Effort: Moderate
    • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Pre-requisites

    Ability to understand pictures, words, numerals, and objects.

  • Process

    1. When at all possible, try to make your community activity brief as you practice this.
    2. Think exactly what you will be doing during that activity. For example: at the doctor’s office, sit in the waiting room, go to the examination room, talk to the nurse and the doctor, leave, reward.
    3. If possible, put a preferred item/toy/snack for your child at the end of your mini-schedule to reinforce appropriate behavior.
    4. Gather the necessary materials (pictures, objects, etc.) to make the mini-schedule.
    5. Show your child how to cross off each item as it is completed or you can cross it off and show your child while doing so.
    6. Be sure to follow through with each of the steps listed on the mini-schedule and reward your child with their preferred item or activity if they complete the schedule exhibiting appropriate behaviors.
  • Documents and Related Resources

    website for picturecards

    website about using visual schedules


    If you have questions or concerns about the Watson Institute’s use of this information, please contact us.