Self-Instructional Training: How Can It Help Children?

14 December, 2020
Self-instructions help children organize and guide their behavior through statements directed to themselves.

Sometimes, little ones find it hard to face certain tasks. They forget which steps should be taken. They often get distracted or don’t know what approach to use. Although children dealing with impulsivity or attention deficit are mostly affected, self-instructional training can be useful for all children.

There are different phases in self-instruction training, which can help improve the child’s abilities for paying attention, planning, and organizing. It also helps children use their internal language to manage their behavior. Next, we’ll get to know more about this proceeding.

What is self-instructional training?

Self-instructional training is a cognitive technique used to achieve behavior changes. During the ’60s, psychologist Donald Meichembaum tried to combine problem-solving techniques with Luria’s ideas. According to the latter – a neuropsychologist – our internal language is the one that manages and controls our behavior.

Self-Instructional Training: How can it Help Children?

Self-verbalizations – statements we tell ourselves – guide our behavior to help us perform a task successfully. Although for most children this process takes place automatically, some need to learn and train this ability.

So, self-instructional learning aims at teaching children how to tell themselves useful self-verbalizations. This will help them take control over their own behavior, and follow the steps needed to reach goals.

Children can lean on the sequence of self-instruction to approach a task from beginning to end. In every moment of the process, the child should tell him or herself statements that will show them how to act:

  • Define the problem: “What do I have to do? What are they asking me? What did I understand?
  • Analyze the tasks:How do I have to do it? Which one is the first step? Which are the following steps?”
  • Self-correction:I will check the result and go over the steps to make sure I made no mistakes.”
  • Self-reinforcement:I’m doing great! I have detected a mistake and I have solved it – fantastic! I’m doing it by myself!”

What is the procedure to follow?

To train self-instruction abilities, the child will need an adult to serve as a model. The procedure is divided into five phases that will help the child gain more autonomy progressively:

  1. Cognitive modeling: the adult serves as a model and performs a task while saying out loud each thing they are doing.
  2. An external guide out loud: the child performs the same task as in the previous example while the adult gives them the instructions.
  3. Self instructions out loud: the child repeats the tasks, but this time, they give themself the instructions out loud.
  4. Masked self-instructions: in this step, the child carries out the task again while repeating the self-verbalizations but in a low voice, whispering.
  5. Undercover self-verbalizations: lastly, the little one does the task again while managing their behavior mentally through internal instructions.
Self-Instructional Training: How can it Help Children?

Let’s see an example. We want the child to learn to get their backpack ready to go to school autonomously. To do so, they’ll have to integrate the instructions: see which subjects I have tomorrow, pick up the books and notebooks I’ll need, make sure to pick up the planner and pencil case as well, pack everything in the school bag, and zip it up.

In this way, first, the adult will model the sequence of tasks. Then they’ll give the instructions to the child while they perform them. Finally, the infant will take the lead and direct the self-verbalizations on their own more and more internally each time.

Usefulness of self-instruction

This technique has proved its efficiency in children undergoing treatments for impulsivity, hyperactivity, attention deficit, anxiety issues, and learning difficulties in general. However, it has been applied successfully in educational settings, and has helped groups automize habits and working procedures.

In every case, self-instructions help children gain more control over their behavior so that they can guide it through self-verbalizations addressed to themselves.

To boost efficiency, images that help follow the instructions can be used. But, above everything else, the most important thing is to be constant in the application of the technique and to use it in more settings so that it becomes an internalized habit.

  • Mancipe Navarrete, J. D. (2019). Entrenamiento en autoinstrucciones. Área Profesional II Psicología Clínica.
  • Bermúdez, M. C. (2015). Intervención en el aula para la mejora de la atención y el rendimiento en el alumnado de segundo nivel de educación primaria: eficacia de las auto-instrucciones y de la auto-observación (Doctoral dissertation, Universitat de València).