An action plan is a type of process goal that comprises detailed planning of the exact steps that must be taken in order to achieve a specific goal.
Action plans involve someone specifying exactly what they will do in the immediate future to work towards their goal. This involves stating what they will do, when and where they will do it. In the attached example the parent’s goal is to reduce the amount of chocolate, sweets and biscuits their child is eating. To help with this they have set an action plan to replace chocolate with fruit at lunchtime, and specified how they plan to achieve this each day.
Setting specific action plans increases the likelihood of intentions (i.e. the goals that have been set) turning to behaviour (i.e. the desired actions to reach the goal). In other words, if you plan it, you are more likely to do it!
When you have set a specific action plan with a family, it can be useful to ask them to self-monitor their behaviour (see example). This means asking them to record what they have done each day in relation to the behaviour they are trying to change. For example, if their action plan is focussed on replacing chocolate with fruit at lunchtimes, you might ask them to tick off each time they achieve this (basic self-monitoring) and to add any additional comments about what they did or how they were feeling (more detailed self-monitoring). Parents can be offered choice in the level of detail required or the format they use to record their behaviour (e.g. writing down, phone app, online document), as it is important they feel able to complete this task and don’t see it as an extra burden on top of the changes they are already trying to make.
Self-monitoring is a popular behaviour change technique used in many technology applications today, such as phone apps that allow people to count calories and watches that track number of steps taken. The benefits of asking a parent to self-monitor their progress towards their goals include:
- Helping parents feel a sense of achievement as they “tick” off their progress
- Giving parents an incentive to persist with their behaviour change (as they want to be able to tick off their progress – seeing your behaviour written down can be a powerful thing)
- Providing an account to help you review progress with the parent at the next meeting
Help parents to make an action plan and self-monitor their behaviour
You can help support a parent to create a goal and action plan for them to take away with them.
The video below provides an example of how you might support a parent to set goals and create an action plan using the autonomy-supportive communication techniques covered in module communicating with parents about child weight.
What is happening in the video?
In this video the practitioner (Paula) is talking to the father of 4-year old Chloe (played by an actor). During this consultation she uses the bubble task and the action planning sheet to support behaviour change. Using the bubble chart helps Chloe’s father focus on particular areas he might be able to change, this is then followed by setting an action plan (using the action planning sheet) and talking about self-monitoring. Importantly you will notice Paula doesn’t set the plan for Chloe’s father, she uses a series of open questions to support him to come up with a plan himself. She also uses reflections, affirmations and asks the parents’ permission to approach areas/give advice. All of these techniques help to promote autonomy and help Chloe’s father feel ownership of his action plan (which will increase his likelihood of sticking to it). Importantly Paula doesn’t rush the conversation. Through the use of pauses, she gives Chloe’s father time to think about areas of change and what would work for his family.
Activity: setting your own goal and action plan
It can be difficult to ask someone to do something if you have never experienced it yourself. Therefore an important component of this module is to have a go at the activities you plan to use with parents. Work through the following activity to help you get to grips with the action planning and self-monitoring process.
Your task: Have a go at setting your own goal and action plan. It could be anything, e.g. drink more water, walk to work, spend more time with your children/partner…
What do you want to achieve?
What is your first step in achieving this?
How and when will you do it (be specific)?
Steps to completing your task
Hint: You might choose to find a colleague who also wishes to set an action plan, so you can support each other and review each other’s progress next week.
Reviewing Action Plans
- If a particular behaviour has become habitual for the parents, they might even be ready to introduce a second action plan to run alongside their first. E.g. if the child is now naturally eating fruit every lunchtime, they might then start to focus on replacing some of the unhealthy snacks with healthier options in between meals (whilst continuing with the fruit at lunchtime).
- In the follow-up meeting, find out what is working well, and what parents are finding challenging. Work with parents to amend the action plan as appropriate, e.g. if the child is now used to eating two portions of fruit or vegetables a day, perhaps try and increase this to three a day; or if parents are finding the child is still not eating any fruit or vegetables, perhaps set an action plan focused on different ways of introducing fruit and vegetables to the child’s diet (e.g. through fun activities, or through “hiding” vegetables in cooking).
- Encourage parents not to worry if they don’t always stick to their plan, it is normal that life will get in the way sometimes. If they have a bad day, just forgive themselves and move on!
- Book in a follow-up meeting with parents to review action plans.
- As you may have experienced when you tried out the action plan yourself (see activity above), it is helpful to meet with someone to review your progress. This is important for celebrating achievements, discussing challenges and progressing the action plan as you work through your behaviour change (or make the action plan easier if you are struggling to achieve it). You can take several steps to provide this support for parents.