As a parent, you might wonder – “Why does my child only greet his friends at school but not those he sees at the park?” or “Why is my child only able to recognise poodles as dogs but not huskies or pugs?”. Some children have difficulty transferring skills or concepts they have been taught to other settings, people and activities. This is referred to as ‘generalisation’.


Here are some examples of generalisation of skills:

  • Your child has learnt to use the toilet at home and he is able to do the same at his kindergarten (across settings).
  • Your child has learnt to greet his speech therapist when he sees her at speech therapy by waving and saying “hello”. He is then able to apply this skill at school, saying “hello” to his class teacher and classmates without prompting (across people).
  • Your child is learning the word ‘apple’. When shown a real red apple, he is able to label it as “apple”. He is then able to transfer this knowledge to other materials such as real photos, cartoon images and line drawings of an apple (whether it be a red apple or a green apple), without having to re-teach completely (across activities or materials).


Why is generalisation important?

Generalisation shows that a child has truly mastered a skill and helps to increase their independence. In other words, when they can generalise, children are able to complete a task or demonstrate a learnt skill without relying on the support of a particular person (e.g. teacher or caregiver) or materials only found in that particular teaching setting.


How to promote generalisation?

  • Teach the skill in a variety of settings (e.g. therapy setting, park, home, and school)
  • Use different materials, e.g. if you are teaching your child how to do up their buttons, use both large and small buttons on different types of clothes including coats, pants, and cardigans.
  • Ensure your child responds to a range of people, i.e. both new and unfamiliar individuals.
  • Vary the way you give your instructions, e.g. “give me…”, “show me…”, “point to…”, “which one is…?”.
  • Praise your child every time they generalise independently.