How to Pick Initial Mand Targets for Children Just Learning to Talk

Observe & Record
Watch your child for 3-5 days.  Write a list of all the things he or she wants over the course of each day and how he or she gets access to those items.   At the end of the 3-5 days, look at the list and pick the items or actions that are most frequent and most motivating for your child.  Also, choose items that he or she does not have an appropriate way to ask for those items or actions yet.

Here is a data sheet you can use –> Observe & Record Mands

Be Specific
Target specific actions and items.  Do not target words like yes, no, please, thank you, more, again, break at first.  Target words like carrot, ball, iPad, cookie, spinner, jump, bounce, swing, etc.  It is ideal to teach your child many specific words at first so that as soon as he or she talks, you can reinforce with an item or action, specific to what they mean.   If your child says “more” out of the blue and you do not know what he or she is talking about, you would not be able to reinforce that spontaneous communication!  We want to teach our children to say exactly what they mean.
Variety of Categories
Pick items from a variety of categories.  For example, do not target only food items or only toys you play with in the water.  Also, when initially targeting foods, try to target foods that taste very different.  For example, target cookie (sweet) and cracker (salty) rather than cracker (salty) and pretzel (salty).
Appropriate Level of Difficulty 
If your child does not have at least 50 single items and 25-50 single actions mastered in the mand operant, you should be targeting single words.  Do not target more than one word at a time until the pre-requisite skills are met.  Also, it is not recommended to target carrier phrases “I want …” when your child does not have a sufficient verbal repertoire of single words.