Where do I start? The ABC’s Of Behavior and why children act the way they do

Understanding that behavior problems don’t just happen goes a long way in managing and addressing your child’s behavior healthily and effectively. Some event precedes behaviors. A child hitting their sibling is because that sibling hit them first, poked them, took away their toy, or said something to them. When you understand what caused a behavior to happen, you can prevent them from happening in the future. The ABC of Behavior stands for antecedent, behavior, and conseequence.

The ABCs of Behavior

Children move through the three stages of behavior—antecedent (before), behavior (during), and consequence (after). Understanding how a child moves through these three steps allows you to be proactive and teach instead of reacting to the behavior. Antecedent means what happens before the behavior. If your child’s behavior hit their sibling, the antecedent would have been being hit first, poked, or had their toy taken away. Knowing what triggers your child and how they’ll react helps parents address the main issue, not just the behavior. Behavior means what happened. Behavior is something that you can see, hear, touch, smell, or measure. Behavior can be both positive and negative. Once a child misbehaves, it is essential to correct it with the behavior skill of Correcting Behaviors. Consequence means what happened after the behavior. Getting in trouble or losing privilege is the consequence of your child hitting his sibling. All behaviors have consequences. Some of these consequences are natural; parents, teachers, or society impose others. Helping children understand that consequences happen to them to connect what they do with the outcome. Often, this is the most challenging stage for a child to grasp, as there have been times when their negative behavior has had a positive result. Such as hitting their sibling and NOT getting in trouble. The more consistent you can be in correcting behaviors and giving consequences, the easier it will be for your child to see you as fair. Knowing how behavior works allow you to understand what behavior skill to use to best address problems. Parents have more flexibility in dealing with behaviors if they can identify when the best work on the issue. The skills on the Smarter Parenting website can be used during each phase, increasing children’s ability to change their behaviors quickly and more effectively.

For example, you’ll want to use Preventive Teaching in the antecedent stage, Correcting Behaviors during the behavior stage, and Decision Making during the consequence stage. The most effective teaching will happen during the antecedent stage with Preventive Teaching. Teaching can happen at any stage. When using the ABCs of Behavior, it’s important to remember to keep calm. Not keeping your cool will only aggravate the situation. If feelings arise during the teaching, it’s ok to walk away and continue teaching later when you and you’re calm. Children can use being upset to get out of consequences or correction, so make sure to return to it if you take a break. ABC behavior management will make a massive difference in your family. Visit Smarter Parenting for additional information about ABC of Behavior and to learn other parenting skills.


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