If you’ve conducted an ABC analysis (see last post) the next step is determining why the child is doing the unwanted behavior, or what is the function of that behavior.
Behaviors have 4 basic functions:
1. Access to a tangible: The behavior gets the child a desired toy or item. A child screams at the toy store because they want a toy off the shelf.
2. Sensory: The behavior feels good, it satisfies some sensory need. A child puts her fingers in her ears because it makes everything sound funny.
3. Attention: The behavior gets either positive or negative attention from someone. A child argues with a parent because it gets them verbal attention from that parent.
4. Escape: The behavior allows the child to escape an aversive demand, activity, task. A child cries before bedtime so he can stay up later.
The goal for a parent is to figure out what the function of an unwanted behavior is. Sometimes the function is obvious, but sometimes it takes careful observation and an open mind to discover what the true function is. A behavior may serve multiple functions, but it usually started with one primary function, and that should be your target.
Once you’ve determined the function to the next step is to make that behavior inefficient and ineffective. In other words, don’t let that behavior work for the child anymore. If a child cries to escape bedtime, don’t allow the child to escape bedtime if he cries. With most behaviors, an alternate behavior needs to be taught. The child needs to learn the appropriate way to meet their wants and needs. With young children, this usually means teaching a communication skill so the child can effectively ask for what they want without engaging in inappropriate behaviors. Other times it involves some creativity from a parent.
Take the bedtime example:
Mom tells her child it’s bedtime. The child cries. Mom allows the child to stay up later to avoid hearing anymore crying. What needs to happen first is Mom must stop allowing her child to escape bedtime by crying. It may take a couple of nights and a strong will, but eventually the child will realize it’s not working, and stop. When he goes to bed that first night without crying, make sure to praise him or reward him with something. If you want to teach him how to ask for a bedtime extension the right way, there are several creative solutions, but one could be to create a chart of activities you would like him to do. He can earn extra minutes of bedtime by completing chores, playing with his sibling, anything you’d like him to do more of. Make sure he can’t earn a ridiculous amount of time, but also make sure it will be worth his effort.
Determining the function of a behavior is essential in discovering WHY a child is doing what they are doing. Once you know the function, you can intervene and STOP or reduce that behavior. Overall, praise or reinforce good behavior, and ensure that bad behavior isn’t getting your child what they want. Teaching new skills will help your child function better in life.