Wednesday, March 30, 2011

ABC's of Behavioral Modification

What better way to kick off the ABC Challenge at Razzy's Corner than to talk about the ABC's of behavioral management - Antecedents, Behavior, and Consequences.

The mistake that is commonly made is to just focus on behaviors or behavior and consequences. However, a truly successful behavior plan starts with antecedents, or what happens before the behavior, so that's what we will focus on today.

By looking at the antecedents you can gain a better understanding of the purpose of the behavior and therefore what consequences to apply. If you don't understand the antecedents then your consequences can actually be reinforcing the behavior you are trying to change.

If a child is acting out because they are feeling ignored or looking for attention and the consequence utilized gives the child attention, even if it is negative attention, you can actually reinforce that behavior. However, if you are aware that the antecedent of the acting out behavior is to get attention then you can implement a strategy that ignores that behavior and likely have more success.

Sometimes determining the antecedents can be very simple and sometimes it is more difficult. If you are having a more difficult time figuring out what is leading to your child's behavior I recommend implementing a period of behavioral observations. Basically during this time you log every time the behavior occurs and what happened right before the behavior happened, as well as what the consequence of that behavior was. It is important to understand that a consequence is not always a punishment you apply. It might be more helpful to think of consequences, in this sense, as what happens after the behavior occurs. For instance, if the behavior gets the child out of doing their homework, then that is a consequence. (Consequences will be discussed in more detail in another post).

Once you have a pretty good amount of behavioral tracking data, you should then analyze the data to see if you can spot any common themes amongst the circumstances in which the target behavior occurs. In terms of how long you should log behaviors, it depends on the specific target behavior. If it is a behavior that is occurring several times a day then just a few days of tracking may be enough. However, if it doesn't occur with a great deal of frequency, than you might need a couple of weeks.

When the antecedent is clear and you feel like you have a good idea about what is leading to the behavior then you can start developing a plan to modify that behavior.

Tomorrow at Razzy's Corner: Behavioral Charts

(Any questions regarding topics discussed can either be asked in the comments section or you can email me at

1 comment:

Jo Schaffer said...

Great post. Have read a bit on Lovaas method etc. But the best book in dealing with my own kids has been Between Parent and Child--while less clinical have found it to be really affective ( not dealing with other specific behaviors brought by autism etc.)