Why does my child hit me when he gets mad? Why does she cry when she cannot have a toy at the store? Why does he avoid social situations?
Over 99% of everyday behaviors are not random. In others words, behaviors occur for a reason. It may not be apparent to many of us at first, but there is a rather simple, evidence-based method of figuring out these reasons. In our field of ABA, we call it the ABC analysis method-Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence. For the purposes of examining the reason, or function, of a behavior, we will focus on the Consequence of a behavior.
Consequence does not mean punishment. Instead, it means what do we see happen right after a behavior? For example, when your child cries at the store because she wants a toy, how do you react? How does your child’s sister do? How do others in the store react? Does your child end up getting the toy? These are just some of the consequences to the behavior of which you can begin to take notice. Begin by observing your own behavior as well as others in your child’s environment just after your child’s behavior occurs, whether “good” or “bad.” Consequences obviously can also influence desired behaviors in your child. For example, after your child successfully completes his homework and lets you know about it, what do you say or do? Do others say anything? Do you give him something like a treat or toy? Or do you point out a problem he missed on his homework sheet? Depending on the Consequence to the behavior of completing his homework, this behavior will either be more or less likely to occur in the future. In other words, the consequences you provide to any behavior will largely decide whether the behavior occurs more and less frequently in the future.
Another way to look at why a behavior occurs is by equating the Consequence with the concept of a “payoff.” Behaviors increase in frequency because there is a payoff for them. For example, if crying in the store gets a child the toy or candy she wants, she has been paid off for her crying with the item she wanted. If we start to withhold this payoff, the behavior will generally decrease over time. Although there are more complexities to behavior than this typically, understanding this idea is probably the most important component of evaluating why behaviors occur.