The ABC's of Behavior Management

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Have you ever had a conversation with your child's teacher or doctor and they wanted to know about your child's behavior and all you could eek out is, "He acts out sometimes" or "She has trouble getting her homework done" or some other vague comment? The problem with such descriptions is that they don't tell us a whole lot about the child's challenges, behaviors, or the severity of the problem. If you are trying to develop a behavioral program or assess any type of treatment including pharmacological interventions, you need more specific and detailed information to go on. Here is where data collection can come in handy.

Think of yourself as a scientist of sorts. You are going to be looking at your child's behaviors in a purely objective way so that you can figure out which interventions will work best for any particular behavior. Keeping objective data also prevents your mood, bias, or parental subjectivity to interfere with providing an accurate record of what is really going on with your child. One way to assess your child's behavior is to complete an "ABC record."

Here is how to do it:

  1. Choose a behavior which you want to target for some sort of intervention.

  1. Divide up a piece of paper into three columns.

  1. For the first column you will write the letter "A" for Antecedent. An antecedent is anything which occurs before your child's behavior. This can include instructions given, the activity your child was engaged in, and even how much sleep your child had the night before. Basically you want to write down any conditions present right before your child engages in the target behavior.

  1. The second column will be labeled with a "B" for Behavior. Here you want to describe your child's behavior (behavior which you feel is a problem or demands treatment) in concrete and operational terms. This means that you want to describe the behavior in observable and measurable ways. It is not enough to simply say that your child is aggressive, for example. It is far more useful if you spell out what you are seeing. For example, aggression could mean pushing other children. For another child aggression could mean hitting and kicking. You want to be precise with your language so that others who participate in your child's care will know exactly what you mean.

  1. The third column is designated as "C" for Consequences. This is where you will describe the events which happen immediately after your child exhibits the target behavior. This can include things said to him or her, responses and reactions of people in proximity such as classmates or siblings, and any actions taken in response to the target behavior on the part of the teacher, parent or other authority figure.

After you have taken data for a week or so you are going to find some trends and patterns which will give you some very useful information. Here is some of the information you may be able to glean from an ABC record:

  • You will be able to determine the settings in which the problem behavior usually occurs.

  • You will be able to see a pattern of which conditions trigger or maintain the behavior.

  • You will be able to determine which reactions, responses and consequences are effective or ineffective.

It may seem like a lot of work to take such data but it really is worth it in the long run to get this information so that your team (teachers, therapists, and other professionals) can help you to help your child. In my next post we are going to explore how to evaluate the effectiveness of a behavioral or medication intervention to treat the symptoms or behaviors associated with ADHD.