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The ABC's of Behavior (how to handle a tantrum) Part 2

The second installment of our 3-part ABC series addresses B-Behavior!

Simply put, behaviors are the things we do.

Think of behavior as a means of communication. Under specific circumstances, our behaviors influence our environment in specific ways and over time we learn to repeat the behaviors that produced the most desirable outcomes. When we are given a specific prompt, we respond with the behavior we have learned is most likely to produce a desired result.

Behaviors are specific, and should be described specifically.

When teachers talk about behavior, we generally throw out words like "disrespectful behavior, disruptive behavior" but these phrases don't help communicate any useful information. One teacher may call eye-rolling disrespectful behavior, while another might only consider open defiance as disrespectful. Disruptive behavior could range from tapping out a beat with a pencil on a desk all the way to constantly interrupting the teacher during instruction.

When talking about a behavior, it is important to keep a few things in mind.

Behaviors are...

Observable: It is important to note that behaviors are things we can observe another person doing: running, talking, whispering, etc. We cannot observe a person's thoughts, feelings, or intentions. "Disrespectful behavior" is a tricky phrase because an observer cannot objectively tell whether or not a student meant disrespect. The behavior is eye-rolling, and we cannot make a judgement as to the student's mental state when engaging in the behavior.

Measureable: When talking about behaviors, "frequent eye-rolling" could mean many things to different people. It begs the question, "How often? Every day? Every minute?" When trying to communicate a behavior, try to find some measureable aspect to help others get an idea of how often it may happen. You could make a tally for everytime the student rolls their eyes, you could count the amount of time between eye-rolls, or you could count every eye-roll within a 5 minute interval to get a ratio of eye-rolls per minute. For other behaviors such as tantrums, you could measure how long a tantrum lasts. You could come up with an objective intensity scale that would help track progress when trying to eliminate tantrums (a long, difficult process).

Specific to contexts: As we learned in my previous blog post (the ABC's of Behavior Part 1), behaviors occur in the presence of antecedents, or a series of events and stimuli that precede the behavior. Depending on the context, the same specific behavior could take on a completely different meaning. Take, for example, a person running in circles wildly, flailing their arms above their head and screaming. In the context of a crowded airport, nearly everyone could agree that that behavior is wildly inapporpriate. However, if that same behavior were to occur outside in the countryside, next to a freshly disturbed hive of bees, most people would agree that is a very appropriate behavior.

Function-related. As mentioned in the introduction, we learn behaviors through experience. Each time we perform a behavior, we are exercising some influences on our immediate surroundings. If our behavior were to produce a desired outcome, the chances that we would repeat that behavior in the future would increase. The results of our actions are called consequences, and they can either be positive or negative. When looking at a behavior in light of the antecedents, try to understand that there is some level of communication occuring. The behavior has been learned to produce a specific outcome. Understanding what consequences the child expects when performing the behavior will help you identify the function of the behavior. From there, you can teach alternative behaviors that are more acceptable and produce the same desired effects.

More on consequences in ABC's of Behavior Part 3- coming soon!

What do you find most useful when trying to communicate about behaviors (problem behaviors or otherwise) to others? How do you make sure they understand what you mean? Post your answers in the comments below!


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