Where do I start? The ABC’s Of Behavior and why children act the way they do

Understanding that behavior problems don’t just happen goes a long way in being able to manage and address your child’s behavior healthily and effectively. Behaviors are preceded by some type of event. A child hitting their sibling is because that sibling hit them first, poked them, took away their toy, or said something to them. When you understand what caused a behavior to happen, you can prevent them from happening in the future. We call understanding behavior the ABC of Behavior: Antecedent, Behavior, Consequences of behavior.


Children move through the 3 stages of behavior. Antecedent (before), behavior (during), and consequence (after). Understanding how a child moves through these three steps allows you to be proactive and teach instead of just reacting to the behavior.

Antecedent means what happen before the behavior. If the behavior is your child hitting their sibling, the antecedent would have been being hit first, or poked, or had their toy taken away. Knowing what triggers your child and how they’ll react helps parents address the main issue and not just the behavior.

Behavior means what happened. Behavior is something that you can see, hear, touch, smell, or measure. Behavior can be both positive or negative. Once a child misbehaves it is essential to correct it with the behavior skill of Correcting Behaviors.

Consequence means what happened after the behavior. Getting in trouble or losing privilege is the consequence of your child hitting his sibling. All behaviors have consequences. Some of these consequences are natural, others are imposed. Helping children understand that consequences happen allows a child to connect what they do with the outcome. Often, this is the hardest stage for a child to grasp as there have been times when their negative behavior has had a positive outcome. Such as hitting their sibling and NOT getting in trouble. The more consistent you can be in correcting behaviors and giving consequences, the easier it will be for your child to see you as fair.

Knowing how behavior works allow you to understand what behavior skill used to best address problems. Parents have more flexibility in dealing with behaviors if they can identify when the best work on the issue. The skills on the Smarter Parenting website can be used during each area. This increases the ability of children to change their behaviors quickly and more effectively.
For example, you’ll want to use Preventive Teaching in the antecedent stage, Correcting Behaviors during the behavior stage, and Decision Making during the consequence stage. The most effective teaching will happen during the antecedent stage with Preventive Teaching. But teaching can happen at any stage.

When using the ABCs of Behavior, it’s important to remember to keep calm. Not keeping your cool will only aggravate the situation. If feelings arise during the teaching, it’s ok to walk away and continue teaching at a later time when you and you’re are calm. Children can use being upset as a way to get out of consequences or correction, so make sure to come back to it if you take a break.

ABC behavior management will make a massive difference in your family. Visit Smarter Parenting for additional information about ABC of Behavior and to learn other parenting skills.


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