Behavior is communication. Did you know that your child’s behavior can tell you a lot about what they are thinking, how they feel or what they want? 

In order to decipher our child’s behavior, it is important to look at three aspects: the antecedent, the behavior, and the consequence. The antecedent is what happens before a behavior and the consequence is what happens after a behavior. An antecedent can include where a behavior happens, who was there, and what was happening just before the behavior occurred. Examining the antecedent and consequence of a behavior can reveal why the behavior occurred, or the “function” of the behavior.  This may include social attention, obtaining tangibles, escape/avoidance, and automatic reinforcement. The two I will be focusing on is escape/avoidance and obtaining tangibles.

An example of an escape/avoidance behavior is a child running away after they are told by their mom to clean up their mess. In this scenario, the antecedent would be the mom telling the child to clean and the behavior would be the child running away.  A consequence that “reinforces” this behavior is if the mother cleans the room for the child. Simply put, they will continue to run away every time they do not want to do something. The same goes for if a child screams and tantrums at a store because they want toys or candy (obtaining tangibles). This can understandably be very embarrassing for a parent. A consequence that reinforces the behavior of crying would be receiving the candy. They have learned it works to get what they want. 

Children actually learn tantrum behaviors because they cried to get what they wanted, or needed, as a baby. Verbal and nonverbal communication are behaviors that should replace crying or pointing. In fact, when children are given a verbal or nonverbal means of communication parents may actually see tantrum behaviors decrease. This is especially true if the child learns that the communicative behaviors are more reinforcing than the tantrum behaviors. In other words, parents can teach their children that communicating can get them what they want faster than any undesirable behavior.