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Managing Problem Behaviors in the Community (ABCs of Behavior) - Trumpet Behavioral Health

Managing Problem Behaviors in the Community (ABCs of Behavior)


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Most parents know that raising a child comes with its fair share of unique situations and challenges, especially when those challenges present themselves in public.

The reality is that behavior can be hard to control without the proper guidance, and parents of a child with special needs may face elevated problems of all types in both scope and frequency.



Three key questions are central to learning basics of problem behaviors:

Each of these questions will be discussed in greater detail below.

Step 1 – Understanding Why a Behavior Occurs

First and foremost, you need to establish WHY the behavior is occurring. Behavior comes from the child’s environment; areas where they are exposed to other people and situations. Behavior is first developed and then continues because it gets the child or person something he/she wants. In other words, the behavior “works” for the individual.

First Person Examples:

Bottom Line? If a challenging behavior is occurring, the environment is supporting it somehow. This is GOOD because it means we can change the iStock_000011256895Large

Step 2 – Knowing Your ABCs

In practicing the principles of behavior analysis, look for the ABCs of behavior. That is:

A: Antecedents (what happens before the behavior)

B: Behavior (what actually happens)

C: Consequence (what happens after the behavior)

Antecedents include things like telling a child his/her playtime is over, which leads to screaming and tantrums. Another example would be asking a child to put on his/her shoes, at which point they say “NO” and stomp away! Whatever the situation, it’s the action that causes the behavior to occur.

Behavior is the action that occurs, such as the tantrum or behavior issue. Simple enough!

Consequence, the third and final part of the behavior, is the thing that reliably happens after the behavior. Knowing the consequence helps identify what the person gets for engaging in the behavior.

Samples of consequences from the examples above could be a child getting five more minutes of play time, or the child having mom/dad put their shoes on for them.

Step 3 – Understanding Reinforcement & Function

Reinforcement immediately follows a behavior and increases the likelihood that a behavior will occur in the future. Think of reinforcement as “strengthening” the behavior.

Two Key Points

1) Reinforcement occurs for desired behavior and challenging behavior

2) It does not matter if YOU think the consequence is desirable or undesirable; only what the individual presenting the behavior thinks


Four main functions for a behavior are as follows:

Why not just guess the function?

If we don’t know the function, we might respond in ways that make the challenging situation even worse! Example: the function of the child’s behavior is to get attention. As a parent, you sit down and discuss the situation with the child, thereby giving them the attention they seek. In this example, you’ve accidentally reinforced the function, making it more likely for the situation to reoccur in the future!

Step 4 – Identifying Ways to Prevent the Challenging Behavior from Occurring

Below we will offer a variety of strategies for each of the functions of behavior.

Be sure to start out by using antecedent information to come up with strategies. General strategies include:

Strategies for Attention/Tangible Maintained Behavior:

Strategies for Escape/Delay Maintained Behavior:

Trumpet’s team of clinicians and therapists are highly trained in providing problem behavior management skills. Our team knows that by developing a foundation for why problem behaviors occur, we can help guide the outcome of a situation for children of all developmental abilities.

Written by Joshua Sleeper, MBA, BCBA

Joshua Sleeper, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Trumpet Behavioral Health, started in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) over 20 years ago. In college, he began working as a part-time therapist for a school district in California. There, he...

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