The ABCs of behaviour

Aay, bee, cee, dee, eee, eff... sorry, got a little off track there. Lots of ABCs going on both at home and at HMC Launceston these days. Which brings me to todays blog topic: What are the ABCs of behaviour. 

A is for Antecedents

Or Anticipating a behaviour, depending on who you talk to. For both options, it means what is happening immediately before a behaviour occurs. It can be something happening in the individual's environment, or it can be an internal event such as an individual's thought or feeling. 

B is for behaviour

This one is pretty obvious; it's the actual behaviour that occurs. Remember, behaviours can also be what we want to see occurring, not just a "problem behaviour" that we want to reduce in frequency (how often it happens), intensity (how big/strong it gets), or duration (how long the behaviour goes for).

C is for consequences

Understanding the consequences of a behaviour, or what happens immediately after a behaviour occurs, is almost as important as understanding the behaviour itself. This is because consequences are VERY important in determining whether a behaviour is more or less likely to occur again the next time the individual is in a similar situation. 

Why do we care about understanding behaviour?

Our actions can have significant implications for our social, emotional, and educational/occupational functioning. Being able to understand why a particular behaviour is occurring what what can be done to increase or decrease the likelihood of that behaviour occurring can make our lives, and the lives of those around us far more pleasant, happy, and less stressful. 

Putting it all together

Think about the following example: Jimmy, aged 4 and his Mum are at the supermarket. Jimmy doesn't want to stay next to the shopping trolley (even for some Coles Mini's at the end) and runs off to the other end of the supermarket isle (the Behaviour). What happened immediately before (Jimmy seeing a big long expanse of space to run in) and immediately after (Jimmy's Mum running after him yelling for him to come back, which is quite exciting for Jimmy whilst she chases him around the supermarket) can make Jimmy more likely to do the same thing next time him and his mum go shopping. By changing the antecedents (for example, Jimmy's mum clearly establishing rules, what will happen if he breaks the rules, and giving him his own shopping list to follow) and the consequences (for example, Jimmy's Mum requiring him to hold her hand throughout the rest of the shopping trip), we can expect that Jimmy's behaviour to be closer to what his mum would like, next time. 

One final point...

When we are attempting to shape/change another person's behaviour, it is important to remember that reducing a problem behaviour is not enough. We also need to reinforce the desired behaviour (what we want to see the individual doing next time), so the individual has something to replace their old behaviour with. 

If you need some help with behaviour (yours or someone else's), have a chat to one of our clinicians who can help you work it all out. 

Olivia Boer is a Clinical Psychologist and Director of Healthy Mind Centre Launceston, a private allied health practice in Launceston, Tasmania. 

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