Tantrums, meltdowns, outbursts, oh my! If you are a parent or teacher, you know them all too well. So how do we get them to stop? Or better yet, how can we best prevent them from starting next time in the first place.

When you read you begin with ABC (and when you sing you begin with Do Re Mi). But, just as reading and musical composition can be complex and overwhelming when you first learn, learning your ABCs of behavior isn’t always so easy...but it is a very good place to start.

Antecedents are things that happen prior to the behavior you are trying to address, and knowing these events can help change what follows them. Antecedents can often be easy to identify, such as a tantrum following being told it is time to leave the playground or that we are not getting a toy at the store today. But sometimes, antecedents are more complex and difficult to pinpoint. It may seem like an outburst came without warning; however, being a good observer over time may lead you to the identification of a pattern. 

Behavior(s) of Interest. These are the things you want to see change. It is important to discuss specifically what the behaviors of a tantrum look like focusing on observable events, especially when multiple caregivers are involved. That way, when creating a plan to respond, everyone is on the same page. For example, behaviors of interest might include hitting, kicking, screaming, and throwing items.

Consequences are things that occur after the behavior(s) of interest. Consequences include anything that follows the behavior. Examples might include a rule reminder or lecture, using a stern voice, using a calming voice, providing an alternative item or activity to help calm, taking away an item or activity, or timeout. What we do following a tantrum is either going to make the behavior more or less likely to occur again in the future. Behavior management may require you to change your behavior to change the child’s  behavior.

Learning your ABCs of problem behavior is a good start because knowing these events can help determine the reason, or the function, of the behavior. Behavior occurs for a reason that serves the interest of the individual engaging the behavior. If we can identify that function and match our responses accordingly, research shows we will have better outcomes.