The ABCs of Behaviour: Understanding the WHY

Have you ever found yourself puzzled by why your child engages in certain behaviours? Despite trying multiple strategies, do the behaviours persist and you find yourself wondering what to do next? You’re not alone! Social media, books, and family and friends may offer “quick fixes” or suggestions for what worked for their family, but they do not always take into account the unique circumstances of your child. Direct observations can help you to develop an individualized plan which will allow your child to meet their needs in a different way.

The ABCs of Behaviour

It’s important to understand the root cause of a behaviour so that we can teach your child how to access their needs in a more appropriate way. BCBAs observe the Antecedents (what happens just before the behaviour), the Behaviour itself, and the Consequences (what happens just after the behaviour) to identify patterns and help understand why your child is behaving in that way. This tool supplements your intuition by uncovering subtle details that may not have been previously apparent, such as the way an instruction was presented or who responded to the behaviour. In order for patterns to appear, multiple instances of the behaviour need to be observed. This can take multiple days (or weeks) of observation depending on how frequently the behaviour occurs.

Seeing the Whole Picture

While ABC data gives us a framework for observing your child’s behaviour, it’s also important to look at the broader context. BCBAs will also report on other details they observe, such as who was present, the time of day, the physical space, etc. If you find that the behaviour happens across environments, such as home, school, or after-school care, we want to see your child in each of those different places. Seeing what is the same (or different) about each of those environments can help us to better understand what your child needs.

Working as a Team

When it comes to understanding your child’s behaviour, the more perspectives, the better! That means it is not just the BCBA who can make observations and record data. Teachers, other professionals, and even yourself can be asked to report on the details of what happens just before and after the behaviour. Each person and environment offers unique factors which may be maintaining your child’s behaviour. Sometimes we find that there are different consequences for using a certain behaviour across settings. For example, a child may get to go on a walk at school after they throw their book, but at home they get extra attention from a sibling.

Once all the data is carefully analysed, a plan can be developed to specifically target the situations in which those behaviours are most likely to occur. (Be sure to see our blog ‘Why is my Child Engaging in these Behaviours?’ for more information about the functions of behaviour).

Parenting a child can feel like a rollercoaster on the best of days, let alone when faced with challenging behaviours that seem to defy your best efforts. As a parent, you may have a sense of why your child is engaging in these behaviours, but still find yourself wondering what else you can do to help. Direct observations and ABC data can help validate your beliefs and provide additional clarity as to why your child is doing what they do.

Contact us at to learn more about how your observations and insights, combined with the data-driven approach of ABA, can bring about positive behaviour change for you and your child.