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Second Step: Understanding Why Your Child’s Tantruming

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Second Step: Understanding Why Your Child’s Tantruming

Before you begin, I highly recommend you read the blog ‘The First Step to Understanding Why Your Child is Tantruming’, so you can determine the ABCs of your child’s tantruming behavior.  Once you determine the ABCs, we can start analyzing that info to figure out the “why”

So what is the “why”. In the ABA world the “why” is referred to as the Four Functions of Behaviors.  Fancy, right? Don’t let that intimidate you, though. I promise it’s not as complicated as it may seem. 

So here are the Four Functions of Behaviors…drum roll please….

  1. To get attention
  2. To avoid something they don’t like 
  3. To get access to something they want that’s tangible
  4. Because it feels good

Let’s break that down…

#1: To Get Attention – kids often tantrum to get the attention of others. This could be their parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, teachers, strangers.  Just like everything, it depends on the child – and – how those behaviors were “reinforced” in the past.  

  • A common example of this is your child screaming, crying and grabbing at your clothes, while you’re talking on the phone – and not paying attention to them. 

#2: To Avoid or Escape Something They Don’t Want.  This could be an activity (bathtime, homework, etc.), a person (sibling who usually takes their toy), or an area (public restroom because they’re fearful of the loud sounds from the toilets flushing)

  • A common example is a child tantruming after you ask them to eat all their vegetables and they begin screaming, pouting, slouching in their chair, or dropping to the ground. 

#3: To Access Something They Do Want.  This is something tangible and is often a toy, candy/food, electronic device, favorite item (pacifier, stuffed animal, etc.) 

  • A common example of this is a child screaming while waiting in the checkout line because his parents won’t allow him to have a piece of candy.  Sound familiar? 😉


#4:  Because It Feels Good.  We refer to this as wanting to receive “sensory input” or “automatic reinforcement”.

  • An example of this is a child who likes to crash on their backs or hit their head on the ground while they’re tantruming. Sometimes they’re doing this because it feels good internally, but it is not as common as the other three functions. 

Now take a few minutes to pin-point what your child is trying to communicate by tantruming. And remember, it’s very common for behaviors to have multiple functions. In other words, for your child to tantrum for many different reasons depending on the situation. 

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you download the PDF below to help guide you through this process.  When you think you’ve got it, leave a comment below stating your child’s “why”.

Need a little guidance, feel free to make a comment or send me a private message 🙂