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ABA Services, Parenting Resources, Parenting Tips

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 🙂 

ABA Services, Parenting Resources, Parenting Tips

First Step: Understanding Why Your Child’s Tantruming

The first step to addressing any challenging behavior is to figure out the “why

What do I mean by the “why”?

The “why” is what your child is trying to communicate by engaging in challenging behavior. 

You’ve probably heard me say it before – and I’m going to say it again – behavior is a form of communication. 

So the first step you need to take to figure out what they’re communicating is to figure out what happened right before (aka “the trigger” or “antecedent”) and what happened right after (the consequence).  In the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA) we refer to this as the three-term contingency or the ABCs of Behavior:

A = Antecedent

B = Behavior

C = Consequence

From this information, we can determine the “functions” of the behaviors, which is the “why”. Check out the post titled ‘2nd Step to Understanding Why Your Child is Tantruming’ for more info.

So what are the ABCs of Behavior?

A – Antecedent is anything that happens right before the tantruming behavior occurred. Some common examples are:

  • a non-preferred person (even if it’s temporary) walking into the room (ex. sibling who takes your toy)
  • being asked to do a non-preferred activity (ex. homework)
  • a non-preferred item being presented (ex. lima beans, uncomfortable shoes).
  • a non-preferred direction being given (ex. clean up your room)
  • being denied access to a preferred item (ex. candy in the grocery isle)

B – Behavior is any behavior that is observable and measurable. The example we are using is tantruming and for this particular kiddo, it includes screaming, crying, falling to the ground, flaring his arms, etc.). Some common examples:

  • Hitting
  • Biting
  • Self-Injurious behaviors (ex. hitting ones head against a hard surface)
  • Grabbing
  • Property Destruction (ex. breaking toys)
  • Throwing (ex. throwing toys at or away from others)
  • Non-Compliance/Not Following Directions
  • Inattention
  • Task Avoidance

C – Consequence is anything that proceeds the occurrence of the behavior. The consequence is neither “bad” nor “good”…it’s just whatever happens afterward. In the ABA world, we go a step further to say it’s whatever happens after the occurrence of the behavior that either increase, or decreases, the likelihood of the behavior happening again in the future. Common examples (remember none of these are recommendations…just examples of common consequences I see):

  • Telling the child to “stop”
  • Putting the child in time out
  • Taking away a preferred item (ex. Ipad)
  • Ignoring
  • Reprimanding, yelling, scolding, etc.
  • Directing one’s body language towards the child
  • Giving the child a preferred item (ex. candy)

What are the ABC’s of your child’s tantruming behavior? Need some help figuring it out? Check out the attached ABC form.

When you’re finished, feel free to make a comment, or send me a private message with your results.

Want to learn more? Check out the post on ‘2nd Step to Understanding Why Your Child is Tantruming’.