Managing behavior issues
Crystal Covington

Behavior Issues and Parenting

Recently, I have seen many parents ask me about behaviors and how to understand and manage them better.  Many times, we think of maladaptive behavior & how to terminate the behavior. In this article, I will describe how to analyze behavior & how to use a chart to address behavioral concerns.

Is all behavior a form of communication?

Before thinking of how to change behavior, there are many key points that a person must consider. The first concept is that behavior is a form of communication. There is a reason why a person may yell, bang their head, run away or have a meltdown! Every child/adult has their own way to communicate & part of our job is to understand that particular form of communication so that we can help the person in need.

Why do certain behaviors trigger us as parents?

Next, we have to examine our own thoughts & feelings when it comes to behavior. What sets us off? How do we view behaviors? Is it a sign of disrespect? For me, I lose my cool when my son does a HIGH pitch scream (yes, I can admit I lose my cool). This type of scream causes me such physical pain in my ears, that all knowledge & patience goes out the window! Before we can address behavior, we have to manage our own emotions. Remember, behavior is not about you, so try not to take it personally.

All behavior is communicaiton, its not about you, so don’t take it personally!

What are the common triggers for behaviors?

We must think about the triggers of the behaviors. Here is a general list of possible triggers to consider when assessing behavior:

1. Internal Issues: hunger, pain, illness, tiredness, etc.
2. Sensory Concerns: noise, light, touch, boredom, overstimulation, etc.
3. Lack of structure
4. Challenging or new work
5. Fearful situation
6. Change in schedule or routine/disappointments
7. Delay gratification: having to wait; not getting what is wanted immediately
8. Self Esteem: criticism, making mistakes, losing a game, etc.

What are the ABC’s and MEAT of behaviors?

First, we need to select a behavior to examine. Make sure the behavior is observable & it is something you can describe. Now, we will examine the ABC’s of behavior in order to understand its purpose.

The ABC strategy stands for the following:
A-Antecedent(s): What occurs before the person acts
B-Behavior: What does the person do
C-Consequence(s): What happens after the person acts out; consequence can be viewed as positive or negative

Once we have described the behavior, we can now dive deeper into the possible reasons or MEAT of the behavior. There are 5 functions of behavior:

M-Medical: pain, sick, toothache, etc. For example, a person may have a stomachache & may not want to use the bathroom. If you & your medical provider have ruled out medical reasons, then you can consider the following…

E-Escape: A person may want to get away from a stressful situation, avoid a task/chore, etc. Escape also includes avoiding tasks/school work that is too hard. Getting away from an overwhelming sensory environment is a form of escape that overlaps with another function of behavior (listed below).

A-Attention: Displaying disruptive behavior may be a way for a person to obtain someone else’s attention. For example, a child may scream because he/she/they have learned that an adult will pull them aside to have a conversation.

T-Tangible: A child/adult may want something such as a toy, food, etc. An example of tangible behavior is the following: child may hit a peer while on the playground to access the swing. The swing is the object of desire.

S-Sensory: Disruptive behaviors may be displayed as a mechanism for self-stimulation or self calming methods. A person may also want to ESCAPE a sensory overloading environment.

How to apply ABC to analyze the behavior?

Now that we have all the background information, let’s apply what we have learned to an example from my own household…My son (EJ) asks for a treat. I explain that he can get a treat after dinner. EJ begins to scream & cry. I yell at him to stop screaming. So, what are the ABC’s of this scenario?

ANTECEDENT: I said EJ can have a treat after dinner

BEHAVIOR (Tangible): EJ screams & cries (he wants the treat)


By understanding the ABC’s & MEAT of behavior, we can now provide appropriate strategies to address the behavior. In my personal example, I can teach EJ how to express himself instead of screaming & crying.

How to use a behavioral chart or token economy?

There are 4 steps to develop a behavioral chart:

  1. Change the triggers-model visual supports, change the demand of the task, etc.
  2. Teach skill to deal with triggers- teach the strategy to use instead of having the behavior
  3. Reward new skills-this is when the chart/token economy is used
  4. Loss system if not frustrated, anxious, etc. The response is a cost. For example, if the bed isn’t made, 5 minutes of computer time is lost.

From my perspective, there is a slight difference between token economy & a chart. Token economy is based on the idea that a child/adult earns tokens (i.e. stickers, stars, etc.) on a chart for positive behaviors & receives a reward after a certain amount of tokens have been earned. One behavior is the target of the chart. A behavior chart is similar, except you can track behavior throughout the day/week. Behavior charts use the token economy principle, but it is set over a longer period of time. Here are 5 tips to set up token economy:

  1. Decide which behavior you would like to strengthen. Remember, don’t state what you don’t want to see. For example, my son (EJ) throws his body on the floor when he is upset or frustrated. The goal isn’t for EJ to stop throwing his body on the floor. The goal would be for EJ to use his words to communicate his feelings.
  2. Allow the child/adult to choose the reinforcers & what they want to earn. Reinforces can be stickers, stars, stamps, poker chips, etc. They can earn extra tv time, special toys, etc. I would not use food as a reinforcer. Food is a necessity & shouldn’t be used as a reward. Candy is not a necessity & therefore can be used as a reward. I would still be careful with this type of reward & limit the amount (i.e. 1 lollipop).
  3. Set up a reinforcement schedule which shows when tokens are given. For example, the person will sit at the table for ___ minutes or the person will try to complete math homework independently for ___ minutes. Remember, the behavior must be observable and understandable.
  4. Decide how many tokens the child/adult needs to earn in order to receive reward. Usually, a child will need to earn at least 5 tokens before receiving a reward. This depends on the age, cognitive ability, and frustration level of the person.
  5. Choose a time & place where the child/adult can exchange the reward.
    *Sometimes a “fine” or response cost is added in which tokens are taken away for disruptive behaviors. It is important that children/adults have the ability to ONLY earn tokens at the beginning. This strategy helps them to feel successful & will motivate them to earn tokens. If you impose a “fine”, again, make sure the person isn’t anxious or frustrated. Implementing a “fine” when they are in this state may increase disruptive behavior.

Here are some sample behavior charts you can use.

Develop a behavior management plan for your child and your family

Once you consider these possibilities, you can develop a plan that fits not only the child/adult in need but also the family & environment.  If you would like 1:1 help to use the token economy/behavior chart, don’t be afraid to reach out! I am here to help!

🤩 How to engage Crystal as your VitalGuide today?

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🙃Understanding pica syndrome – Part 2

🙃Understanding pica syndrome – Part 3

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