The ABC guide helps you understand your child’s behavior, customize your reaction, and determine if your discipline is working. When the kid is constantly answering your requests with “But I wasn’t. . .” or “He started it. . .” or “You’re so mean!” then guess what? We’re not the least bit effective. It’s a kick in the gut, I know, but responses like that mean our discipline methods stink and need to change!
The ABC guide and associated lingo can get annoying sometimes, but you have to understand the foundation. We’re changing the way we think, so we have to wrap our brains around why. Why do kids have smart mouth comebacks, why do we get so worked up, and why is it important to change? So hold your horses my friend! Let’s take a couple of chapters to learn the basics and vocabulary first. It’s easy enough once you get it. Then we can move on to specific methods to decrease the unwanted behavior.
Briefly, ABC stands for:
- A = Antecedent: The event before the (good or bad) behavior.
- B = Behavior: What exactly the kid does and why.
- C = Consequence: What happens immediately after the behavior.
Now let’s examine this in detail.
A = Antecedent
‘A’ is the event that happens right before the behavior. Behavior can be desirable or undesirable. Good or bad. ‘A’ is the action or thing that causes the good or bad behavior. Most often it’s requests, actions, or commands from us such as, “I told you not to do that”; “Turn the TV off, please”; “Hurry up”; “Your room still isn’t clean”; etc.
Analyzing the antecedent includes three factors:
1) Identify A
What did you say? What did you do? What was your child doing? Figure out your setup. If the resulting behavior was good, mark it. Approach it that way again in the future. If the behavior was bad, avoid that setup. For example, your kid keeps leaving clothes on the floor in the morning, driving you bonkers. Your approach is to yell as soon as you see the clothes. The response is always a put off: I’ll get it later, or I’m doing something right now, or back talk, “It’s my room, I can leave it how I want!” So think about when and where you’re making the request. Are you in a rush to get to work or school? Is the kid distracted, playing a game, or in the middle of another task? If so, you have to wait until he is focused on you and neither of you are rushed, distracted, or annoyed.
2) Set Crystal-Clear Directions and Expectations
Put simply, it’s our job to make sure we give crystal-clear directions, examples, and expectations in order to get a successful outcome. We cannot be vague. Clean your room – can mean one thing to you and something totally different to your kid. Be specific! “Pick up these clothes. Put the dirty ones in the laundry and clean ones in the drawer. Game pieces go in the game box and the game box goes under your bed.” Break it down into parts and tell them exactly what you want. Write it down if needed. That way there’s no miscommunication (“But you said I could. . . “)
Give your child very specific directions and guidance so he understands exactly how you want him to behave. If you don’t tell him what you want, he won’t know. The behavior will then continue or become worse.
Don’t use isolated, abstract commands: “Cut it out”; “Stop that, young man”; “Don’t argue” or “Enough!” Seriously, you may think kids have a clue as to what you mean, but they aren’t mind readers. TELL them what you want! Use specific actions. For example, for the younger kids, “Cut it out” can mean:
- Quiet hands –> Use kind words
- Quiet mouth –> Bottom on the chair, feet on the floor
- Say please –> Walk beside me
- Say thank you –> Hands to yourself
“Cut it out” is too vague. Avoid fuzzy words! Be clear and teach your child exactly what behavior you want to see. Think about what you WANT. Be specific and stop telling your child what you don’t want – because that’s a negative.
Here are some examples:
What We Want –> What We Don’t Want
Quiet feet –> No running!
Inside voice –> Stop yelling!
Bottom on the chair –> Quit wiggling!
Food goes in your mouth –> Don’t throw that!
Stay with me –> Don’t run off!
Hands to yourself –> Leave your brother alone!
Four on the floor [chair legs] –> Don’t tilt your chair back!
See what I mean? Focus on what you WANT your child to do. When you always say, “Stop it” or “No” or “Cut it out,” (a) it points out the negative; and (b) it is not specific. It doesn’t tell them what you want to see instead. And if you don’t tell them what you want, how can you expect them to do it?
3) External Factors
Under ‘A’ you also examine external factors such as lack of sleep, distractions, hunger/thirst, etc. You know your child, so use this information to avoid conflicts and misunderstandings.
For example, your kid is being a crank-pot, but you need help setting the table for dinner. So you ask nicely, and they give you lip. Avoid barking back, “Don’t you argue with me! Get over here and help!” Instead, check yourself. Remember that you’ve been racing the poor kid all over town that week for art class, soccer, and piano, and he’s still got forty-five minutes of homework to do. He’s a little stressed and tired! The expectation doesn’t change – he is still going to help set the table. You just don’t need to be a tyrant about it and neither does he.
So go over, offer a hand, and say, “Here, I’ll help you.” Someone walking in off the street might call you a pushover for tolerating that nonsense, but you understand the day and week the kid is going through and factor that in. You know for darn sure that yelling or forcing the kid to obey ‘just because’ will get you nowhere, so go about it a different way to get a positive result.