Beyond the Table and Little Kids Part 2: The Basics

In case you missed it, take a look at our last post; we kicked off a 5 part series on how ABA can be used across a wide variety of settings and situations – contrary to most people’s understanding. In this series, we will be specifically focusing on helpful ABA strategies that can be used in any and every classroom. Yes, even general education classrooms with older students!  Let’s get to part 2…

There are two basic strategies that are always, ALWAYS important in parenting or teaching. These strategies are likely things that you already do, at least to some extent, but we hope you will finish this post with a better understanding of how you could use them even more effectively with your students.

Strategy #1 “Why?????????”

Yes, the first strategy relates to this very question. How often do we ask ourselves, “WHY do they DO that?” Probably a LOT. Well, ABA is all about answering it; and the answer is what we call the “function” of (i.e., reason for) a behavior. When you think about it, we help kids learn all kinds of things when we know what makes them “tick.” For instance, those who know me know that I LOVE Zaxby’s (a delicious, fast food chicken joint). They also know that I love Zaxby’s enough to do just about anything to get it. In other words, I would do everything in my power to meet any expectations/requirements tied to eating some delicious Zaxby’s chicken; but I would be just as likely to throw an adult “tantrum” to get it (if that was the quickest/easiest way to do so). It is important to know these things about your students, too – whether they are 2 or 18 years old.

So how do we figure out why kids do what they do? There are 4 primary functions to consider. The first is ATTENTION. Although the forms of attention that people like may change as they get older, it is a common payoff that kids are looking for when they make good and bad choices. Even I like hearing positive feedback or approval from my colleagues, as do most of us! And yes, sometimes bad attention is just as cool as good attention! The next possible function is ESCAPE. Basically, this means that kids do a lot of things to get out of stuff. It could be to get out of a situation, a task, or even away from a certain person. As you can imagine, kids are often trying to escape things in school. It might be in a good way (e.g., working diligently so that they can graduate early) or a bad way (e.g., skipping school). The next possible function is ACCESS. This goes back to my Zaxby’s example. It simply means doing something to get access to things we want. This is the payoff for a lot of what adults do – it is called $$! I’m also sure that anyone who is a parent can remember a time when their child threw the biggest tantrum EVER to get a toy or candy at the store, a prime example! Just as with attention and escape, kids go about getting access to things in good and bad ways at times. Finally, the last category is called SELF-STIMULATION. Yes, I know this sounds technical, but it simply means doing something because of how it feels. We all have things that we do for this reason. I, for example, constantly rock or kick my foot when I work at my desk. Some people twirl their hair or chew on their pens. I’m sure you’ve thought of some more that you do while reading this!

So now we have to ask how we pinpoint which one is at play. Well, we must pay close attention to patterns in the events that surround the behaviors that we are concerned about. We call these patterns the ABC’s (antecedent – behavior – consequence). If you pay attention to what typically happens right before (i.e., antecedent) and right after (i.e., consequence) particular behaviors, you may notice trends that serve as clues to figuring out the payoff(s). As an example, let’s say that every time Max is given a reading worksheet (antecedent), he starts talking and “cutting up” with his peers (behavior). Although his peers typically ignore him, he usually gets sent to the office shortly after (consequence). This trend gives you multiple clues. Since Max usually gets out of the classroom and assignment (at least for some time) following this behavior, escape stands out as a likely function. This is further supported by the trend in antecedents, as the behavior only occurs when a specific type of task is given. Now, you may be thinking, “I already know why my student is doing ___. What now!?” No worries…Part 3 will be devoted to helping you determine what to do once you know why a behavior is happening.

Strategy #2 “Catch ’Em Being Good”

The next basic strategy is something that we all do to some extent, but that probably none of us do enough! It is all about shifting our focus…paying MORE attention to the good than to the bad. Just think about how easy it is for all of your attention and focus to be on the one student in the class that is off-task or being disruptive. But what about all the kids who are working hard??? Those are the kids that seem to get the short end of the stick more times than not. You will be amazed at the difference it will make in any classroom if you learn how to provide the most attention and “good stuff” to the students that are behaving well. Pivoting your focus in this way often motivates the students that are behaving poorly to get in on the action by changing their behavior for the better! When they do, make sure you catch them being good, too! This will help them learn what will and won’t get your attention in the future. But you may be asking, “What if they don’t like my attention?” That’s where knowing what makes your students “tick” comes in! If you know what they are most motivated by, find ways to provide those things when you catch them being good. For instance, since we know Max doesn’t like reading, maybe we give him tokens that can be exchanged for reading worksheet passes when he is caught being good! This is just one of many ways that these basic techniques can be applied in any classroom to make a HUGE difference!

Stay tuned for Part 3 and don’t forget to leave comments or questions if you have any!

~Liz