March 21, 2017

Today we are going to talk about the ABC’s of behavior.  

“A” refers to the antecedent, or the event or activity that immediately comes before a undesired behavior.

“B” refers to the behavior that was observed, and

“C” refers to the consequence, or what happens immediately following the behavior.

This is an observational tool that can be used to determine the cause and function of behaviors. You can use this chart to look for patterns of behaviors, since each behavior happens for a reason and it is a way of communicating a problem your child is experiencing. The ABC chart will help you find out the reason for the behavior and with that information you can find a positive alternative for the child.

Example of an ABC chart:





Possible Function

Using an ABC Chart:

Time and Date:

The first thing that you need to fill out is the time and date. It is very important that you keep accurate information with the time and date because you will need this information to track any patterns.


From there you will need to fill out the “A” (antecedent) box. The antecedent is anything that happens before the behavior. This could be something that happens immediately or an event that is a slow build up. Below is a chart of examples of immediate triggers and slow build up triggers. The antecedent helps you start to understand why the behavior may have occurred. It is not always easy to determine the antecedent and you may have to think of the overall picture.

Immediate Triggers

Slow Build Triggers

Favorite item is taken away

Change of medication

Disliked activity is presented

Irregular sleep schedule

Peer comment

Birth of new sibling

Noise level

Upcoming event


Next, you will need to fill out the “B” (behavior) box. In this box, you put observable and measurable behaviors that you observed. Make sure to put in a full explanation of the observed behavior. For example, John ripped up his math worksheet and flipped his desk when he was asked to start his work. Steer clear of using ambiguous words that can not be clearly observed or measured. For example, John became upset when he was told to start his work. An outside observer would not be able to determine what “upset” means because people deal with being upset in a variety of ways.


The “C” (consequence) box is the place to record what happened after the behavior occurred. You will want to write down what happened in response to the behavior. When most people see the word “consequence” they automatically think of something negative, but it literally just means what took place. This is the section that will usually determine if the behavior will continue to take place or not. For example, if a student is trying to gain attention by saying inappropriate joke and the rest of the class laughs, then the student is most likely going to repeat the behavior. On the other hand, if the student tells an inappropriate joke and the teacher gives him/her silent lunch then the behavior is not as likely to continue.

Possible Function:

The last step is to take all of the information from the chart and determine a possible function of the behavior. Usually behavior exists for one or more of the four functions, which are to escape, to gain a tangible object, to gain attention or to gain self-stimulation/sensory input. Determining the function is crucial to being able to modify the behavior. You have to find a better way for the student/child to gain the same function.

Example of a Filled Out ABC Chart:





Possible Function

3/15/17 8:00 am

J. had to choose a different cereal for breakfast.

J. refused to get off of the bus and started kicking the back of the sea.

J. was helped off the bus and lost points on his chart.

To gain his favorite cereal.

In this example, I would have used a social story to help J. think about different ways to express his disappointment about not having his favorite cereal. We would talk about having to compromise and choose something else to eat. The child in this scenario chose an inappropriate response to communicate his displeasure of not having his favorite cereal. The ABC chart let me see step by step what happened and the situation was addressed. Therefore this behavior is less likely to happen again.

Understanding the hows and whys of your child's behavior can help you maintain your sanity and help you understand your child better, as well as helping steer them towards more appropriate behavior. Do you have any other ways you help identify your child's behaviors? Let us know in the comments!