During the holidays, inappropriate behaviour erupts when schedules, diets, and sleep patterns get thrown off. This can happen to children and adults! The next thing you know you’ve got a tantrum, fighting, or a melt down on your hands.
Rather than react to inappropriate behaviour in a way that adds fuel to the fire, our ABA specialists and Young Yoga Masters Trainer, Yasuko Tanaka, recommends taking a step back and asking yourself, what is the function of this behaviour?
Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) includes and awareness of 4 Functions of Behaviour, and understanding these is especially helpful with autistic children, as well as those with hypersensitivities, ADD/ADHD, and anxieties.
What are the 4 Functions of Behaviour?
When we say the “function” of a behaviour we mean “why”the behaviour is occurring. While it might be difficult to understand why a person does something (e.g. challenging behaviors such as self-injury or aggression) there will always be an underlying function (O’Neill, et al, 1997).
Let’s take a look at the 4 Functions of Behaviour.
1. Social Attention
The first function of behaviour is social attention. Social attention is behaviour used to get attention from other people. It could be to look, laugh, play, hug or even scold. Examples of this are being silly, making sounds, and speaking out of turn of interrupting.
We all do this in our own ways, but sometime we choose inappropriate methods.
If you’re faced with an inappropriate behaviour ask yourself, is this person seeking attention?
If this feels like the reason, should you give them what they want? The answer is no. Don’t give attention to inappropriate behaviour or you will just encourage more of that behaviour.
Talking to the child is not going to work too because it will just go in one ear and out the another.
So what can you do? Our ABA specialist recommends redirecting the behaviour to an appropriate one first, then give the child attention.
This can be happen in a number of ways, but one that is very effective is modeling the behaviour you want to see, and for some children, using visual cards or props show the behaviour.
For example, you could start deep breathing and also show a Deep Breath Card if available, and continue until the child begins deep breathing along with you. Then give them attention.
2. Tangible or Activity
We all have our wants. It could be something tangible such as toys they see in the store, or chocolate bars that they want you to buy for them. It can also be an activity like going to the zoo or playing games. And if these things are not given to them, they may resort to a behaviour, like a tantrum, or shouting, crying loudly, and screaming, to help them achieve that desire.
This Function of Behaviour is known in the ABA world as a Tangible.
The response to this function of behaviour is using a “First…Then…” condition.
First – give them instructions on what they need to do.
Then – is when that tangible can be given.
If that tangible is something that is possible, give a clear goal of what they need to do first, then they’ll have what they want.
Sometimes it is not possible, for instance your child wants to go to Disney World.
Well, first you need to talk to me in a nice voice, then we can talk about it.
When the child adjusts their behaviour, one tool I find very helpful is to acknowledge the child’s desire and give the child what they want in the form of a wish.
Once calm, you could say, “You really want to go to Disney World and I wish I could take you! We could go on every ride and meet your favourite character. Wouldn’t that be wonderful! Is there anything you would like to do right now to help with your feeling?” They could draw a picture or have a hug. Let’s see what they come up with.
3. Escape and Avoidance
In this function, we do something to help us escape from or avoid something. Sometimes stepping away from a situation is a perfectly appropriate strategy.
But if a child is putting themself in an unsafe situation, or needs to learn to do something difficult, you will need to redirect this behaviour.
A simple example that comes up for yoga teachers is when you mention a difficult yoga pose and suddenly everyone has to go to the bathroom.
A more concerning example is when a child engages in aggressive behaviour so the teacher will stop an academic task they don’t like.
Child safety is paramount. Use your hands to signal stop or a stop sign card to get the message across and help stop the escape.
Avoidance is harder to identify because it could be other functions of behaviour. Try to identify what’s bothering the child and their thoughts and feelings to figure out what they are avoiding.
In the example of the hard yoga pose when suddenly everyone has to go to the bathroom. Give easier options first.
4. Sensory Stimulation
When the function of behariour is for sensory stimulation, a child might rock back and forth because it is enjoyable for them. Another child might rub their knee to soothe the pain after accidentally banging it.
In both cases, these children do not engage in either behaviour to obtain any attention, any tangible items or to escape any demands placed on them.
What should you do then?
Go back to the visual support cards or use the “first…then…” condition to redirect behaviour.
The four functions of behaviour were the topics discussed during the Young Yoga Masters December Free Monthly Check-in with Yasuko Tanaka who specializes in teaching children on the autism spectrum.
We discussed all these functions in more detail and also created a very handy PDF when you register for that free course.
If you are interested to watch the recording of the class, access it here
This topic is also included in our Inclusive Yoga 16 Hour Certificate.