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The ABC System

Here is a behavior modification program—the ABC system—that many par­ents find helpful. It requires effort and patience to implement but is simple to set up and very effective.

A: Antecedent events or activities that usually precede (and sometimes con­tribute to) the behavior, and the situation or the context in which the be­havior occurs (for example, at the dinner table).

B: Behavior that is problematic. Parents will need to specify clearly the be­havior that needs changing (for instance, fighting with a sibling) and note its frequency, duration, and intensity. This is information by which later success can be measured.

C: Consequences of the child's behavior, specifically the responses (emo­tional and behavioral) that the problem behavior elicits from the parents and others.

Here is how the program is implemented:

Step 1: Describe A, B, and C, and write down this information. The more spe­cific, the better.

Step 2: Initiate a program that will eliminate, reduce, or modify conditions in A.

Step 3: Clearly state agreed-upon changes and expectations for B, including a time frame.

Step 4: Change C. This contains three components: First, the negative be­havior is ignored and not reinforced or in any way rewarded by the parents' responses; ideally it gradually becomes less frequent or severe because the parents ignore it. Second, the parents reinforce any positive change in be­havior by calling attention to it and by providing rewards that were agreed upon in advance with the child. Third, the parents carry out punishment or consequences as agreed upon and as appropriate.

Step 5: Record any changes in behavior (frequency, duration, intensity), comparing them to the original measures in B to see how successful the pro­gram is. 

Step 6: Review the situation, progress, and overall satisfaction with all fam­ily members. Usually it takes two to three weeks to produce a change. The family's expectations and commitment should be clearly understood and stated.

Repeat the process—Steps 1 to 6—as needed and with necessary modifica­tions.

Last Updated
Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12 (Copyright © 2004 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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