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.