The Four Functions Of Behavior in Kids Single Moms Should Know

Last Updated on January 24, 2024 by Lori Pace

Functional Behavior Analysis refers to the purpose or motivation behind a child’s behavior. However, the function of a behavior can be multiple functions. Stephanie Lee, PsyD is the director of Child Mind Institute’s ADHD and Behavior Disorders Center says that parents often need to do some detective work to determine the cause of the behavior. This includes looking at what happened before and afterward the tantrum or outburst.

So, understanding these functions can help single moms understand the root cause of problem behavior in kids. This is the key to assisting children in changing it.

There Are Four Functions Of Behavior In FBA:

  • Escape or delay
  • Access to tangibles
  • Need for attention
  • Sensory stimulation

1. Escape Or Delay | Four Functions Of Behavior

Your kids don’t like eating something?

These are the key to helping your child stop problem behavior. The child desires to escape from a situation that isn’t right for them or to avoid doing a job they don’t like. Avoidance and delay are big motivators of behavior. Children must do a lot of things that they don’t like to do such as: eating vegetables, cleaning up and doing homework. Children who don’t want to do something are more likely to act out, even if they have done it before.

How To Stop Escaping Or Delaying Your Behavior

  • Reward kids for appropriate behavior by reducing the demands  If they come to the table immediately without complaining, they will only need to eat half their Brussels sprouts. Rewards that encourage them to eat less of what they are trying to avoid can reduce stress and encourage good behavior.
  • Let them know that escape is not an option – You can give your child advance warning about when it is necessary to act. You can also set a timer. You can even set a timer so that they know when it is time to complete the task. If they refuse to wear their coats, you will put it on for them.
  • Praise them when they do what they’re asked without a fuss – Encouragement for this behavior will come from positive attention, even for small tasks such as putting their shoes away or turning off the TV the first time they are Asked.

2. Access To Tangibles

The child is looking for a particular item (candy, a toy, or an activity) or access to their iPad.

A tangible could be a gift, a toy, or time spent on an iPad. A child asking repeatedly for something at the grocery shop. “Mom, are you able to buy this?” “Can I buy that?” This continues until the parent is frustrated and offers their phone for distraction. Does the situation sound familiar? This child clearly wants something. However, it is more likely that the goal is to get the phone and not a bag of cookies.

How To Change Behaviors When Kids Are Seeking Access To A Tangible:

  • Create a contract – Be proactive and not reactive to prevent bad behavior. Make a deal with your child before you go to the grocery store. If they don’t ask anything, you’ll give them a cookie.
  • Eliminate the tangible items from your environment – Hidden tangibles can be helpful. Children will be more upset if an iPad isn’t allowed to be used if it’s right next to their kitchen counter. Your phone is the same.
  • Make sure they know what the physical restrictions are – Set a timer so your child knows how much time is left. Remind your child when the timer goes off that the next time they have access to the iPad is and how long. Children can be helped to understand by visual schedules that the item won’t disappear forever. It’s only for now.

3. Need for Attention | Four Functions Of Behavior

The child is looking for attention from their parents or teachers. Any attention will do. They just want it to be big, bold, and immediate. It’s all about the intensity, duration, and proximity of their actions. This is why kids will often behave in ways that are most likely to attract the most attention even if it means getting in trouble.

A teacher might give mild praise to a student for being quiet at their desk. Although the teacher may be several desks away, it’s unlikely that they will give much praise. If you are starting a work call, or cooking dinner, one of your children grabs a sibling’s toy, and hits them. They climb up on the sofa and jump. They know they will be in trouble but they do it anyway because they know you will notice them.

Give specific positive attention for good behavior!

How To Change Attention-Seeking Behavior:

  • Set kids up to occupy themselves –  Being proactive is a good idea if your child acts out when you are doing something else. You can set up an activity for your child that will keep them busy during your dinner prep call. If your child craves touch, give them a hug before you log in to your meeting.
  • Planned ignoring –  The best way to change behavior that is motivated by attention is to not reward it with attention. Children will not give up their need to pay attention quickly, so expect the behavior to worsen before it gets better. This is known as an extinction burst. The behaviors will eventually stop. Planned ignoring should only be used when there is enough time, space, and patience to talk with your child.
  • Give regular and specific positive attention for good behavior – Use labeled praise whenever possible for the behavior you wish to see. You could say, “Great job sharing your crayons” with your brother.
  • Help kids practice patience – Begin by asking children to be patient for short periods of time. Set a timer for five minutes before you go to the toilet. Let them know that you will be back when it goes off. Encourage them to wait patiently. As they get more comfortable, gradually increase the amount of time.

4. Sensory Stimulation

A child does something because it makes them feel good, gives them comfort, relieves their pain, allows them to expend energy or calms them down.

Examples Of Sensory-Seeking Behaviors:

  • Chewing on objects such as pen caps or clothing
  • Flapping hands, spinning in circles, and crashing into furniture
  • Repeating repetitive sounds, either vocally (like clicking and humming) or physically (like tapping your feet or hands) in situations or places where silence is expected
  • Touching and smelling objects or people repeatedly, often without asking
  • Self-injury is used to provide sensory input.

Examples Of Sensory-Avoidant Behaviors:

  • Refuse to eat certain foods or wear certain clothes
  • If they feel the sounds are too loud, they can cover their ears.
  • Avoid certain people and things because of their smell
  • To avoid something, self-injury (e.g. banging their heads to prevent hearing a disturbing sound, or skin picking to ease their anxiety).

How to change sensory-seeking or sensory-avoidant problem behaviors:

  • Replace harmful behavior with a safe alternative – If a child is constantly picking at their skin to relieve anxiety, they might be able to distract themselves with a fidget or other toys that they can “pick at”, such as stickers or putty.
  • Set limits around the behavior – Certain behaviors, such as making noises or spinning around, are acceptable in certain settings but can be problematic in others. Your child should become more aware of their behaviors, identify when and where they are inappropriate, and then work with you to develop a substitute behavior that will provide sensory stimulation.
  • Find solutions to help your child cope with the loud noise, uncomfortable clothing, bad smell, etc. –  By making accommodations to meet your child’s needs, you can reduce or eliminate their sensory-avoidant behavior. You can make accommodations to help your child’s sensory-avoidant behaviors, such as purchasing noise-canceling headphones and recommending that clothing be comfortable over fashion.
Lori Pace
Lori Pace

Lori Pace is a single mother of three daughters ages 7 and under. As a working mom from home, she balances kids, work and two crazy dogs with humor and love. Follow Lori as she honestly gives tips and advice based on her own experiences as a single mom!