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Observe and Describe

Where to begin

Understanding the ABC’s of behavior will help you know how to best teach your child new behaviors. Children move through behaviors in three stages: Antecedent (before), Behavior (during), and Consequences (afterward). Children can change their behaviors during any of these stages but the approach is the same. The lessons on Smarter Parenting are designed to help in all stages of child behaviors. It is important for a parent to identify which lesson is most effective at what time to optimize the greatest change in behavior for you child.

This chart helps you determine what skill you should use and when. As with most things, addressing problems before they occur (if possible) is always best. If not, parents have options on what to do when negative behavior happens.


Antecedents refers to things that happen before a specific behavior occurs.

If your child throws a tantrum in a grocery store, a parent can evaluate what is happening before the tantrum happens. They can ask the following questions:

What is my child doing before he throws the tantrum?

Where is my child before the tantrum?

What other things happened before my child began to have the tantrum behavior?

Answering these questions will give a parent ample opportunity to teach their child what they should do BEFORE the tantrum occurs. The skill of Preventive Teaching is most helpful in this situation.

Parenting Tip: It is recommended to try and work with your child in the area of the Antecedent. This area allows both parent and child to remain calm, and where the parent and child relationship is most powerful. This is not always possible. If your child escalates, you can use the other skills to address and teach to their behavior.


Once the child is behaving inappropriately it is time to correct the negative behavior using the skill of Correcting Behaviors. It is more difficult during this phase for your child to make changes to their behavior but it is possible by following the steps of the skill.

Parents should remain calm during this part of the interaction as losing their cool will aggravate the situation.

Helpful tip: Parents need to know there may be a time when teaching is not going to produce the desired result. If your child continues to be resistant beyond their ability to change, it may be best to let the issue rest. We are not suggesting you forget it. We are recommending that you wait for a time to allow you and your child to calm down before returning to it in the future.


Smarter Parenting recommends you and your child visit the issue of their negative behavior together using the skill of Decision Making (SODAS Method)to determine a consequence for the negative behavior. We also recommend that using the skill, both parent and child, determine how to resolve the issue if it arises again. By working together, it is possible to help your child change and shape their negative behaviors for the better.

Help, Activities, and Testimonials

Research articles on the ABC’s of behavior

To further understand the ABC’s of behavior you can read the following articles.

University of Kansas has research on the ABC’s of behavior and why it’s important to be versed in the the ABC’s.

Collaborative Analysis also uses the ABC’s of behavior technique in helping parents understand how to change their child’s behavior.

The following activity can be used to help your child understand the concept of the ABC’s of behavior.

ABC chain and a twist

How to use this activity

This game allows you and your child the opportunity to discuss how situations or events a linked to their behavior and how that behavior leads to consequences. Using a situation where your child struggles, have them write down on three strips of paper the ABC’s of behavior—antecedent, behavior, consequence for that situation. In a twist, you can do the same activity but project it for a future time. Have the child write down the same situation but have them put down the desired outcome they hope happens on the strip of paper labeled consequences. The parent then fills in the behavior the child will need to have in order for them to reach that consequence. It’s a simple activity that requires very little time or expense but can yield a lot of positive interaction between parents and children. In another twist you can also do this for your child going throughout a morning, afternoon or day and show how all the behaviors and consequences are linked together.

​Here are some helpful hints on how to use this concept for a specific situation.

What if my child pushes another child?

Siope talks through a situation a parent is bound to encounter and how to use the ABC’s of behavior.

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Downloadable Resources and Worksheets

Where to begin

1. Watch and review the lesson video and memorize each step to this skill.
2. Complete the Finding a Meaningful Reason worksheet. This will help you with step 6 of the skill.
3. Review the Activities and Games section on this page and choose one or two activities you think would be helpful in teaching your child this skill.
4. Print out the steps to the skill for your child and for easy reference. If you need help, complete this Observe and Describe Worksheet you will know what to say during every step of the skill. Depending on the age of your child, download the child or teen worksheet.
5. Go over the steps to the skill with your child and engage them with an activity or game to learn the skill. Keep the printout available for easy reference.
6. Practice the steps of the skill as often as possible during the activity. Continue to practice the steps as a role-play as well if possible.
7. Set up a time to practice this skill again later the same day or the next day. Continue to practice using the skill often, even after your child has mastered it. It is always helpful to practice to reinforce the steps to the skill.

Print out a copy of the steps to Correcting Behaviors for easy reference.

Suggestions for parents when teaching this skill

Be calm and patient. Your reaction will set the mood for how your child will react to learning new ways to behave.

You can also show empathy by telling your child this is a new skill for you to learn and that you both have to work on getting it right.

Be sure to work through “Finding a Meaningful Reason” worksheet. This will help you determine what to do in step 6 of this skill. This is very important.

Expect some mistakes during the practice. This is normal. Work through them.

Continue to practice this skill until it becomes second nature. Practice it every time you see a behavior that needs to be corrected. Practice makes perfect.

Legos: correct me till it’s right

Dave explains how to use Legos to go over the skill of Correcting Behaviors with your child using Legos.

How to use this activity

Do this activity with children between 4 and 10 years old. Be sure to practice at a neutral time. If your child becomes irritated with the correction they are given, take time to slow down. You may also need to provide small, very specific information.

Game of Life

Life board game, printed out instructions, cards for the game and a printed copy of the steps to Correcting Behaviors for easy reference. The Game of Life challenges each player to make choices throughout their life in the game. The board game is great for exploring consequences to choices. It can also be used as a way for you to make corrections and allow for your child to “re-do” or practice/role-play a specific consequence in order to earn some privileges back. We have re-purposed cards and stops along the board game that walks a child through their entire day. This includes waking up in the morning, eating breakfast, going to school, peer pressure, chores, earning allowance, etc. With a few adjustments you can use this game as a way to correct behaviors and practice the appropriate behaviors all within the rules of the game. This should allow you to communicate more openly about choices. Cards and instructions are available here. This game has also been re-purposed so you can play it with the skill of Preventive Teaching.


Denise talks about using the skill of Correcting Behaviors to get positive results.

Cody and Mandy

Cody and Mandy share how the skill of Correcting Behaviors helped with their son Gavin’s Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).


Behavior Coupons: Pink

Having a hard time figuring out a reward for good behavior? Use behavior coupons.

Behavior Coupons: Lime Green

Having a hard time figuring out a reward for good behavior? Use behavior coupons.

Behavior Coupons: Green

Having a hard time figuring out a reward for good behavior? Use behavior coupons.

Behavior Coupons: Teal

Having a hard time figuring out a reward for good behavior? Use behavior coupons.

Behavior Coupons: Golden

Having a hard time figuring out a reward for good behavior? Use behavior coupons.

Behavior Coupons: Blue

Having a hard time figuring out a reward for good behavior? Use behavior coupons.

Correcting Behavior: Assignment Child

Use this worksheet to help you practice the steps of Correcting Behaviors.

Correcting Behaviors Assignment Teen

Use this worksheet to help you practice the steps of Correcting Behaviors.

Correcting Behaviors: Definition

What is Correcting Behaviors? It’s a way to help you change your child.

Correcting Behaviors: Target Behavior Worksheet Example

Filled in chart to show you how to use the Target Behavior Worksheet.

Steps of Correcting Behaviors

Print out this form and use as a reference when practicing the skill of Correcting Behaviors.

Correcting Behaviors: Extra Chore Ideas

This list gives you some ideas of consequences you can give your child for poor behaviors.

Correcting Behaviors: Freaking Out

Freaking out on your child for freaking out is as hypocritical as it is ineffective. Slow down. Breathe. Then act like the adult you want them to become. L. R. Knost

Correcting Behaviors: Ideas

Figuring out what to do to change your child’s behavior is hard. We give you a list of ideas that have worked.


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