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The Four Functions of Behavior

The Four Functions of Behavior connections therapy center

To understand the purpose of a child’s behaviors, it is important to know the four functions of behavior.

All behaviors happen for a reason. To understand the purpose of a child’s behaviors and encourage positive actions and discourage negative ones, it is important to first understand the four functions of behavior. Typically, a Behavior Analyst is more concerned with how the behavior impacts the client’s life than what the behavior looks like. This is one of the key concepts in ABA therapy. Let’s go over the four functions of behavior in more detail.

1. Attention

The first function of behavior is attention. Attention-seeking behavior occurs when a child desires feedback or a response from a parent or caregiver. Crying and throwing tantrums are prime examples of childhood attention-seeking habits. We all depend on other people for survival; therefore, we will all need another person’s attention regularly. Seeking out the attention of others is normal, and it is human. It is part of survival. 

Examples of attention include: 

  • Praise, such as cheering and words of affirmation
  • Scolding, saying no, or moving a child’s hand away 
  • Redirecting your attention to your child 
  • Showing disappointment or frustration with facial expressions and body language

2. Escape

Children may behave in a way to avoid an unwanted task or situation. For example, if they don’t want to complete their homework, they may throw their books on the floor or simply lay their head down. They have learned this behavior allows them to get out of a task they do not want.  

Another example of avoidance behavior would be a child who feels anxious in social situations and may hide to avoid group activities. The child may find different ways to get out of doing things with others. Behaviors you may see when children are motivated to escape include: 

  • Avoiding physical discomfort
  • Avoiding social situations
  • Running away
  • Avoiding people or situations
  • Hiding

3. Sensory Stimulation

This function of behavior is unrelated to a preceding event, and the child does not need attention from others. They simply do what feels good to them to stimulate or de-stimulate their senses. For example, you often see children twirling their hair around their fingers. Some children will spin in circles or pick at their skin. Others may fidget with their clothes or crack their knuckles. Some behaviors you may see that are reinforcing in themselves are: 

  • Picking at hair or skin
  • Cracking knuckles
  • Twirling
  • Twisting hair
  • Humming or making noises

4. Access to Tangibles

Children may engage in certain behaviors because they are looking to gain access to something. For example, wanting a cookie. That cookie is a strong reinforcement for the child, so they will engage in interfering behaviors to get the cookie. While it is acceptable to reinforce your child’s positive behaviors with tangibles, remember that this is a function of behavior. Behaviors used to get tangible items or experiences can be either positive or negative. When trying to access a tangible reward, a child may:

  • Beg
  • Scream, cry, or throw a tantrum
  • Hit or bite
  • Grab the item away from someone else

Once you are able to identify the function of your child’s behavior then you will be able to come up with solutions on how to teach your child appropriate alternatives to meet their needs.

The Connections Therapy Center

The Connections Therapy Center serves families of children and adolescents with disabilities and special needs. We are a team of experts in behavioral sciences. As a team, we offer intensive hands-on therapy for children and adolescents, as well as informative and useful resources for families. If you are interested in learning more about what we can do to help your family, visit us online or give us a call at (301) 577-4333. Want to get more information on how to help your child thrive? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.

This entry was posted on Friday, May 26th, 2023 at 9:26 am . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Connections Therapy Center

MD Location

  • 4451 Parliament Place, Suite A
    Lanham, MD 20706
  • 301-577-4333
  • 301-618-0025

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    Connections Therapy Center
    4451 Parliament Place, Suite A Lanham, Maryland 20706
    Phone: 301-577-4333