In our last behavior conversation we laid out the A-B-C process for changing behaviors. It is a complicated but straight-forward process. However, it is a process that doesn’t really lend itself to a school or home environment. So instead of trying to fit a round peg into a square hole – like trying to turn all of our teachers into functional analysts & behavior specialists – let’s tackle the processes that make sense in the classroom and talk about what they mean, how you should be tracking and understanding them, and ultimately what you should be doing about it.

Today let’s talk about the Antecedent.

An antecedent is simply something that occurs that provokes or elicits a behavior. Antecedents can be tricky because when you describe something as a “provocative event” you tend to think of things such as calling someone an ugly name or shoving someone or breaking things that belong to other people. In actuality a provocative event can be something as benign as a misunderstood look or a perceived sleight.

When you begin looking at the origination of a behavior, the antecedent is the spark event. But antecedents are neither constant nor consistent. If you are walking down the hall and someone bumps into you, you are going to have a different behavioral response depending on who it was and the intent of the bump. If it was a stranger and they quickly apologized then hopefully you accept it and move on. If it was a friend and they were playing with you then you might laugh it off. If it is someone you don’t like then you might take the action as an affront and respond accordingly. When you are looking at the start point, or antecedents, of behaviors you have to really look at two important factors.

First – you need to know who is involved in the antecedent.

Let me give you an example. I have 3 wonderful kids. My oldest daughter is about to be 17 and she is a sweet, smart, wonderful young lady. She comports herself with grace and is genuinely loved by all. My 13 year old son is a ton of fun but no one will ever say he comports himself with grace! He is the bull in the China shop and he relishes that role. My youngest is the perfectionist. She is 9 years old and strives to be the best student, basketball player, soccer player, Bible Bowler, and anything else she does in life. She wants to be the best. Period. If she finishes in second place I have to work with her to not see it as a failure. She is a great kid but she is beyond competitive.

In my house if I am sitting in my chair and something hits me on the back of my head there are 3 basic possibilities. My oldest daughter was walking by and dropped something and it was an accident. Or, my son threw it at me intentionally and he is now hiding and waiting retribution. Or, my youngest is practicing her throwing skills and she either hit the perfect mark or was off target and is now aggravated with herself. My response to being hit on the head will change dramatically depending on who is involved. If it is my oldest I will know it was an accident. If it was my son I will know it was on purpose. If it is my youngest then it could go either way and depending on which way it goes one of us probably won’t be happy.

Who’s involved becomes even more important when you go outside the family and widen your social circle. Kids will do things with their friends that they will not take offense to but if the same thing were done by a stranger or even a casual acquaintance then it could lead to a fight. It is important to know who is involved because that will help you determine the latitude of response that is most likely to occur. 

Where this becomes problematic…

 …is when kids develop a sense of comfort with those who are close to them and they carry those boundaries of acceptability to the wider rings of their social circles. I hear kids call each other names and I see them laughing and smiling but I know if they called someone else that name there would be a problem. Kids have to learn how to discern the levels of familiarity of the people they are with and how that affects and impacts how they respond to other people and how other people respond to them.


The second important factor for the antecedent is the context in which the provocative event occurred.

Think of it like this, if a student came to you and said that another student was being mean and wasn’t sharing recess toys your immediate reaction might be to tell everyone to be nice and share. But, if the real context was that the kid who is tattling is the one who just finished his turn and now the next person is swinging then it changes things. The context of an antecedent can change the way you act towards the provocative event, interact with that event, or react towards it.


The exact same thing under different circumstances can lead to very different results.

A kid might bump into another kid in the hallway and a fight ensues because they are with their friends and someone immediately begins mouthing off to the other. The same two kids might bump into each other when they are by themselves and they laugh it off and move on. The context of an event is just as important as the event itself when you are trying to determine if it is a start point for a problem behavior. 

The bottom line on any antecedent is that you need as much information as possible regarding who is involved and the context it occurred in before you can place a high value on it being a problem point. Why is this important? Because the first step to changing behaviors is knowing what leads to behaviors. How do you understand what leads to behaviors? By knowing the trigger events and more importantly the reasons those trigger events lead to behaviors. But that is for next week’s discussion.







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