The Food Pantry and All of Supplies We Need to Make Our Home “Functional”

A trip to the grocery store is respite for some of us as parents. The time where we slip away from the daily grind of being a parent. Some of us, however, do not have the luxury of this time away and must take our children with us in this task of stocking our pantries. Making sure we have the food we need provides us with reassurance that our families are taken care of and functioning.  I’ve enlisted the help from a colleague to help you better that not-so-fun behavior that accompanies those trips to make our families function. 

Allyson Bell, BCBA and ABA extraordinaire at Heartspring, chimes in on helping navigate the world of grocery store visits and assessing the behavior of your child to help in a more fluid and functional home environment.  Here’s her input on how to make your way through the world of grocery shopping and functional behavior in the home environment:

The grocery store is a common place for tantrum behavior and immediate gratification. We’ve all seen it before. A toddler or child is screaming his head off in the checkout line while his mom frantically attempts to console and figure out why he is upset and ends up buying the child a candy bar to get him to quiet down. In fact, I have been this mom; my two year old has me very well trained. Rewind just five minutes earlier, that same child says to mom “candy, please” as sweet as can be and mom says “no it’s almost lunch time.” Cue the repeated questions, which will eventually lead to the crazy scream! Either way, it makes sense to give them candy to get them to calm down in the moment because the behavior stops, immediately, right? Well, in the short term, yes, the behavior ended. But, what about the long term? Our child just learned that of he asks nicely, he will be told no, but if he screams his head off, he’s getting a candy bar!

One of the hardest things, as parents, is figuring out what our child is trying to communicate to us using their behavior. I want to help you learn how to better understand the behavior of your children and one of the most important lessons I can offer is this: all behavior has a purpose. This is my mantra. I repeat it over and over again when my child has been screaming for 45 minutes straight, and I’ve tried offering everything to him. Taking a more systematic approach to observation of behaviors helps make this mission of figuring out what they are telling us a little easier. We can do this through ABC charts: identifying the antecedent (what happened before), the target behavior (what we don’t want them to do anymore) and the consequence (what happens immediately after, usually how we respond to what they are doing). These can be very simple fill in the blanks forms or check sheets like these:

Here’s an example of what these charts might look like filled out:

Once we have this information and know what typically surrounds a problem behavior; we can start looking at the functions of problem behavior. These are what keep that behavior going and why the child is having the behavior.

I encourage you to start looking at the child’s behavior as a form of communication.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the child trying to escape or avoid a situation by engaging in the behavior? Think of a child who was told to go work on homework and started whining! He’s trying to get out of going to do that homework. This is called escape.
  • Is the child trying to get your attention? Have you ever noticed that your kiddo always seems to start pestering the dog when you are talking on the telephone? He’s probably trying to get you off the phone to come play. Any attention is good attention for some kiddos. They do not know the difference between a reprimand and positive talk. This is called attention-maintained behavior.
  • Is the child trying to gain access to something? Does your kiddo scream when he’s told he can’t have cookies for breakfast? In his mind, he may think that screaming will get him access to the cookies! This function is better described as tangible reinforcement.
  • The last function of behavior is sensory/self-stimulatory. This is by far the hardest one to identify and change because no matter what we do, we can’t make hand flapping not feel good or not provide some internal positive consequence. Think about your own self-stim behaviors. Mine is rubbing my collarbone when I get nervous or anxious! No one taught me to do that and no one can affect that, but it fulfills some internal need for me when I’m nervous.

The chart above to a behavior analyst looks like this after the charting is complete:

Knowing what your child is trying to communicate can help you not only figure out what to do to get the behavior to decrease, but helps us as behavior analysts in determining the best way to teach them the appropriate way for them to gain access to the desired outcome is. Most of the time it takes a little investigating to help make a family function in a more conducive manner.  While working through behavior intervention based on a child’s function may be tiring and inconvenient, ultimately the trips to the store and the overall functioning in a child’s home become so much easier. Stay persistent and confident in your behavior intervention and trust your instinct in why the behavior is occurring, but when in doubt, call on our ABA team for help to get  those hard to deal with behaviors squashed. ;)


Published 2016/04/14 by Nicole McLain
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