Considering OUR Behavior as Parents

Generally, when families are referred for ABA services, it is due to the behavior of their child. That behavior can vary from severe to minimal, however if a referral occurs, it means the behavior is interfering in some way with the child’s ability to function in their day to day environment. 

Once ABA services begin, BCBAs and RBTs will work together to collect data and determine the function (The Why?) of the child’s behavior. Treatment plans are written to manipulate the environment so the child can access their “Why” without having to engage in the behavior being treated.  However, there can sometimes be a missing piece to the ever-evolving puzzle.

That missing piece is the function of the parent’s behavior, OUR behavior.  As parents, we often engage in behavior that results in the avoidance of behavior from our children.  For example, my son did not independently put on his own socks and shoes until he started kindergarten. Not because he lacked the ability to. He didn’t do it, because I was always in a rush and did it for him. I didn’t have time to sit there and go through the whining and arguing and whatever other behavior he engaged in on any given day to get out of doing it by himself. He and I were on a merry-go-round of avoidant behavior. Him – avoiding putting on his socks; me – avoiding the whining, as well as being late to work. 

As parents we often find ourselves engaging in behavior that is ‘easier’ than dealing with undesirable behavior from our children.  We only go to the store when they aren’t with us, we do the task for them because it is faster and easier, we cook them dinner, we know they like to avoid the refusal to eat, we hand them the iPad when we’re on the phone so we can concentrate on the phone call. The list goes on and on, and we generally don’t do it knowingly.  

 In an analysis on the contingencies of parent behavior Stocco and Thompson (2015) described differences in participant behavior dependent on child behavior. Less demands were placed on children who engaged in higher rates of problem behavior. Participants also removed non-preferred toys from the environment when those objects were related to an increase in problem behavior.  Children who engaged in less problem behavior were given more demands and non-preferred toys were left in the room. Another study showed that adult participants gave higher levels of reprimands, when those reprimands resulted in the discontinuance of behavior from the child participant. Yet, another study result has shown that parents who excessively help their children with tasks don’t allow the child opportunities to complete the task independently (remember the socks?). (Stocco & Thompson, 2015)  

There are some strategies that can help parents reduce problem behavior from their children while also reducing their own avoidant behavior. 

  1. Start getting ready earlier
    1. If getting dressed independently takes your child a long time, you may start getting ready for an event earlier to allow them the opportunity to do so without being rushed. 
  2. Take shorter trips to the grocery store
    1. If going to the store with your child is a struggle, try taking shorter trips where you only need one or two things, then start increasing the amount of time you spend there with your child. 
  3. Present non-preferred meals with preferred meals
    1. If eating vegetables is difficult, try veggie tots, or even presenting veggies with pizza (not necessarily on the pizza).  

One of the biggest, and most important things we as parents can do is take a step back and consider what the function of our behavior is, our “Why”.  Then we can begin to change our reactions to our children’s behavior to begin meeting their “why” before they (or we) need to engage in an undesirable behavior to get the result we want. 


Stocco, C. S., & Thompson, R. H. (2015). Contingency Analysis of Caregiver Behavior: Implications for Parent Training and Future Directions. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, Summer(48), 417-435.