According to B.F. Skinner, there is a reason why individuals behave in a certain way. It is important to understand the function of the behaviour so we can alter the way we react to these behaviors to decrease inappropriate behaviours and increase good behaviors.
Sensory / Automatic
Behaviours with an automatic function have to do with our 5 senses and we engage in these behaviours because THEY simply wakes us feels good. It may or may not have social input from others.
Examples: a child may like to pick their nails or slides fast down the slide or jumping on the trampoline , repeating certain sounds/ singing songs, flapping their hands, or being squeezed tightly by his or her mum
EScape / Avoidance
These behaviours allow the individual to escape from or avoid an unpleasant situation.
Examples: skipping a disliked song on a playlist, swiping things onto the floor, procrastinating doing homework by talking to friends, asking to go to the toilet in the middle of class, spitting out broccoli, covering ears when a child hears fireworks.
If these behaviors have led them away from enduring a bad experience, they will be more likely to perform the same behavior in the future under a similar situation.
Sometimes individuals behave to get a reaction from another person.
examples: A child may tell jokes to get a friend to smile, do well on a test to receive praise from parents, or raise their hand to get a teacher’s attention in class. Some children may engage in inappropriate behaviours while parents are busy. They may climb on sofas or throw things on the floor but get scolded instead. (however, scolding is still attention!).
These are behaviours that allow the individual to access a particular item or activity.
example: A child may cry in the supermarket when told ‘No’ to getting ice cream. Mum wants to avoid an embarrassing situation and gives in. Next time a child goes to the supermarket, they may cry harder or even flop to the floor to get the ice cream. A more appropriate behaviour to ask for ice cream would be politely and calmly saying ‘Mum, can I get ice cream please because I did well on the test.”
Sometimes a behaviour can have multiple functions. Consider this scenario:-
A child is doing homework but throws everything on the floor and mum comes over to help him. This child is not only escaping from homework completion, but also getting mum’s attention to support him. This means that in the future, when a child is stuck on a particular homework question, he may engage in the same problematic behaviour. Instead, it is important to teach a REPLACEMENT BEHAVIOUR for the same function. In this situation, it would be teaching a child to ask for a break as an escape and going over to mum and say ‘Mum, can you help me please?’