“Why did you do that?”

When children (or maybe our spouse) does something that irks us, our first response is often asking “Why?” We ask “why” for a couple reasons, to get them to acknowledge that they did something wrong, to shame them, and perhaps to get their explanation.

What’s the child’s typical response? “I don’t know” and a shrug of the shoulders.  We might ask again and stand there with our arms crossed or hands on our hips looking down on them.

This scenario never happens while I’m working with children or in my own home.  Why?  Firstly, it makes for a tense situation for both the child and the adult, but more importantly I know about the Functions of Behavior.

There are only 5 functions (purposes) of human behavior.  A person behaves a certain way for these 5 different reasons:

  • Attention
  • Escape
  • Alone
  • Tangible Item
  • Sensory Input

That’s it!  Once you know these 5 then you can easily see the “why” in your child’s behavior.  If they are choosing an inappropriate way of obtaining one of these 5, then we just teach them the appropriate way.

Here’s a recent example…

My wife and I were standing in the kitchen talking and my daughter (3 yr old) walked up near us and threw her stuffed animal. It sailed through the air and it zoomed between me and my wife. We both stood there frozen for a second.  My daughter was all smiles!

What’s the typical response?  “Why did you do that?” “No throwing!” and most likely there would be tears and some back and forth between parents and child.  Instead, I quickly thought on my feet about the functions of behavior…she’s trying to get our attention. I calmly told her “Looks like you want Mommy’s attention…if you want her attention just say Mommy I want your attention.”  She walks away to the couch and we continue our discussion.

Five minutes later we hear from the couch, “Mommy…I want some attention.” My wife and I looked at each other and smiled.  She went right over and gave her attention as to try and reinforce that behavior.

We do this often, quickly figure out the function and teach the appropriate way to obtain the desired outcome.  It allows parents to focus more and more on what our kids are doing right and to help them build valuable skills…think (sharing, taking turns, asking for  a treat, taking a break, etc)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *