How to Solve Child Discipline Problem By The ABC Approach


ABC is a simple way to sort out behavior. Each problem is looked at in three parts:

A. the antecedent (what triggered it off)

B. the behavior (what the child did)

C. the consequence (how we reacted and what were the pay-offs).

Putting ABC into action

A mother complains that her daughter is obstinate, abusive and never does what she is told. I ask for a specific example.

Last night was a disaster. I called Lisa to come for dinner; she refused, got angry and ruined the night for both of us.’

I now approach this with the ABC technique.

The antecedent

What was happening before the blow up?

‘Lisa was in the lounge watching a TV soap. I told her to switch off the set, to tidy away her toys, wash her hands and come to the table immediately. She ignored me. I turned off the television, she shouted at me and I lost it.’

The behavior

Lisa dragged her feet, came to the table, grumbled throughout the meal, fiddled with her food and provoked all the way until bedtime.

The consequence

Mum had a spoiled and an unhappy night. She felt resentful at what her daughter had done. Lisa felt angry with her mum, but secretly believed she had won the battle.

How the disaster could have been handled, using ABC

Now we have got the picture, let’s see how things might have been handled differently.

The antecedent

Lisa’s television programme had only eight minutes to run. Could she have waited until the next commercial or the end? Mum might have given a five-minute warning: ‘Lisa, dinner is almost ready, can you start to tidy up please?’ Was it important to tidy the toys before dinnertime, or could that have happened later? Was it helpful to turn off the television or was this an unnecessary act of provocation? Would Mum have treated one of her adult friends with such hostility? If Lisa didn’t eat her dinner, who was going to miss out?

The behavior

It takes two people to keep a battle on the boil. Was Mum committed to forgive or was she spoiling for a fight? Was this a time for a simple statement: I love you, but it makes me feel unhappy when we annoy each other?’ Should Mum and her daughter have moved apart for a short time or even used time out?

The consequence

What was the pay-off for Mum? She showed she was tough, uncompromising and not going to give in to a child. What was the loss for Mum? Three hours of anger, a spoiled meal, disturbed sleep and damage to a Relationship. What was the pay-off for Lisa? She proved she was a power-mi person who could call the shots. She watched her mother lose control |and credibility. She was given endless attention. What was the loss for Lisa? She missed five minutes of her favorite programme, she had a stressed mealtime and an uncomfortable evening. She upset the relationship with someone she loved.

Was it worth it? There were no winners, just losers. Things might have been different if there had been a warning, if Mum had waited until a commercial break, if Mum had resorted to less confrontation and had tried to stay calm, instead of stirring the conflict.

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Filed Under: Family & Relationships

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About the Author: Roberta Southworth is a psychiatrist by profession. She likes to help out people by writing informative tips on how people can to solve their family and relationship issues. She is currently staying in Ireland. She has 5 years of couple counseling experience.

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