An ABC Chart is a behavioral tool that helps observe and record data about a particular behavior. The behavior charted in ABC charts often pertains to children and young adults with behavioral patterns that can be classified as unconventional, incongruent, and challenging.
According to psychologists, an ABC behavioral chart is an effective means to understand or analyze what particular behavior means, and how it compares to behavioral standards. These kinds of charts are specifically useful when used for children from an early age.
Although the effectiveness of behavioral charts is debatable, parents, teachers, mentors, and psychologists working with children use them to encourage positive behavior. The primary goal of an ABC chart, however, is to better understand why people – young and old – behave in a certain way.
What does ABC stand for in Applied Behavioral Analysis?
Although ABC behavior charts are well known and widely used, it is important first to understand what it stands for, to use the charts correctly.
- A – Antecedent/Activator: This is the trigger, the thing that activates the particular behavior. It is the event that occurs before the particular behavior is executed.
- B – Behavior: This is the resulting behavior exhibited or triggered by the activator.
- C – Consequences: This is the consequence, result, or impact of the particular behavior on the person that exhibits it or others directly in contact with the behavior exhibited.
Example Template #1
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In the basic ABC chart template used above, you can see an example of a parent using the ABC to record and observe their child’s behavior. Here, the parent keeps a regular log of negative behavior in order to understand why it happened and what can be done to prevent it. For example:
• Antecedent, or what happened before – The parent told Sheila to clean up her toys before dinner. The time is logged as well, to keep up details that might later be useful.
• Behavior, or what happened – Sheila’s outburst is recorded – she throws the toys at her sister.
• Consequence, or what happened after – The parent yells at Sheila and picks up the toys and picks up the toys themselves.
You might also have noticed two additional columns that add more data to the Behavior column. It notes that Sheila’s outburst lasted 15 seconds and that the intensity was high. The intensity can be logged as High only in relation to other situations and moments.
Here are some other ABC chart templates you can refer to get you started:
Example Template #2
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Example Template #3
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Common Antecedents Include:
- Lack of attention by a loved one
- A demand or order by a parent
- Social expectations
- Environmental conditions
- Denial of request or desires
- Any new or different sight, sound, taste, smell, temperature, surroundings
Common Behaviors Include:
- Physically violent outbursts
- Verbally violent outbursts
- Disrespectful behavior
- Closing up or growing silent
Common Consequences Include:
- Allowance or access to the desired item
- Resolution of issue
Example Template #4
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Example Template #5
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Example Template #6
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Why Choose an ABC Chart Template
A template gives you a standardized method to track and monitor behavioral changes. You might opt to make your own ABC chart, but it is important to keep in mind the widely used trends and type-sets utilized by people globally.
The most basic ABC chart template can just include 3 columns for antecedent, behavior, and consequence.
Example Template #7
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Example Template #8
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You can also go for additional columns as we’ve discussed in the example templates above. Get as detailed as you wish. The more data you log, the easier it will be for you to compile and conclude your behavioral analysis.
On the other hand, more data also means your chart-logging process, as well as the analysis process, becomes more tedious and time-consuming. And the more time it takes to fill in your chart, the more likely it is that you give it up, because it becomes too much of a chore.
But there is another option for people working with children who want to be detailed, but do not have time to write extensively every day. You can opt for templates that give you checkboxes that you just have to tick. This is way easier than writing down descriptions of the antecedent, behavior, and resulting consequences.
Example Template #9
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Example Template #10
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Another advantage of checklist ABC chart templates, is that it is free of any observer bias. When writing descriptions, you might tend to add details that are subjective, especially if you’re a parent. Further, when a template is blank, it is open to all kinds of narrative errors. A checklist is a great collection tool that allows parents, as well as academic staff, to quickly and accurately fill in data.
You can also create your own checklists and put them into a customized ABC template.
Example Template #11
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In the example above, you also have checklists for ABC, but you have an additional column for something known as a “Setting Event.” A Setting Event is also technically an antecedent, but they don’t necessarily happen immediately before the behavior occurs. They are sometimes almost as pertinent as the antecedent and include the following factors:
- Time of the day – sometimes children are crankier in the morning
- Medications – new drugs can cause a change in behavioral patterns
- Hunger – if a child is hungry, they might be crankier than usual
- Change in routine or absence of a guardian (mother, caregiver, etc)
- Lack of sleep
But even without a Setting Event, your ABC chart should work just as well. This is true especially if you are only trying to track your child’s behavior and encourage them to react positively to specific situations.
Example Template #12
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Example Template #13
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Advantages of ABC Charts
ABC chart templates have a vast list of benefits. Some of them include:
- Recording behavior and analyzing behavioral patterns
- Assessing deviant behaviors, understanding why they happen, and identifying how they can be avoided
- Tracking any progress in behavior improvements
- Working together with the subject (for example, the child) to motivate target behavior (for example: staying calm in stressful situations)
- Managing behavior in early years and strategizing ways to change unwanted behaviors in children
- Documenting medical intake and the effect of drugs on people with mental disabilities and cognitive issues
Example Template #14
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Tips for Using an ABC Chart Template Effectively
1. Choose a single target behavior
In the beginning, it is important to decide on a singular target behavior that you wish to monitor or change. Keeping track of only one or two behaviors makes it easier to not only record that behavior, but to also correct it. Accomplishing a single goal is more achievable than multiple ones. Seeing improvement in a short time will also reinforce positive behavior in the child.
2. Focus on the underlying cause of behavior
Some children might have trouble expressing their emotions and might resort to behavior that comes across as negative or challenging. Communication needs might differ from child to child depending on whether they have any learning disabilities or special needs. In that case, self-expression should not be considered as a behavior.
3. Keep everyone involved in the loop
Everyone that is involved in the caregiving of the child must know about ABC charting. The child is not always in the house; they will be going to school, or might spend a night at their grandparents’ house. In this case, it might be handy to give a copy of your ABC chart template to teachers and secondary guardians so they can track any misbehaviors.
4. Keep track of behavior frequency
If the behavior occurs too frequently, recording the behavior just a couple of hours a day might suffice. If the behavior is rare or occurs less often, you might have to be more vigilant in recording your ABC chart template. There is a good chance that this kind of behavior occurs at one particular time in a day or has a direct correlation to a specific situation. For example, in the mornings, as soon as the child wakes up.
5. Make the subject aware of the charting
Telling the child that you are keeping a track of their behavior might positively influence them. They might become more self-aware of the behavior that is being recorded and try not to exhibit it. Explaining why you are charting a behavior will possibly help the child understand the difference between good and bad behavior.
6. Keep the ABC chart template handy
Try and keep your ABC chart in a place that is easily accessible. The A, B, and C occur within mere moments. Don’t risk forgetting an important detail. Stick the chart in a visible place, or keep it in a common area that you and the child are in often.
Example Template #15
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How to Interpret the ABC Chart
Once you have recorded sufficient data in your ABC chart, you are now ready to develop a plan to either change the behavior or at least address it.
- Use positive or negative reinforcement that rewards or punishes the behavior or the consequence.
- Teach the child a new skill that makes them more equipped to deal with antecedents, adapt their behaviors, and alter consequences.
- Get rid of triggers, or reduced the child’s exposure to them.
- Heed the consequences. The Consequence is meant to maintain the Behavior, just as the Behavior is directly influenced by the Antecedent. Analyzing the consequences will give you an idea of why the child exhibits that particular behavior in that situation.