The biggest weakness with behaviour tracking is that it greatly oversimplifies behaviour by boiling the antecedent down to one trigger. Human behaviour and emotions are so much more complex than that.
Antecedents happen all day, week, month, year, and throughout our lifetime. Behaviour tracking charts tend to focus on a very small snapshot of a child's day and miss all the other contributing factors leading up to a particular behaviour. They also boil down an entire person to one trigger, one behaviour, and the result.
Think of your own constantly shifting moods throughout the day. Are you more likely to flip off another driver in traffic if you just spilled your hot coffee, or had a fight with your spouse? What if you just got fantastic news, are enjoying a lovely iced mocha still safely in its cup, and are listening to your favourite song on the radio? Are you more likely to shrug it off and drive on, singing happily? Are you more likely to lose your temper with your children or partner after a horrible day at work, rather than the day you come home to share you got a promotion?
Children, too, have a wealth of experiences throughout their day that either fill their cup or draw from it (this cup is proverbial now, not a caffeinated beverage). If a student just got a lousy mark on a test or forgot to bring an assignment to school that day, or had a fight with his parents that morning, he may be more vulnerable to frustration and anger with his peers. If he’s had a great day so far, he may be more able to access his skills and resolve an issue without losing his cool. So while he may be annoyed about a disagreement, that is only one small antecedent that occurred after a day full of antecedents.
That’s why it is so very important to actually communicate with children once everyone is calm and able to problem-solve together. There is always so much more than what we can simply observe in a small snapshot of any person’s day.
The documentation is really just to get the school starting to look a little deeper than the surface behaviour. It can improve communication between family and school, and if not, it at least creates a paper trail for all the times they contact home without having taken steps to support the student.
If the school is on board and ready to take their support to the next level, we very highly recommend the Collaborative and Proactive Solutions (CPS) model. Your child's school administration should have heard of CPS, but in case they haven't, information for schools is available on the Lives in the Balance website. This is a much deeper, and more child-centred, approach to problem solving and developing relevant and effective supports (with the child's input) that will actually help the student.
Ensure anyone tracking behaviours understands the reason for doing so. ABCs and behaviour tracking should be used to identify triggers so as to proactively change the antecedents, build skills, and support the child. They are not to keep a laundry list of "bad" behaviours, or to send home to "tattle" to parents and expect parents to dole out consequences for behaviours that occurred at school. ABC charts are for communication between adults and to help identify common antecedents and patterns.
Documentation should contain descriptive language that is as objective as possible. It simply describes what was observed without any judgemental language, attributions, or assumptions.
"Johnny was mad, so he threw the ball at his friend" is assuming something about Johnny's motives.
Neutral language would simply state "Johnny threw the ball and it hit his friend."
ABCs are for information-gathering, they are not a support, nor a "behavioural intervention". They are only small part of the first step in working to understand the WHY behind a child's behaviour.
Children (and all people) have a wealth of experiences throughout their day that either fill their cup or draw from it. If Student ‘B’ just got a lousy mark on a test or forgot to bring an assignment to school that day, or had a fight with his parents that morning, he may be more vulnerable to frustration and anger with his peers. If he’s had a great day so far, he may be more able to access his skills and resolve the conflict without throwing the ball at his friend. So while he was annoyed about the disagreement, that is only one small antecedent. That’s why it is so very important to actually communicate with children once everyone is calm and able to problem-solve together. There is always so much more than what we can simply observe in a small snapshot of any person’s day.
The most important person in all of this, and the most valuable source of information, is the child. Do not expect children to be able to explain the why of their behaviour. If the adults with fully developed mature brains don't understand it, then a child likely won't. Children should not be expected to do our jobs for us. However, we must provide safe spaces for children to communicate their experiences, feelings, perspectives, and ideas. Supporting children starts with developing a safe and trusting relationship.
As above, providing a safe space for children to share their feelings is of the utmost importance. Even if we think we understand something, we're probably wrong (or at least only partly right). Children's brains work differently from ours, so our way of processing and understanding things will be different. Don't assume anything, and allow children to correct you if they are telling their side of the story. It will be so empowering for them to feel truly heard and listened to.
Below is an example of an ABC chart filled out for a minor issue. This would only be useful if, for example, conflict resolution with peers were a recurring issue for the child and adults were working to identify this pattern.
ABC charts assume the trigger is only what happened right before the behaviour. Children have many experiences throughout their day that either fill their cup or draw from it. A student having a bad day will be more vulnerable to emotions. It is so important to communicate with children once everyone is calm.
Important: This chart is for adult information purposes only in order to spot patterns & provide appropriate support. This is never to be used as part of a “behaviour modification” program.
Important: This chart is for adult information purposes only in order to spot patterns & provide appropriate support. This is never to be used as part of a “behaviour modification” program. See below for advice and strategies for effective behaviour "tracking" and information gathering.
Before you engage in any CPS conversations, both you and your child will need to be regulated (calm and collected) in order for any conversations to be productive and effective. We include some strategies for helping both you and your child self and co-regulate.