How to Stop a Tantrum

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

bSci21Media, LLC

Brett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA

Brett DiNovi & Associates

Tantrumming is perhaps one of the most common types of behavior seen in children.  Episodes  can occur in virtually any context and serve any of the four functions of behavior, depending on the situation.  When most of us see tantrumming children, we might be inclined to offer them toys, activities, or attention, in a well-intentioned effort to comfort the child and end the episode.  However, without an understanding of the functions of the tantrum, our well-intentioned efforts could actually make tantrumming more likely in the future, even though we may have ended the episode for the time being.

In a recent video by Brett Dinovi & Associates, Heather Nunziato, BCBA, walks us through a clip of a boy having a tantrum at school, and provides insight as to how a behavior analyst might view such episodes.  In the clip, the tantrum followed the conclusion of computer time.  A teacher subsequently started to bargain with the boy in an effort to end the episode.

Heather noted that without a proper functional analysis, it is impossible to say for sure what the functions of the behavior might be.  However, for educational purposes, Heather makes an assumption that the tantrum is maintained either by attention from others or access to tangibles (i.e., access to the computer).

With these assumptions in mind, Heather offers up a few possibilities for intervention.  One is to use a “First, Then” strategy.  Based on the Premack Principle, the “First, Then” strategy makes a high probability behavior contingent on the completion of a low probability behavior.  In this case, the strategy might look something like “First finish your assignment, then computer time.”

Another option could be Functional Communication Training (FCT).  Using FCT, a teacher might teach the boy a more appropriate way to ask for computer time or for attention, depending on the function.  Heather noted that the teacher could prompt the boy to say “Can I have five more minutes please?” as a more appropriate response.  The key here is to teach a functionally equivalent response to the original tantrum.  Thus, if your functional assessment suggests the tantrum is maintained by attention, then the FCT should focus on more appropriate ways to request attention, and so on for other functions.

To hear Heather’s other suggestions, be sure to check out the full video, and to subscribe to Brett DiNovi’s YouTube channel and let him know what you would like to see in future videos.  Also be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to recieve the latest articles directly to your inbox!

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which owns the top behavior analytic media outlet in the world,  bSci21Media aims to disseminate behavior analysis to the world and to support ABA companies around the globe through the Behavioral Science in the 21st Century blog and its subsidiaries, bSciEntrepreneurial, bSciWebDesign, bSciWriting, bSciStudios and the ABA Outside the Box CEU series.  Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar.  He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues.  Dr. Ward has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Ward is passionate about disseminating behavior analysis to the world and growing the field through entrepreneurship. Todd can be reached at [email protected]

Brett DinoviBrett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA has the unique and distinguished experience of studying the principles of applied behavior analysis under the rigorous scrutiny of both Dr. Julie S. Vargas (formerly Skinner) and Dr. E.A. Vargas at West Virginia University’s internationally recognized program. For the past 26 years, Brett has used behavior analytic principles to create large scale change across school districts, Fortune 500 companies using principles of Organizational Behavior Management (OBM), and across individual learners. Brett has been a OBM consultant in Morgantown WV, an instructor at West Virginia University, a guest lecturer at numerous universities, a speaker on multiple Comcast Newsmakers TV programs, an expert witness in due process hearings, has publications in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, and has been in in executive leadership positions across schools and residential programs nationwide. In addition to an award from South Jersey Biz Magazine for “Best Places to Work,” an award for “Best of Families” in Suburban Magazine, and the distinguished “Top Ranked U.S. Executives” award, Brett’s proudest accomplishment is being a role model and father for his daughter and two stepchildren (one of which has autism). Brett can be reached at [email protected]

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