Every parent knows the early challenges of interpreting a baby’s cries. This is language at its most basic. The baby cries and the parent rushes to decode the purpose for those cries. Does baby want to eat, be changed, need to be held and cooed over? Is something wrong?
An insightful caretaker becomes proud of the ability to discern one cry from another, declaring: Oh, he needs to be changed. She’s hungry again. The child becomes an expert at crying and fussing to get what it needs to grow and thrive.
Thus begins the lifelong adventure of communication between parent and child. It is an adventure of discovery: Joyous, with the emergence of baby’s smiles. Wondrous, with the development of first words.
It is an ongoing learning curve. For just when parents become experts at their child’s communicative behaviors, the child exhibits new behaviors, new words and phrases.
The terrible twos define a child’s growing independence. The early school years require endless conversations, answering question after question as the child strengthens vocabulary and concepts. Oh my! The teenager appears on the scene, and the complexities of navigating communication can be exponential!
Functions of Behavior
Behaviorists have developed a simple code for understanding the significance or “functions” of behavior. These functions can be categorized into 4 areas, easily remembered with this mnemonic: SEAT.
Key 1: Sensory
A behavior occurs because the child has a sensory need. They are hungry, uncomfortable, or sleepy.
Key 2: Escape
A behavior occurs because the child wants to avoid something. They don’t want to take a bath, do homework, or eat their vegetables.
Key 3: Attention
A behavior occurs because the child wants attention. They show you their drawing, beg for another story, or yell when they don’t feel heard.
Key 4: Tangible
A behavior occurs because the child wants something tangible. They tantrum for a toy at the store, ask for a sweet treat, or cry for a hug.
The Master Key is to remember that ALL BEHAVIOR IS COMMUNICATION. Apply knowledge of the Four Functions of behavior to build competence communicating with your child at any age.
Resources for supporting positive behavior at home:
B.F. Skinner, Ivan Pavlov, John Watson, Edward Thorndike, Clark Hull