“I’ve got 15 minutes…can you make that tantrum happen?”


Part of my job as a behavior analyst is to analyze behavior.  Makes sense, right?  Part of this is trying to figure out under what circumstances a certain behavior is most likely to occur.  Knowing this makes behavior more predictable, which is good in my business as a behavior analyst and in yours as a parent.  We often call this a “trigger analysis,” kind of the same way alcoholics identify “triggers” for drinking (i.e., things that make drinking more likely to occur).  

So, early on in my career, thinking I would sound smarter than I actually was, I used ask teachers or parents to identify “triggers.”  More often than not, they would give me the famous response, “it just happens out of the blue.” Out of the blue??  Not likely.  So I changed my question:

“I’ve got 15 minutes and I need to see that tantrum.  Can you make it happen for me?” 

I had no intentions of doing it, I just wanted to see what they would say.

After the disgusted look and, I am sure, thoughts of “why I am paying this guy” subside, the usual answer is “OHHH, yeah.  All I have to do is….”  There is the answer.  If you can fill in the blank, you can answer the question and start to figure out why that behavior occurs.  Then, you are on your way to fixing it.

Here is an example answer:

“I’ll just tell him it is time to turn off the TV off when he is in the middle of Dora.” 

If that is what triggers the tantrum, what purpose do you think that behavior serves?  Do you think there have been a few times when the TV stayed on a little longer, he got the “OK, 5 more minutes, then it really has to come off,” or she got the “OK, then you won’t get to play with the other toys” response?  I bet there has.  That tantrum worked…even if was to extend Dora only by that 5 minutes.  (A lot of times, it turns out to be 5 more minutes until I scream again!)  Note that it doesn’t have to happen every time, just some times (look for the post on slot machines in the near future). 

Can you make it happen?  If you can, you can probably figure out why it is happening.  Spend some time doing thinking about this and I’ll post the next step soon.

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