Why does a behaviour occur?

Behaviors happen for a specific reason. Sometimes the reasons are clear and can be understood easily, and other times they are unclear and difficult to understand. “What can be said with certainty is that your child is demonstrating a challenging behavior because it meets a specific need for him or her.“ (Source:Functions of Behaviour)

It is certainly essential to know why an inappropriate behavior might be happening so it can be replaced with an appropriate one.

The four functions of behavior are sensory stimulation, escape, access to attention and access to tangibles.

Below is an explanation of all four functions:


Access to escape removes undesired activities or interactions. Tends to happen when a task is too hard, easy, boring or scary. Such that, at times, we can see children getting engaged in challenging behaviours to escape from situations, people or tasks. 

For example, throwing food so that parents can end dinner time and they don’t have to eat anymore.


Access to attention provides access to people or interactions. Attention can take many forms (e.g., looking at your child, talking with your child, giving help, laughing at the child, and even using a firm voice with the child). Sometimes your child may be looking for attention in any way possible. This could mean praise or even getting angry with them. For example; a child cries whenever you are on the phone, and then the parent yells “stop crying, I’m on the phone!” The child may learn that crying when you are on the phone will result in attention from their parents.  

(Source: https://www.erinoakkids.ca/ErinoakKids/files/51/515c37a7-fed0-4f5a-913b-4f658fb56335.pdf)


Access to tangibles provides preferred items or activities. This happens when one wants a preferred item or activity. A child might engage in challenging behaviour when he or she wants a specific thing they desire. Tangible can be anything, be it food, toys, tv time, a game etc. 

For example, a child might start throwing everything around to get a toy. 


Sensory stimulation provides sensory experiences; It is behavior that feels good to do. It can happen anytime, even when alone. For example, a child scratches his or her hand as they sit for an extended amount of time. If scratching the hand gives that individual the sensory input they are seeking, then hand scratching will continue.”