Schools provide an ideal setting to offer students models and opportunities to learn better ways of managing emotions, making mistakes, practising decision-making and behaviours and receiving feedback. While student safety is the number one priority, the child displaying aggressive behaviours needs to be supported. The aim is to avoid assumptions that may control or punish, such as “she/he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with that”, and instead, provide support for students to understand and manage their behaviour while taking responsibility for their choices.

The ABC model of behaviour

The likelihood of aggressive behaviours being exhibited and repeated relies upon what happened before the behaviour (e.g., the academic work, social situation, what the class is doing, the home situation) and the consequence (e.g. what the teachers does, what the student gains). During the assessment process for children exhibiting aggressive behaviours, it is important to gain information from parents and education staff regarding what happened before the behaviour and the consequences of the behaviour to understand where it is coming from and what is reinforcing it. This is known as the ABC model of behaviour, which forms the basis for many assessments and interventions such as cognitive behaviour therapy (Miltenberger, 2015).

The ABC model of behaviour:

  • Antecedents: the prompts, cues, stimuli, emotional states, events or interactions that lead to or are ‘triggers’ for the aggressive behaviour. These can happen just prior to the behaviour (e.g. classmates teasing a student) or a long-time before (e.g. academic frustrations building over time).
  • Behaviour: the way the child responds to the antecedent – the aggressive behaviour
  • Consequences or ‘rewards’: happen after the aggressive behaviour, that can either increase the likelihood of the behaviour reoccurring or reduce the likelihood of the behaviour reoccurring (Bijou, Peterson & Ault, 1968).

In each stage of the ABC model the child has thoughts and feelings, or an internal narrative, that can be conscious or not. These may relate to their learning issues (e.g. an undiagnosed learning disability), previous experience (e.g. abuse), social issues (e.g. bullying by peers) and models (e.g. parents modelling aggression) and influence whether the behaviour will reoccur and provide more insights as to where the behaviour may arise from. For example, a child who is being teased in the classroom may have thoughts such as “I am a loser”, feelings such as sadness and anger, and experiences of parent modelling as an aggressive reaction to conflict, which all can contribute to the child exhibiting aggressive behaviour.

In addition to other assessments such as cognitive, achievement, neurological, etc., the more information regarding the antecedents, behaviour and consequences (and the child’s thoughts and feelings), the more individualised and appropriate the intervention. Questions regarding the details of the antecedents, behaviour and consequences may also lead to uncovering important information. These questions may include:

  • Are there times the behaviour doesn’t happen, or a pattern of times where it does happen?
  • Has it always been the same?
  • How do peers react when the child is aggressive?
  • What strategies have been tried before and what was/wasn’t successful?

These can help understand all the possible contributing factors that influence the likelihood of the aggressive behaviour occurring. It is important to be aware that different questions need to be asked in different circumstances/situations.



Bijou, S. W., Peterson, R. F., & Ault, M. H. (1968). A method to integrate descriptive and experimental field studies at the level of data and empirical concepts. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 175–191

Miltenberger, R. G. (2015). Behavior modification: Principles and procedures. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.