A behavior chain is a tool to help teenagers understand why they are doing, saying, and thinking certain things. A behavior chain can be used to help identify what is contributing to behaviors your adolescent wants to change, as well as ways to build more effective behaviors. Behavior chain analysis is a component of treatment for different mental health concerns, including depression and anxiety, and is a central treatment technique in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
Whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re often engaging in behavior because it serves a purpose, or function. In order to successfully change that behavior, it’s helpful if we first understand why we’re doing it. A behavior chain analysis is a tool to help identify the sequence of events that led up to the behavior we want to change, as well as the consequences after engaging in the behavior that are maintaining it or reinforcing it.
The first step of a behavior chain is identifying the behavior you want to change. Be as specific as possible.
What was happening right before you engaged in the behavior? What thoughts were going through your head? What physical sensations were you experiencing? What emotions were you feeling? Thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations are all individual links in the chain.
What emotions did you experience in the moment?
Pay attention to both the immediate, short-term consequences as well as the long-term consequences. Also pay attention to how your behavior impacted the people around you. These consequences reinforce the behavior, or keep the behavior going.
Were there points leading up to the behavior that you could use different coping strategies or make different choices? Using coping strategies or making different choices allows you to break the chain and stop the sequence of events leading up to the behavior you want to change.
You notice your teen seems extra tired and irritable on school mornings and that their grades are slipping, despite spending a good amount of time on their homework every night. When you ask, they tell you that “everything’s fine” and they’re getting all their work done, they just have a lot to do. In instances like these, going through a behavior chain analysis together can help both you and your adolescent figure out what the problem is, and in doing so, find the best ways to solve it.
You can use behavior chains to help both you and your adolescent understand and begin to change their behaviors. In addition to school work, other areas behavior chains can be helpful include breaking down tough interpersonal interactions, understanding why your teen is feeling certain emotions, and discovering what led up to them engaging in impulsive behaviors to name a few. If you work to approach behavior chains with curiosity and nonjudgmentalness, this can help lower your teen’s defensiveness and help them to be more open in sharing with you.
While a behavior chain analysis is often used to determine the steps leading up to a specific behavior, a task analysis is often used to break down complex behavior into smaller, more manageable tasks. For example, say you wanted your teen to help take care of the family pet but this is something they haven’t done before. Breaking down the task into smaller steps can help them understand the process as a whole and make sure they don’t miss anything.
How detailed you make the steps depends on your adolescent’s age, experience doing the task before or tasks similar to the one you want them to do, and the skills they currently have that are transferable to this task.
If you or your teen are struggling to manage their moods or behaviors, know that you are not alone and there is help available for you.
The fastest way to find relief is to connect to a licensed professional who specializes in evidence-based care, like the clinicians at Joon Care. Behavior chain analysis is a treatment tool that’s used often to help teens understand their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.