Using the PICNIC Analysis® to Change Challenging Behaviours in Children and Yourself
Have you ever heard of the PICNIC Analysis®?
No, it's not a delightful meal at the park next Sunday, but a powerful behaviour analysis tool developed by Aubrey Daniels. The analysis helps to understand why people engage in certain behaviours, even when those behaviours are not in their best interest. By analysing the consequences of actions, Daniels found that the most powerful consequences were those that were immediate and certain, while the least powerful were those that were future and uncertain.
This is particularly relevant for difficult-to-change behaviours, such as smoking or excessive social media use. These behaviours often provide immediate and certain positive consequences (it feels good), while the reasons to stop, such as the risk of cancer or lack of productivity, are negative, future-oriented, and uncertain.
To put the PICNIC Analysis® into practice, start by picking three to five target behaviours that you want to increase (or decrease) for yourself or your child. Look for opportunities to make consequences for wanted behaviours as positive, immediate, and certain as possible.
Set mini-goals for the day and discuss the consequences for meeting them. Use frequent measurement and monitoring of those target behaviours and provide frequent feedback. Reward even small improvements and focus on immediate and certain consequences instead of future or uncertain ones.
Let’s put PICNIC Analysis® into context. Let's say that your child has a habit of interrupting you when you're on the phone. You've tried telling them to wait until you're finished, but they continue to interrupt you.
To use PICNIC Analysis®, you need to identify the behaviour and the most common consequence
Behaviour: Interrupting you while you're on the phone
Consequences: Positive Immediate and Certain (PIC): They get your attention immediately.
From this analysis, you can see that the behaviour is being reinforced by the positive immediate and certain consequence of getting your attention. So, you need to change the consequences to decrease the likelihood of the behaviour occurring.
Here are some strategies you can try to change the consequences and decrease the likelihood of your child interrupting you when you're on the phone:
Give them positive attention throughout the day by playing a game or reading a book with them.
Establish specific times of the day when you can give them undivided attention, such as reading a book before bed.
If they interrupt you and it's not an emergency, calmly let them know that you're on the phone and that you'll be with them as soon as you're finished. Thank them for their patience and follow through with your promise.
Teach them alternative ways to get your attention when you're busy, such as saying "excuse me" or "can I talk to you?". Also, teach them how to wait patiently or find something else to do if they can't get your attention immediately.
Now, let's use the PICNIC Analysis® to understand why a child might hit their sibling to get a toy and how we can change this behaviour.
Behaviour: Hit the sibling
Consequences: Positive Immediate and Certain (PIC). They get the sibling toy.
Based on the PICNIC Analysis®, hitting the sibling to get the toy provides an immediate and certain positive consequence for the hitter. They get the toy they want.
To reduce the likelihood of it happening again, you can try the following strategies:
Teach your child to use words or gestures to request a toy: Encourage your child to use polite language or gestures such as “please” or “May I have the toy?” when requesting a toy from another child.
Teach your child to wait for their turn or find another toy to play with: Explain to your child that they need to take turns with other children and wait patiently for their turn. Alternatively, encourage them to find another toy to play with while they wait.
Teach your children to share and play together: Help your child understand the importance of sharing and taking turns. Encourage them to play games that require cooperation and sharing.
Establish rules against hitting: Make it clear to your child that hitting is not okay and will not be tolerated. If your child hits another child, let them know that they will not be allowed to play with the toy they wanted for a set period of time. This will help them understand the consequences of their actions and discourage them from hitting in the future.
As you saw from the examples, sometimes kids misbehave because it's the easiest and fastest way to get what they want. So, our job is to teach them better ways to get what they want. When they use these new positive behaviours instead of interrupting or hitting, make sure to praise and encourage them.
Using the PICNIC Analysis® is a great way to understand and change behaviours. So, if you're wondering why a behaviour keeps happening, try using the PICNIC Analysis® to figure it out and make positive changes.