The ABC for Parents

All children learn ABC as a start to pick up English. For parents, there’s actually another set of ABC to learn and master in life. This ABC model helps parents and children change unhelpful or unhealthy ways of thinking, feeling and behaving.

You may have observed how kids (and even grownups) react differently toward certain situations. For example, it rains heavily on a long-awaited picnic day and the trip gets cancelled. One child gets very upset, throws a tantrum, and refuses to talk to his parents. Another child, while also initially upset, finds something to do indoors instead. Many might conclude that the first child is simply reacting to the event (the cancellation of the picnic because of the rain), but if it’s the event that has created the resultant response, then everyone should be behaving the same ways. So what makes the difference, though, is the way we think. And this is what the ABC model is about.

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What is ABC Model?

A – Activing Event

This is the situation or specific event and is usually something that cannot be controlled.

For example, your daughter’s friend cannot go to their planned playdate because her relatives arrived at their house.

B – Beliefs About the Event

Once the event takes place and the person interprets it, they form beliefs. These beliefs can be either rational or irrational.

With the above example, your daughter might react negatively and conclude that her friend cannot be relied upon. On the other hand, she might react more sensibly and think that being with her relatives is a special and rare occasion for her friend and that the two of them can just play next time.

C – Consequences

This part involves the thoughts and feelings that the person harbors, as well as the actions they take, after forming those beliefs.

For instance, if your daughter comes up with the belief that her friend cannot be trusted, she may start to mope or get angry or she might start avoiding her friend all together. Meanwhile, if the belief is positive, then your daughter could find something else to do to fill her time and look forward to when she’d meet her friend again.

In a nutshell, though we cannot change A, if we can change B, then we can change C. Also, with C being the activating event of somebody else, changing C is actually going to change A of a new event.

How to Apply the New ABC in Daily Life

The key to knowing ABC model is that it will give you higher level of awareness when you or your loved ones are responding to certain event negatively. With awareness, you will then have the options to review what has happened and even change your thinking to get a different result, rather than treating yourself as the victim without anything to do.

Example 1:

(A) I failed in math test

(B) I will never be able to understand those difficult math concept

(C) Lost interest in math study

Example 2:

(A1) I failed in math test

(B1) I am not studying hard enough

(C1) I will practice more for my next test

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Sometimes a limiting belief will cause us to make a negative judgment or conclusion. With awareness, we can ask ourselves whether there are other possibilities that will turn our conclusion into a more constructive one, one that can benefit ourselves more. In example 2, having a total different belief is actually causing a completely different action to take. You can expand your options by thinking of more different possibilities. These are just a few of the possible options:

I failed in math test à I haven’t mastered this specific concept well enough à I am going to seek help to understand this math concept better

I failed in math test à Though I’m not good at math, it’s important for me to master the subject as it will help me move on with other subjects I’m more interested

I’m bringing up the ABC model here because I think it’s equally important for kids to learn this ABC as the ABC in letter. It will help parents understand our kids better so that we can find ways to expand their thinking for more constructive responses. While we cannot change what will happen to us, we can guide our kids to focus on changing their irrational thinking or limiting believes.

“We must remember that we cannot change others, we can only change ourselves.”


Bryant McGill, Voice of Reason

About the Author Tammy Seay

I believe our kids are the key to the future of the world and, as parents, we have a lot of influence while our children are still learning and growing. We set ourselves as our kids’ role models. Consciously and unconsciously, we pass on to them what we know, what we believe, and what we value. This is why partnering with parents in teaching life lessons and soft skills to get kids prepared for the world has become my key purpose in life. I hope that through my experience in teaching communications in university and in NLP training and coaching, I’ll be able to equip you with more tangible methods so that you can be your children’s life teacher, too!

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