Back to the Slate: The ABC Model for Life!!

Phyllis Farias
5 min readOct 24, 2021

I felt like going back to the letters of the Alphabet. Remember!

A for apple, axe, ant, ass — that was a fun one. When my son was in the nursery — the teacher pronounced ‘ass’ as aass which sounded like arse. However much I tried to correct him — the teacher is always right!!

B for bat, ball, bag

C for cat, cap, candle

I really wish we could keep it as simple as that. I recently heard a homily (sermon) on marriage and marital relationships and was introduced to an ABC that can make a marriage or any relationship a living hell.

A for Abuse

B for Bullying

C for Control

More on that in a short while.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapists use an ABC model created by Dr. Albert Ellis a psychologist and researcher.

A — Adversity or activating event

B — Beliefs about the event

C — Consequences which include behavioural or emotional responses

I looked up the internet and found many other ABC models

ABC model of Attitude

ABC model of Anger Management

ABC model of Behaviour Management and a few more.

I have my favourites which I will share after we look into the ABC of the homily. This model is not only true of marital relationships but of other relationships too.

The Perpetrator → The Victim?

Husband → Wife

Wife → Husband

Parent → Child

Child → Parent

Sibling →Sibling (includes cousins)

Teacher →Student

Student →Teacher

Student →Student

Boyfriend →Girlfriend

Girlfriend →Boyfriend

Employer →Employee

Employee →Employer (happens less often but for example, could be seen when employers become senior citizens)

And so:

A — for Abuse — abuse of all kinds, physical, emotional, mental, sexual

B — for Bullying — Most often bullying is verbal in nature but has similar impact as Abuse — emotionally, psychologically and mentally

C — for Control — control of every action, thought, behaviour, finances, creating fear and dependency.

Each of these can be operated individually, but it is difficult to separate them into boxes. The elements feed on each other.

  • I want to control ‘Z’ and in order to do so I abuse and bully.
  • I abuse ‘Z’ which is a form of bullying and all because I want to be in control of ‘Z’.
  • I bully ‘Z’ because I think ‘Z’ is weak and therefore I can control and abuse.

All very complex, so I thought I could come up with an ABC model to counter the Evil ABC model.

A — Be ASSERTIVE not Aggressive

B — BELIEVE in one’s abilities and support systems

C — Make the Right CHOICES to take charge of one’s life

And for those who can be of help

Pay ATTENTION to what is happening

BE THERE for them

And COMPASSION will go a long way

Let me now share my favourites –

A simple model that I give to teachers to use as a strategy for classroom management for simple issues or bigger problems. It can be of help to parents and others.

A — Antecedent

B — Behaviour

C — Consequences

D — Decision Making

Antecedents are all the things that can happen leading up to the behaviour. For e.g. illness, tiredness, hunger, poor performance, a bullying episode, a difficult task that the child does not want to do.

Behaviour can take many forms, be it crying, having a tantrum, stubbornness and many more. It would be good to remember that all behaviour is Communication. The child is trying to express something like frustration, or it could be what the child is trying to get out of the behaviour like someone’s attention or the thing they want.

Consequences — Every behaviour has a consequence and when the child faces a consequence whether positive or negative, the child learns to make Decisions for life — good or bad.

I kept the best for last –

An ABC model from one of my favourite books — ‘Whale Done’ The Power of Positive Relationships by Ken Blanchard and 3 others (very proud to have his signature on my copy of the book)

This is a favourite as it is positive. We do not have to wait for a negative situation or event to occur — it is called the ABC of Performance Management.

Believe it or not, this model has come out of training Killer Whales at Sea World, Orlando. The Trainers dare not go wrong — definitely not with 10,000 pound, enormous killer whales.

Let’s dive straight in. This model can be used for any performance and for any age group. Let me elaborate with an example.

The Behaviour I want is for the children to follow a set of instructions to make a craft item.

A — Activator — I could use a story in-built with very clear instructions or I could break the activity into a series of small workable, achievable goals.

B — Behaviour — is the performance that occurs after the activator. An important ingredient here is Observation of the behaviour. In this case, I need to observe if the instructions are being followed or if the goals are being achieved.

C — Consequences — What happens after one gets the behaviour that was expected? What will be your response? This stage of the model is most important but actually gets the least attention.

The child has followed the instructions and achieved each goal and the craft item is complete — What will be the response?

Have a look at the 4 kinds of consequences and honestly answer and arrange them from most used to least used — perhaps from your own life growing up.

  1. No Response
  2. Negative Response
  3. Redirection — In very simple terms it means to redirect behaviour to what was expected
  4. Positive Response

The responses are already in the order of most used to least used.

Depending upon circumstance it could be different but ‘No Response’ is the most used. We can rationalise our ‘No’ response with various reasons but the truth of the matter is that we take a good performance for granted — it’s often ignored.

Here are a few steps to Redirection (From the book)

  • Describe the error or problem, clearly and without blame
  • Show its negative impact
  • If appropriate, take the blame for not making the task clear
  • Go over the task in detail and make sure it is clearly understood
  • Express continuing trust and confidence in the person

Moving to Positive Response. Positive Response should be a genuine positive response and not fake, false praise. Like ‘good job’, when it is definitely not good. Keep in mind that false praise acts as a speed breaker.

Think about this model and the others and make changes wherever needed for if we don’t, we will probably mess up relationships by using the Evil ABC model to get the performance we want.

And finally, a beautiful quote from the book that is worth emulating.

‘Praise Progress

It’s a moving target.’

In our quest for perfection we overlook progress.

Progress is one little step forward at a time.



Phyllis Farias

Educational Consultant with 2 passions in life: the Child — from toddler to adolescent, and Education — education philosophy and psychology