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Challenging Behaviour

All children, at times, display behaviours that challenges and it is part of normal child development. There is a reason behind all behaviour; a child may not know or understand what behaviours are inappropriate, they may be feeling scared or worried, or the behaviour can be a way of communicating and influencing the world around them.

Challenging behaviours might include:

  • Temper tantrums (e.g. screaming, refusal)
  • Hurting others (e.g. hair pulling, hitting, head-butting)
  • Verbal aggression (e.g. swearing, shouting, refusing)
  • Self-injury (e.g. head banging, eye poking, hand biting)
  • Destructive behaviours (e.g. throwing things, breaking furniture, tearing things up)
  • Eating inedible objects (e.g. play doh, glue, chalk)
  • Other behaviours (e.g. spitting, running away, smearing, removing clothes in public)

What can I do?

Look for triggers

Look for things that seem to trigger challenging behaviour. It may help to keep a behaviour log or diary. Try keeping a note of:

  • The date and time
  • The behaviour
  • What happened before
  • Any consequences

Download a trigger diary template from SCOPE here.

View a behaviour chart template here.

For children and young people with additional needs such as autism, the trigger may be a routine being changed or interrupted or a sensory issue such as a noisy environment.

Read about preparing for change from the National Autistic Society: A guide for all audiences (autism.org.uk)

Consistency, routines and choice

Being consistent helps children to know when their behaviour is good and when it isn’t. Having established routines can help with challenging behaviour as it makes the world more predictable and children know what to expect, for example, having a consistent bedtime routine. Giving children limited choices can also help manage behaviour, for example ‘Would you like sausages or chicken nuggets for tea?

The following strategies can also help manage challenging behaviour for children with SEND:

  • Use of additional communication strategies, such as a visual timetable or First and Then or choice board. These can help reinforce established routines at home and at school by providing a visual representation – see our Communication page for more details.
  • Supporting transitions from one place to another or between activities can also help. This could be through a verbal countdown or reminder: ‘Remember this is your last go on the bike, then it’s time to play in the sand’ or through use of a timer.
  • Meeting sensory needs. Giving a child time to process instructions or trying to reduce distractions from noise may have a positive effect on behaviour.

Talk to your child’s school

Talking to school may help you to manage your child’s behaviour consistently and give you the opportunity to share your concerns and work together. Meeting regularly at the beginning or end of a term may give you opportunity to discuss any common triggers seen at school and at home, discuss successful strategies and work together to support your child.

The school may suggest putting some SEN Support in place. This involves looking closely at your child’s needs and putting strategies in place to support them and may involve support from an Educational Psychologist. The school may also suggest other agencies that could support you and your child. This may be a referral into the school’s cluster support services or signposting you to NHS services or charities and organisations that can offer support.

Link to SCOPE’s website here: Home | Disability charity Scope UK

Link to Challenging Behaviour foundation here: Homepage for the Challenging Behaviour Foundation

Managing your stress

Many parents and carers of children with challenging behaviour feel stressed and worried. It is important to talk to someone about how you are feeling. Other ways to help could include:

  • Look at the support you have and what else is available in your local area. This could be a nursery/school, a friend, another parent in a similar situation, a parent’s group
  • Take time for yourself – getting some rest or taking a bit of time off can be beneficial even if it is only for a short time such as having a bath or going for a walk.
  • Talk to your GP if you need help and support – if you feel you are not coping speak to your GP about what support they can offer

What can we do?

Speak to other parents with disabled children on our closed Facebook group.

Follow us on Facebook to hear about our upcoming events.

Check out the rest of our Family Support offer.

Additional support and resources

This information isn’t affiliated with Leeds MENCAP.

Watch the Challenging Behaviour Foundation’s video about challenging behaviour here. Video challenging behaviour – Challenging Behaviour Foundation

Watch the Challenging Behaviour Foundation’s video about supporting and changing challenging behaviour here. Video Supporting Change – Challenging Behaviour Foundation

Watch the Challenging Behaviour Foundation’s video about the impact of behaviour on families here. Wellbeing of family – Challenging Behaviour Foundation

Read about a parent’s experience of managing challenging behaviour here. Parent experience; Erica – MindMate

Read about behaviour being communication here. Behaviour-is-communication.pdf (mindmate.org.uk)

Read more about autism and anger management here:

 A guide for parents and carers (autism.org.uk)Meltdowns – a guide for all audiences (autism.org.uk)

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