What is Challenging Behaviour?

Challenging behaviour is a term describing a wide range of behaviours that people exhibit to communicate an unmet need or to fulfil an unmet purpose. What is “challenging” about these actions is that they tend to cause harm or distress to the one acting or others. A good understanding of challenging behaviour is critical for anyone that would like to provide positive behaviour support or help people that exhibit them. 

Examples of Challenging Behaviour 

Challenging behaviour is often displayed by children with social, learning, or intellectual disabilities. Children on the autism spectrum are usually the ones that receive help with managing challenging behaviour, but people of all ages, neurotypical or not, can at times develop difficult habits – and anyone can be a recipient of care geared towards outgrowing those habits. 

Challenging behaviour can take on many forms. Some of the more common examples include:

  • Aggression: hurting others, e.g., pushing, hair-pulling, etc.
  • Self-injurious behaviour: hitting one’s head on objects, poking one’s eye, etc.
  • Disruptive behaviour: throwing tantrums, shouting, non-compliance with rules, etc.
  • Eating non-food items: toys, paper, crayons, etc.
  • Other behaviours: removing one’s clothes, running around, spitting out food, etc.

What is challenging behaviour in the classroom?

Challenging behaviour in the classroom refers to any behaviour that disrupts the learning environment and creates difficulties for teachers and students. This can include verbal aggression, physical aggression, self-injury, disruptive behaviour, non-compliance, and other forms of behaviour that interfere with the teacher’s ability to teach and the student’s ability to learn.

Challenging behaviour can be caused by a range of factors, including learning difficulties, mental health issues, environmental factors, and social and emotional factors.

Some common examples of challenging behaviour in the classroom include:

  • Disruptive behaviour, such as talking out of turn, shouting or making noise, or moving around the classroom without permission
  • Non-compliance, such as refusing to follow instructions or complete assigned tasks
  • Aggressive behaviour, such as hitting, kicking, or biting other students or the teacher
  • Self-injurious behaviour, such as head-banging or self-harm
  • Hyperactivity or impulsivity, such as fidgeting, squirming, or interrupting others

Dealing with challenging behaviour in the classroom can be difficult and stressful for both teachers and students. Some of the challenges that teachers may face when dealing with challenging behaviour include:

  • Lack of training or support in managing challenging behaviour
  • Difficulty in identifying the underlying causes of the behaviour
  • Limited resources or access to mental health professionals
  • Concerns about the safety of other students in the classroom
  • Difficulty in maintaining a positive and supportive learning environment for all students

Despite these challenges, it is important for teachers to work with parents and other professionals to develop effective strategies for managing challenging behaviour and promoting positive learning outcomes for all students. This may involve implementing behaviour management plans, providing additional support and resources to students with special needs, or working with mental health professionals to address underlying emotional or behavioural issues.

Causes of Challenging Behaviour

The factors that contribute to the development of challenging behaviour can also vary widely and may include biological, environmental, psychological, and social factors.

Biological factors include genetic abnormalities, brain injuries, or underlying medical conditions. People can be born with them, or acquire them at some point in their lives. 

Environmental factors such as adverse childhood experiences, traumatic events, or neglect can also contribute to the development of challenging behaviour. The behaviour of those around them may or may not be encouraging them to act out. 

Psychological factors such as anxiety, depression, or other mental health disorders may also play a role. Social factors such as poverty, unemployment, and lack of social support may also contribute to challenging behaviour.

Effects of Challenging Behaviour

The impact of challenging behaviour can be significant, both for the individual exhibiting the behaviour and for those around them. The people themselves may experience social isolation, difficulty forming relationships, and problems with school or employment. Their behaviour might also be causing them physical harm or emotional distress. Most consistently, the effect of their challenging behaviour is a reduction in their quality of life. 

Those around them, including family members or caregivers, may experience stress, emotional exhaustion, and even physical danger as a result of managing the challenging behaviour. The point of addressing challenging behaviour is not only to improve the lives of those displaying them but also to help the people around them. 

How to Deal with Challenging Behaviour

Approaching Challenging Behaviour

Management of challenging behaviour requires a coordinated approach that involves identifying the underlying causes of the behaviour and implementing appropriate interventions. Behavioural interventions such as positive reinforcement, token economies, and functional analysis can be effective in managing challenging behaviour. 

Pharmacological interventions such as antipsychotic medication may also be effective in some cases. Other treatments such as sensory integration therapy may be effective for those with sensory processing issues. 

The role of caregivers and family members is critical in managing challenging behaviour. Providing ample support, targeted education, and the right resources can make a huge difference. Making those trying to outgrow their difficult habits feel empowered and loved can go a long way towards making them more equipped to change their behaviour effectively

There are lots of treatment options available to those that tend to have behavioural issues. The most important part of the treatment plan is that it be individualised – the interventions that you and your healthcare professional choose must be suitable to the person’s specific needs. Because of this, the management of challenging behaviour is always a team effort.

Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) for Challenging Behaviour

Positive behaviour support (PBS) is an evidence-based approach used to help people of all ages manage their challenging behaviour. The goal of PBS is to identify the underlying causes of the challenging behaviour and develop interventions to address those causes while promoting positive, adaptive behaviour.

The first step in using PBS is to conduct a functional behaviour assessment (FBA) to determine why the person is behaving the way that they are. Challenging behaviours are usually some sort of response to an unmet need – very often, they serve to communicate something to the people around them. Functional behaviour assessment involves gathering information about the individual’s environment, behaviour, and other relevant factors to identify the exact function that their actions are serving.

Once the function of the habit has been identified, a PBS plan is developed to address the underlying need met by the behaviour. Most importantly, the person receiving treatment will be given a more positive replacement behaviour. 

The PBS plan is typically developed collaboratively by a team of professionals, and always involves those closest to the person. Learning sessions to promote replacement behaviour coupled with positive reinforcement strategies are the cornerstone of most plans. Modifying the person’s environment to reduce triggers that encourage the original challenging behaviour also plays an important role in the success of treatment. 

The implementation of the PBS plan involves ongoing monitoring and evaluation to determine its effectiveness and make adjustments as needed. The goal is to promote positive behaviour and reduce the occurrence of challenging behaviour over time.

PBS is effective in managing challenging behaviour in individuals with a variety of diagnoses, including developmental disabilities, mental health disorders, and traumatic brain injuries. It is often used in educational settings, residential facilities, and community-based settings to support individuals with challenging behaviour and improve their quality of life.

Overcoming Challenging Behaviour

Early detection and intervention are critical for managing challenging behaviour effectively, and those working with individuals with challenging behaviour must have access to the resources and support they need. Increased awareness and understanding of challenging behaviour can help to reduce the stigma and improve outcomes for those affected by this challenging condition.

Working with trained healthcare professionals makes a huge difference in being successful when it comes to giving people chances to improve their quality of life. Most importantly, abundant support and encouragement as well as the active involvement of those around people with challenging behaviour is the key ingredient to the success of any behavioural intervention. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Challenging Behaviour

What should I do if I encounter someone exhibiting challenging behaviour?

If you encounter someone exhibiting challenging behaviour, it’s important to remain calm and avoid escalating the situation. Depending on the severity of the behaviour, you may need to remove yourself or others from the situation to ensure safety. If the behaviour persists, it may be appropriate to seek help from a mental health professional or a crisis intervention team.

Is challenging behaviour always a result of a mental health disorder?

No, challenging behaviour can have many different causes, and it is not always the result of a mental health disorder. Biological, environmental, psychological, and social factors can all contribute to the development of challenging behaviour. A thorough evaluation by a mental health professional can help to identify the underlying cause of the behaviour.

Can challenging behaviour be treated effectively?

Yes, challenging behaviour can be treated effectively, but the most effective treatment depends on the underlying cause of the behaviour. While other forms of intervention exist, Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) is one of the mainstays of treatment when it comes to challenging behaviour. It is important to work with a mental health professional to identify the most effective treatment for each individual.