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How to Handle Challenging Behaviour

Published on 18th May 2017
Encompass Blog and Updates

We British are terribly fond of euphemisms.

We go out of our way to come up with ways of saying what we mean without saying what we mean. It’s a skill few other nations can match.

However, the language of Shakespeare occasionally gets it dead on.

Challenging behaviour, as a term, is incredibly broad and covers a great many things that prove difficult to an individual be they a parent, carer, teacher, sibling or anyone else in a carer role.

The reason we use this term is because the nature of the behaviour is equally broad as are the causes. It’s not fair to say an individual is being bad if they have little control and reduced understanding of what’s going on.

Admittedly it doesn’t make being hit or kicked hurt any less, should that behaviour become violent, but labelling them as bad is escalating to deescalate which never works.

MENCAP describes challenging behaviour as behaviour that is harmful to the person or others around them and prevents that person achieving things in their daily life such as building relationships and personal development (e.g. education).

It really is a very broad term.

It’s important to understand that challenging behaviour isn’t a disability in of itself but a symptom of other issues be it a learning disability or particularly complex mental health issues.

Often times the challenging behaviour stems from frustration and discomfort but can also be prompted by relationships and even the environment.

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Remember, the individual isn’t being bad, there’s always a reason for their behaviour.

So how do you handle challenging behaviour?

Quite simply: prevention is better than cure.

Identify the triggers that most commonly cause the behaviour to occur and do your best to limit them. This could be anything from environment, certain people, animals or even sounds.

Because it’s impossible to eliminate these factors from the individual’s life, devising ways to cope with them as well as expressing themselves effectively help to reduce stress and agitation.

Quite often challenging behaviour is that person reaching a critical mass, emotionally speaking so if there are ways to reduce feelings of frustration, anxiety or even anger then all the better.

There are plenty of relaxation techniques you can try ranging from breathing exercises to counting.

Some carers implement a scoring or traffic light system to help the individual communicate how they’re feeling. This gives the carer an easy to understand measure so they can take appropriate action and hopefully prevent any challenging behaviour occurring.

Sometimes it’s just about staying alert and trying to anticipate problems. This is not always easy but combining this with other methods should allow you to mitigate the worst situations.

Of course, the best way of limiting challenging behaviour is to keep that person in a positive state of mind. We’re reluctant to say keep them happy because that can often lead to excusing other negative behaviours in order to avoid outbursts.

Engage them by doing things they enjoy and emphasise the positives where possible.

But what about you?

Managing someone else’s behaviour, especially if that person has difficulty expressing themselves or communicating, can be difficult.

It’s important that you look after your own wellbeing and mental health too.

Recognise how you feel about the situations as they occur. Afterwards communicate how that situation made you feel constructively to the person exhibiting the challenging behaviour. It’s important for them to understand how their behaviour has consequences.

It’s important to emphasise that they aren’t being bad or malicious so choose your words carefully.

Make sure you allow some time for yourself to reflect on any outbursts and cultivate some time to relax.

Don’t suffer in silence. Make sure you lean on friends and family for support. Allowing yourself time out doesn’t make you a bad person; it makes you a better carer. Everyone needs time to themselves to recharge.

Plus, don’t assume that the person you care for wants to see you all the time either. There’s every chance they’ll be pleased to see a new face too.

There is also a wealth of professional support services, like us, available to provide advice, ongoing support or respite care.

Again, respite care doesn’t mean you’ve failed or you’ve put your own needs ahead of the person you care for. Respite care is proven to be of benefit to both the carer and the individual.

And remember, you are not alone.

Encompass Dorset provides residential and domiciliary support to individuals with learning disabilities and enduring mental health issues for the Dorset area.