What is Challenging Behaviour?

Challenging behaviour refers to any behaviour that presents a challenge to the individual, their caregivers, or the community. Behaviour is challenging if it is harmful to the individual and those around them or if it stops the individual from enjoying daily life or restricts access to opportunities. It can include physical aggression, verbal aggression, self-injury or any other behaviour that can be challenging to manage and support.

At Liaise, we recognise that complex and challenging behaviour is often the result of an unmet need or want.  We understand the challenges that can come with supporting individuals with complex and varied needs and we are here to support you and your family.

Here we’ll explore what challenging behaviour is, its causes, and some strategies for supporting anyone who presents such behaviour.

What Causes Challenging Behaviour?

Behaviours that challenge can have a range of underlying causes. It’s important to identify and address these causes to support individuals in the best possible way.

It’s worth noting that these are not the only causes of challenging behaviour. Every individual is unique, just like the factors that can contribute to their behaviour. A thorough assessment is usually necessary to identify the underlying causes of challenging behaviour and develop effective support strategies:

  • Communication difficulties: Feeling unseen or unheard can affect anyone’s mood. Individuals with learning disabilities, autism or other support needs may at times have difficulty communicating their wants, needs, or feelings. This can lead to frustration and challenging behaviour.
  • Sensory issues: Sensory processing difficulties can lead to sensory overload or under-stimulation, which can trigger challenging behaviour.
  • Anxiety and stress: People may experience anxiety or stress in response to unfamiliar situations, changes in routine, or other triggers. This stress and anxiety can manifest as complex or challenging behaviour.
  • Medical conditions: Some medical conditions, such as epilepsy or sleep disorders, can cause or exacerbate challenging behaviour.
  • Environmental factors: A person’s physical environment can greatly impact their mood. Noise, lighting, and temperature can all contribute to challenging behaviour.
  • Past experiences: Traumatic experiences in the past may impact an individual’s behaviour in the present.
  • Social factors: An individual’s social environment, including the availability of support networks, access to activities and opportunities, and relationships with peers, can all have an impact on behaviour.

How to Support Someone with Challenging Behaviour

Supporting someone through their challenging behaviour can be a challenging yet immensely rewarding experience. While every individual’s needs are unique, there are strategies to help manage and reduce behaviour that challenges.

Here are some approaches that may be helpful:

  • Positive behaviour support (PBS): PBS is a person-centred approach that seeks to uncover the reasons for a person’s distress, rather than focusing on the behaviour. Once the triggers for challenging behaviour are identified, support strategies uniquely tailored to the individual can be put in place. Learn more about positive behaviour support. 
  • Communication strategies: When a person can clearly express their needs, wants and feelings, challenging behaviours are often reduced. You can support your loved one by helping them find new and meaningful ways to express themselves. This may include using visual aids, using clear and simple language, and providing choices whenever possible.
  • Sensory strategies: Sensory strategies can help to manage challenging behaviour by addressing sensory triggers that can cause distress or discomfort. This includes both providing sensory stimulation and avoiding sensory overload. Sensory items like fidget toys and weighted blankets can be helpful.
  • Environment modification: Changing the physical environment to meet an individual’s needs can help to prevent or reduce challenging behaviour. Consider changes to lighting, noise levels, privacy, and other environmental factors that could cause a person distress or discomfort.
  • Encourage exercise and physical activity: Exercise and physical activity can be a great way to reduce stress and anxiety and promote positive behaviour. Activities such as walking, swimming, yoga, or martial arts can be helpful but it’s important to let the individual choose an activity they enjoy.
  • Support networks: Building a strong support network can be helpful for both the individual and the people that support them. Support groups are a great way to connect with other families and individuals who are dealing with similar challenges. They offer a supportive and understanding community that can help you to feel less alone and provide you with advice, tips, and strategies for supporting challenging behaviour.
  • Seek professional support: If challenging behaviour persists, seek professional support from a healthcare professional or specialist service like Liaise. They can provide additional guidance and support for your and your loved ones.

To learn more about ways you can positively support someone experiencing challenging behaviour, have a look at our detailed guide.

How to Talk to Your Loved One About Challenging Behaviour

Having a conversation with a loved one about their challenging behaviour can be a difficult and sensitive topic to broach. It is important to approach the conversation with empathy, understanding and support.

Here are some tips on how to talk to your loved one about complex behaviours that challenge:

  • Choose the right time and place: It is important to choose a time and place where your loved one feels comfortable and at ease. This may be a quiet and private space where they can express themselves without fear of judgement or interruption.
  • Listen with compassion and empathy: Listening with empathy is key to understanding your loved one’s perspective and feelings. Show them that you are there to support them and validate their feelings and emotions.
  • Be non-judgmental: Avoid blaming or criticising your loved one for their challenging behaviour. Instead, try to understand their perspective and experiences and offer support and encouragement.
  • Use clear and simple language: Use clear and simple language to communicate your concerns and expectations. Avoid using technical terms or jargon that may confuse or overwhelm your loved one.
  • Offer practical solutions: Offer practical solutions or strategies that can help your loved one manage their own behaviour. This could include seeking professional support, developing coping mechanisms or utilising sensory strategies.
  • Follow up: Always follow up with your loved one after the conversation to check in on their progress and offer ongoing support.

Remember, talking to your loved one about challenging behaviour can be a difficult and emotional conversation. Try to be patient, supportive and understanding. Offer ongoing support and encouragement as they navigate their challenges. Your goal is to find out more about how they are feeling so that you can provide support tailored to their needs.

Looking After Yourself as a Family Member or Friend

Caring for a loved one with challenging behaviour can be emotionally and physically draining. It is important to prioritise your self-care and well-being to avoid burnout and maintain your mental health. Here are some tips for looking after yourself as a family member:

  • Seek support: It is important to seek support from friends, family or support groups who can offer emotional support and practical advice. This can help you feel less isolated and overwhelmed. Contact, Carers UK and The Challenging Behaviour Foundation are all good places to start.
  • Practice self-care: Engage in activities that promote relaxation, such as exercise, yoga, meditation or mindfulness. Make sure to take regular breaks and prioritise self-care activities that help you recharge and de-stress.
  • Set boundaries: Setting boundaries around your time and energy can help you avoid burnout and manage your own needs. You may need to say “no” to certain commitments or ask for help from other family members or friends.
  • Educate yourself: Learn as much as you can about your loved one’s condition and challenging behaviours. This can help you better understand their needs and challenges so that you provide more effective support.
  • Take breaks: Be sure to take regular breaks from providing support to rest and recharge. Consider arranging respite care or taking time off from work to prioritise your own well-being.
  • Seek professional support: Always seek professional support from a healthcare professional or therapist if you are feeling overwhelmed or struggling with your own mental health.

Specialist Support for Challenging Behaviour

At Liaise, we are proud to support people with complex needs including behaviour that may challenge. Through our support living and residential care services, we provide community-based homes where people with complex needs can thrive in a stimulating and structured environment.

We recognise that there are many reasons why a person might display challenging behaviours, so we offer flexible support solutions that are adapted to the unique needs of each individual. Our specialist multidisciplinary teams draw on several positive and proactive strategies to reduce stress and anxiety whilst always maintaining dignity and respect for the people we support.

Our individually-tailored support plans focus on risk management and positive behaviour support to reduce the frequency and intensity of behaviours of concern. This allows each individual to receive the specialist support they need to live a full and enriching life.

If you would like to learn more about our care and support services, do not hesitate to contact us. We look forward to hearing from you.

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