Children in classroom environment learning

Managing Challenging Behaviour in Education

James Hourihan, Author

Throughout the education sector, managing challenging behaviour effectively is essential to creating a conducive learning environment. Behaviour that challenges can disrupt the educational process for both students and teachers. Understanding and effectively addressing challenging behaviour in children is a priority.  In this article, we will take a look at exactly what constitutes challenging behaviour, why it occurs, and how educators and their organisations can respond safely and effectively.

What is challenging behaviour?

“Behaviour can be described as challenging when it is of such an intensity, frequency or duration as to threaten the quality of life and/ or the physical safety of the individual or others and it is likely to lead to responses that are restrictive, aversive or result in exclusion.”

(RCPsych/BPS/RCSLT, 2007)

Challenging behaviour is a term used to describe actions and responses by students that may disrupt the learning environment in numerous ways. This can include verbal and/or physical aggression, defiance, or disruptive behaviours within the classroom. Understanding the concept of challenging behaviour is fundamental to addressing it effectively. There is always a reason behind any form of challenging behaviour, it is usually a student’s best attempt at telling you something, and should be viewed as a form of communication.

Understanding behaviour that challenges

We need to understand the underlying reasons why students exhibit such behaviours. Challenging behaviour doesn’t occur without reason; it often serves as a means of communication when children lack more acceptable ways to express their needs or emotions. Here are just some of the causes of challenging behaviour in children:

Emotional Regulation

Children are still developing their emotional regulation skills. When they experience intense emotions such as anger, fear, or sadness, they may not know how to cope effectively. Challenging behaviour can be a manifestation of emotional overwhelm or a way to cope with these strong feelings.

Environmental Factors

The classroom environment plays a significant role in behaviour. Overstimulation, lack of structure or routine, or inconsistent and unclear rules can contribute to challenging behaviour. Children may respond with disruptive actions when they feel overwhelmed or uncertain.

Social and Peer Interactions

Interactions with peers can also influence behaviour. Children may exhibit challenging behaviour as a response to social stressors, such as conflicts with classmates or feeling excluded. As educators it is important to understand the classroom environment and the interactions at play. 

Trauma and Adverse Experiences

Children who have experienced trauma or adverse life events may be more prone to challenging behaviour. Trauma can significantly impact a child’s emotional and behavioural responses, leading to disruptive actions. Trauma-informed care, as discussed below, recognises and acknowledges that many students may have experienced trauma, which can significantly impact their behaviour and well-being. 

Special Educational needs and communication difficulties 

Children with special educational needs, such as learning disabilities or developmental disorders, may face unique challenges in the classroom. When these needs are not properly addressed, it may result in behaviours that challenge. Some children may struggle with verbal communication, leading to frustration when they cannot express themselves adequately. In such cases, expressing negative behaviour can become a default means of trying to convey feelings or needs.

Dealing with challenging behaviour in schools

There are a number of strategies that teachers can implement into their classroom so that incidents are less likely to arise and any future challenges are less difficult to manage. Below we outline a number of tools that teachers can employ to deal with challenging behaviour.

  1. Take a trauma-informed approach from the top down

More than one in three children and young people are exposed to at least one potentially traumatic event by age 18. Research indicates that exposure to trauma from a young age can result in an ineffective regulation of the stress response system, consequently giving rise to difficulties in the emotional regulation of young individuals.

A trauma-informed approach recognises that many students may have experienced trauma, affecting their behaviour and well-being. Its goal is to heighten the awareness of teachers, staff, and practitioners regarding the detrimental effects of trauma on both individual children and the broader school community. This approach involves understanding the impact of trauma, creating safe environments accordingly, and providing trusted support to affected students.

  1. Create consistency and routine

Consistency and routine are crucial in managing challenging behaviour. Students often thrive in predictable environments. Establishing a clear code of conduct, expectations, and routines helps reduce uncertainty and paints a structured framework of what is considered acceptable behaviour. By involving the classroom in the creation of a set of rules creates a sense of accountability among the students. 

  1. Develop relationships

Students are more likely to respond positively when they feel valued and respected by their teachers. Taking the time to connect with students individually, understanding their needs, and providing a supportive, empathetic presence will serve to build positive relationships within the classroom. Understanding how a student thinks, learns and behaves can help prevent and de-escalate situations of challenging behaviour.

  1. Recognise good behaviour and achievements

Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool in managing challenging behaviour. Children opt for negative behaviour as a means of gaining attention, the acknowledgment of good behaviour creates an environment where children are more likely to behave in a way that evokes a similar reaction towards themselves.

  1. Communicate with parents

Effective communication with parents is essential. Keep parents informed about their child’s progress and any behavioural concerns. Collaborative efforts between schools and parents can lead to a more comprehensive and effective approach to managing challenging behaviour, creating an allied approach to the problem.

Managing challenging behaviour in education is a multi-layered issue that requires a deep understanding of its complexities, but with the right strategies in place, schools can reduce disruption and handle events effectively. Timian Learning and Development employ a variety of engaging adult learning strategies to enable effective transfer of skills into practice.
Our RRN Certified Courses to equip educators and organisations with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate these challenges effectively. By adopting these lessons, organisations can create a more conducive learning environment for all students, enhancing academic and personal growth.

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