Training – Supporting People With Challenging Behaviours

Some of the people we support engage in behaviours that are challenging to manage and which make it difficult for us to support them to engage with their community in a positive way.   Some of these behaviours may include:

  • Aggression
  • Withdrawal
  • Violence
  • Inappropriate sexual behaviours
  • Self-harm
  • Difficulty engaging with others

We should remember however, that what is seen as challenging, varies with where we are, and who we are with, but as a rule we ‘normalise’ behaviours and generally engage in accepted behaviours in the community. However how many of us also engage in behaviours in the privacy of our own home that we wouldn’t dream of doing in public? Imagine if you didn’t know the difference?

The important question to ask when supporting someone engaging in challenging behaviours is ‘Why?’  All behaviours serve a purpose for the individual and communicate a message.  Is the person ‘angry’, ‘aggressive’, ‘violent’, ‘suicidal’, or is this the person’s way of showing that they are in fact anxious, scared, tired, ill, stressed, confused, depressed or in pain?

We need to get beyond what we initially see and identify the function or purpose of the behaviour to better meet the person’s needs. Consider the iceberg image on the right.

In the iceberg image below, we see the challenging behaviour (anger) and we tend to react directly to it, but below the surface could be a wide range of reasons for this behaviour.

Photo of the Anger Iceberg to help support people with challenging behaviours

The Anger Iceberg to help support people with challenging behaviours

It is tempting to concentrate on the secondary emotion/behaviour anger in this case), as we are directly experiencing it. We should however, try to not take it personally and allow it to alert us to the need to identify the primary (underlying) emotion. Responding to the in- your-face behaviours is certainly valid and it is appropriate to put in a range of reactive strategies to address, mitigate and respond to the behaviour, but as you can see there is generally more to it than that.

To get to the root of things, we need to uncover and respond to the primary emotion.  If we can name the underlying emotion we can hopefully uncover the real function reason behind) the behaviour. 

Adrian Valley is the Positive Behaviour Support Manager at CLA.  Contact him on

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Photo of Adrian Valley who is the Positive Behaviour Support Manager at CLA