Understanding Challenging Behaviour: Part 1: Summary


Understanding Challenging Behaviour is the first information sheet in this series. It is recommended that it is read alongside ‘‘Finding the Causes of Challenging Behaviour: Part 2’’ and “Positive Behaviour Support Planning: Part 3’'


What is challenging behaviour?


Children and adults with learning disabilities may display ‘‘problem’’ or ‘‘unusual’’ behaviours. These can include:

  • Aggression (e.g. hitting)
  • Self-Injury (e.g. head banging)
  • Destruction (e.g. throwing)
  • Other (e.g. rocking)

It can be stressful, upsetting and impact on the lives of the whole family.  


Why does it happen?

There is always a reason for challenging behaviour. In many cases, it’s a way for a person to control what is going on around them and to get their needs met. They also might be ill or in pain, or want to get something. It’s important to understand the reasons behind challenging behaviour for change to happen!


What can be done?

There is no quick fix. Having said that, there is a lot that can be done to prevent or reduce challenging behaviour.

  • Work out if the person is in pain or bored
  • Is there a way of teaching the person to show you what they want in another way? Develop their communication skills
  • Keep a record of the behaviour
  • When safe to do so, ignore it and distract the person
  • Ask your GP/social worker if the person can get a referral for a ‘‘functional assessment’’ to better understand the reasons behind their behaviour


To download the full version of the Challenging Behaviour Foundation information sheet “Understanding Challenging Behaviour”, by Peter McGill, Co-Director, The Tizard Centre, University of Kent at Canterbury click here.





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