All behaviour has meaning. Children and young people communicate through their behaviour, especially those who have not acquired language and vocabulary skills to tell the adult what the problem is. The behaviour used to communicate can be made stronger and more likely by how it is responded to. For example, if a child becomes aggressive because of a demand placed on them, often the demand is taken away.
Everybody, whether young or old has times when they are upset, angry, worried, confused or hurt. Strong emotions can be tough to understand, express and manage, particularly for children and young people who may not have the language or ability to communicate verbally what they are experiencing. When a young person’s behaviour becomes concerning, it may be that they are experiencing a strong, overwhelming emotion that is hard for them to manage. Behaviour serves a purpose and is useful in some way even if there are unintended or negative consequences. For example, if a young person is feeling angry they may become verbally or physically aggressive. Whilst verbal and physical aggression is not a helpful or appropriate response, it is a way of communicating and expressing how the young person is feeling.
Many young people respond to strong and overwhelming emotions impulsively and reactively in the moment and without much thought or consideration of the consequences. This is why sometimes children and young people (and even adults) can behave in extreme or concerning ways from time to time.
Experiencing different emotions at a time that are strong and overwhelming is very confusing for a young person and may lead to unpredictable or changeable behaviour. The factors that influence how a child or young person may behave include:
If a child or young person is behaving in a way that is concerning or that places themselves or others at risk, it can be worrying and difficult to know how best to support them. We have put together a download of top tips that you might find helpful as well as video of a workshop on how to manage concerning behaviour.
There are a number of resources that may also be helpful to you and your child in better understanding the function of the concerning behaviour and how to find other ways of achieving the same function without needing to use concerning behaviour.
All behaviour has meaning. Children and young people communicate through their behaviour, especially those who have not acquired language and vocabulary skills to tell the adult what the problem is. A young person’s behaviour can be made stronger and more likely by how it is responded to. Here’s a guide to help you know how best to support your young person if they are behaving in a way that is concerning. This is not an exhaustive list; there may be other behaviour and responses to this which have not been included:
Coping / needs support; These are experiences that most young people will have from time to time.
Type and nature of situation that may impact on a young person’s behaviour
It is common for children and young people to behave in ways that concern adults from time to time. The behaviour they display tends to be situation specific, short term and can be managed with the love and support of parents/ carers. Behaviour of concern is often a result of young people experiencing emotions such as worry, sadness, frustration/ anger, guilt or shame. Examples of situations which might provoke these feelings include:
Factors such as tiredness, hunger, not feeling physically or being in pain well can impact on how young people cope, respond and behave.
Some young people with physical disabilities and conditions, learning disabilities or those with neurodevelopmental difficulties (such as Autistic Spectrum Condition or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) may have additional difficulty in being able to identify, express and communicate their emotions, thoughts, needs or preferences. This struggle may result in strong emotional responses and behaviour of concern.
What you might see or a young person might report
Things to try, support and Next Steps
An A-Z of coping strategies: https://youtu.be/5EXpkVw3fh0
How and when to use a coping box: https://youtu.be/OyfgodSSdV4
Needs help; These are challenges that some young people experience and may need some support with.
The behaviour of a young person appears out of context or disproportionate to the situation. Episodes of concerning behaviour might be more frequent or prolonged and cause the young person and family distress or might have some mild impact on their ability to cope with everyday life such as going to or coping at school and relationships with others.
Strong emotional responses and behaviour of concern may be in response to or indicative of the factors described in Green. More concerning behaviour may (or may not) be in response to events such as:
In some cases behaviour of concern may be in response to a mental health difficulty or crisis.
What you might see or what a young person might report
As well as the features in Green, the following might also be present:
As well as the steps in Green the following might be helpful:
Depending on the context and/ or the triggers and contributing factors for the emotional responses and behaviour of concern, other services may be helpful e.g., family guidance if there is family breakdown or conflict.
Needs Specialist Treatment or a Crisis Response; These are difficulties that cause a significant impact and a young person may need specialist support.
Behaviour is extreme, chronic and may cause harm to the young person directly or another (either purposefully or accidently).
Behaviour may cause significant distress to the young person and be a significant concern to their family/ network (such as school/ college). Behaviour significantly disrupts daily life such as attending school/ college, socialising.
Behaviour may be criminal in nature.
Despite trying advice in the Green and Amber stages, the young person still experiences behaviour of concern.
More extreme or concerning behaviour may (or may not) be in response to events such as:
The features in Green and Amber may be more frequent and intense plus, the following might also be present:
As well as the steps in Green and Amber the following might be helpful:
Please note, that CAMHS may only provide an assessment and offer an intervention if the behaviour or concern is in relation to a mental health difficulty or crisis.
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