All children have times when they behave in inappropriate or challenging ways. They can go through different phases as they develop and become more independent and this might mean they push limits and boundaries from time to time. At times of change or difficulty, for example if a child experiences a bereavement or family break up, changes in a child’s behaviour are understandable. A child may have a temper tantrum, an outburst of aggressive or destructive behaviour, but this is often nothing to worry about. With the help of parents and teachers, most of them will learn to behave appropriately.
Behavioural difficulties can present in different ways. Behaviour can be directed outwardly and can be challenging to others. For example, a child may be verbally or physically aggressive, defiant, un-cooperative, or show unusual or anti-social behaviour such as spitting, undressing and urinating or smearing. Alternatively, behavioural difficulties may be experienced inwardly and a child may present as socially withdrawn, anxious, depressed, and uncommunicative, they may deliberately harm themselves or may feel the need to be overly controlling in some of their behaviours. Sometimes children and young people can present in both of these ways at different times.
Significant behavioural difficulties can be regarded an indication of underlying social, emotional and mental health difficulties. The reformed Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Code of Practice 2015 changed the area of need described as ‘behaviour, social and emotional development’ to ‘social, emotional and mental health’ needs to reflect this.
It can be helpful to think of behaviour as communication and to consider what the child might be trying to communicate either deliberately and with awareness, or unintentionally through their behaviour. Children with significant learning difficulties or who have conditions like autism and ADHD may more frequently present with challenging behaviours because they often have additional communication, interaction and sensory difficulties.
Behavioural problems can happen in children of all ages and at all developmental stages. Some children develop serious behavioural problems. The signs to look out for are:
- if the child’s behaviours continue for several months or longer and they are repeatedly being uncooperative or oppositional, aggressive, withdrawn, very unhappy or behaving in unusual or concerning ways
- if the child’s behaviour and attitude suddenly change for no obvious or apparent reason
if the child’s behaviour is out of the ordinary, and seriously breaks the rules accepted in their home and school.
- If a child’s behaviour has become a significant concern for a parent, carer or staff at school or other setting, there are a number and range of local and national organisations, support services and information on the Local Offer that can help.
If you think your child has behavioural difficulties you can talk to any health or education professionals working with your child. They will help you unpick your child’s behaviours, and decide whether or not they are a significant cause for concern. For example it can be that children with high levels of anxiety or who struggle to communicate can display behavioural difficulties.