Coping with challenging behaviour

content supplied by NHS Choices

Children with learning disabilities can have challenging behaviour. Dealing with your child's challenging behaviour can be stressful, but you don't have to tackle it alone.

All children can behave in ways that are difficult to deal with, for example, having tantrums, kicking or throwing things. In children with learning disabilities, this behaviour can be more frequent and extreme. This is often as a result of being unable to say what they want or feel.

Understanding why your child is behaving like this can help you find a way of dealing with it. To get the right support for your child, their own needs and wishes must be considered.

Lesley Campbell, from the charity Mencap, says: “It's very common for children with learning disabilities to have challenging behaviour. To them, the world is a confusing place and they might not understand why things happen.”

She gives the example of a parent having to work away from home. “The child might not understand where their parent is, or whether they’re coming home. It can be quite difficult to explain this to someone with learning disabilities. They might think that their parent has disappeared.”

What might be causing it

Feelings of confusion can cause challenging behaviour. This can also be a reaction to other problems, such as being bullied, frightened or in pain.

Avoid anything that could trigger this behaviour. For example, don't stay in a noisy room if this upsets your child. Keep calm and try not to seem angry or upset, even though you might be feeling it.

Getting help

Getting professional support can help you come up with strategies for dealing with challenging behaviour. You can talk to the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) at your child’s school or nursery, or to your health visitor, GP or paediatrician. All of them can refer you to more specialist help if it's needed.

This could include speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists or paediatricians. You can also talk to other parents who have gone through similar experiences. Ask your health visitor or get in touch with Mencap or Contact a Family to see if there's anyone in your area.

You may also be able to contact the Challenging Behaviour Foundation (CBF), which offers information and support to people with severe learning disabilities and their families. 

The NHS Carers Direct website has lots of information about getting the right support from your local authority if you're looking after a child with learning disabilities. Ask your local authority for an assessment. Read more on assessments for carers.


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