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Challenging behaviour

Challenging behaviour and learning disability, and how to find the right support

What is challenging behaviour?

'Challenging behaviour' sounds like a pretty broad term, and it is. Challenging behaviour describes behaviour that is challenging to parents, carers, teachers and other professionals.

Challenging behaviour can include tantrums, hitting or kicking other people, throwing things or self-harming. 

Behaviour is challenging if it is harmful to the person and others around them, and if it stops the person achieving things in their daily life, such as making friends or concentrating at school.

Living with challenging behaviour can be a stressful and exhausting time.­ Every day activities, such as going to school or to the park, can become more complicated.

Challenging behaviour and learning disability

Challenging behaviour is not a learning disability, but people with a disability are more likely to show challenging behaviour.

This can be due to people having difficulty communicating and expressing frustrations. Challenging behaviour can also be a sign that something is wrong, like pain or discomfort, that your child cannot express in another way.

Challenging behaviour can also be a sign of wider problems, including with someone's mental health.

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The Learning Disability Helpline is our free help and advice line.

Our team can offer advice, information and discuss what support Mencap can offer tailored to your needs, in your area.

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What causes challenging behaviour?

There is no single cause for challenging behaviour, but environment, relationships, discomfort and frustration are all common reasons.

People with a disability are more likely to show challenging behaviour in order to express themselves.

What to do if your child is showing challenging behaviour

If you are worried that your child is demonstrating challenging behaviour, it is a good idea to act quickly, to find ways to meet your child's needs and to help them find new ways to communicate. 

Speak to your GP, who may be able to refer you to another professional, such as a psychologist.

How to manage challenging behaviour

There are a few things you can do to help manage your child's challenging behaviour:

  • Work out common triggers - this could be in the environment, or with certain people.
  • Find ways to help the person express themselves.
  • Help the person to feel happy, and spend time doing the things they enjoy.
  • Develop simple coping strategies to reduce stress, such as controlled breathing or counting.
  • Stay alert and try to anticipate problems.
  • Create a strong support network of family, friends and professionals if necessary.

Advice and support

Contact our help and advice line for information about challenging behaviour.

You can find also information and support from the Challenging Behaviour Foundation.

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