Challenging Behaviors: Considering the What and Why

Throughout children’s lives, there may be periods of time where their behaviors seem to be challenging and difficult to manage. When looking at these behaviors, it is important to consider what purpose the behavior is serving and why the behavior is happening. While is it typical for young children to have tantrums and use occasional aggression, it becomes challenging when these behaviors are continued repeated patterns that:

  • Interfere with a child’s learning, development, and success
  • Interfere with a child’s ability to engage in positive interactions with peers and adults
  • Is harmful to the child, peers, or adults
  • Is overall challenging to manage

Examples of common challenging behaviors that are reported in young children include aggression (biting, hitting, pushing). In looking at these behaviors, it is important for caregivers to first look at the purposes of these behaviors. Is the child engaging in these behaviors to get a reaction (behavioral response) or are they trying to seek input to their bodies (sensory response)? Below are examples of the behaviors seen through both behavioral and sensory lenses:

After caregivers figure out the purposes of the behaviors, it is important to match the consequences accordingly. For example, if the concerns have a behavior response, the consequence should be behavior based. If the concerns have a sensory response, the consequence should be sensory based. Below are examples of consequences from each perspective.

It is important for the child’s caregivers (e.g. parents, teachers, nanny, etc.) to be on the same page when it comes to giving consequences. When children receive constant responses from all caregivers, the higher the changes are of the challenging behaviors decreasing.

Brittany Hill, MS, MSW, LCSW, DT
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Developmental Therapist

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