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:
- Pressure and expectations (both real or perceived) or demands (especially being asked to do something they don’t want or feel able to do)
- Hormone fluctuations and developmental changes (going from a baby to infant to child to teenager)
- Pain or feeling unwell (physically or emotionally)
- Unpredictability, uncertainty or change
- Strong emotional states (especially fear, anger or sadness)
- Interactions with others (such as friends, family, teachers or even strangers)
- Significant life events (such as bereavement/ loss, bullying, illness/ accident/ injury, trauma)
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.
CAMHS Behaviour of Concern Referral Guidance
What we do, what we don’t do and what you can do if you are worried about your child
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:
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