Coping with challenging behaviour

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 because they can't express what they want or feel at the time.

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.

What might be causing difficult behaviour

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

Try to 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.

Get help with your child's behaviour

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. 

Care and support 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 about assessments for carers.

The charity Scope's online forums (formerly run by Netbuddy) includes expert advice on challenging behaviour.

Media last reviewed: 11/06/2014

Next review due: 11/06/2016

Page last reviewed: 31/05/2013

Next review due: 31/05/2015


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