Challenging behaviour is any behaviour that interferes with a child’s development or learning; is harmful to the child, other children or adults; or puts a child at risk for later social problems or difficulties in school. Another way to put it, challenging behaviour is a term used to describe behaviour that interferes with a child’s daily life.

Behaviour refers to how a child conducts themselves. It’s their actions, and reactions to their environment or situations.

There are certain ‘building blocks’ to behaviour, and many apply directly to the work of Speech-Language Pathologists:

  • Receptive language: understanding of spoken language

  • Expressive language: ability to express oneself (and consequently be understood by others)

  • Social skills: the ability to appropriately engage in interaction with others, the ability to recognize and follow social norms

  • Emotional development & regulation: ability to perceive emotion, integrate emotion to facilitate thought, understand emotions and to regulate emotions

  • Self regulation: ability to maintain and change emotion, behaviour, attention, and activity levels to make it appropriate to the task or situation

  • Planning & sequencing: the sequential multi-step task to achieve an outcome

  • Executive functioning: higher order reasoning and thinking skills

  • Sensory processing: accurate processing of sensory stimulation in the environment and in one’s own body, which impacts behavioural reactions

One way that we can help is to teach functional equivalents. A functional equivalent is a desirable or acceptable behaviour that achieves the same outcome as a ‘less desirable problem behaviour’.

What can SLPs do? You first have to determine the function of the behaviour that you observe - is it to obtain something tangible (e.g. screaming to get the toy), or avoid something altogether (hiding under the table to avoid working on spelling)?

A child may talk back to the SLP and refuse to work on spelling, in order to avoid the task because he/she feels that it is too difficult.

A replacement behaviour is to reduce the ‘burden’ of the task and to give the child the words to use that are appropriate. For instance, one way to reduce the burden is for the child to ask for help or clarification. Children with speech or language difficulties may require help in doing this.

The SLP can decrease the difficulty slightly and praise the child for asking for clarification or help. It’s OK to remind the child to do this and to provide that model.

Keep in mind that every child is unique and that this is simply one example. The same behaviour (e.g. talking back) may serve a different function such as getting attention, or getting to do a more desirable activity (e.g. go outside).

Let me know if you have any questions. Join my e-mail list and message me directly. My next blog will be on the functions of behaviour (Sensory, Escape, Attention, Tangible).