Understanding Causes of Challenging Behavior

Wednesday May 12, 2021 at 11:35 AM


Understanding Causes of Challenging Behavior

In today’s blog, we want to provide some insight as to why children might engage in challenging behaviors. We’ll provide some examples of these challenging behaviors, why they might be occurring, and then outline some strategies to help minimize these behaviors from occurring in the future.

Some examples of challenging behaviors include screaming, crying, aggression towards others, and self-injurious behavior. These behaviors might occur when a child has difficulty communicating their wants and needs, so they find other ways to effectively make those needs known. There are 3 main things a child might be communicating to you when they engage in challenging behaviors.

  1. They might be looking to get the attention of an adult or another child.
  2. They might be attempting to communicate that they do not want to do something.
  3. They might be attempting to get access to something that may or may not be available to them.

The first reason a child may engage in challenging behavior is to gain attention from someone else. It is important that when we think about attention, we recognize that it can come in many forms. Attention can come in the form of praise, high-fives, and hugs, but it can also include reprimands and threats. For example, a child that gets a hug every time they cry may engage in crying more often in order to receive that physical attention if they don’t know how to ask for it. Other times, a child may engage in challenging behaviors to get yelled at or other reprimands because they find it funny.

Another reason why children might engage in challenging behavior would be when presented with a task or activity that they don’t want to do. By engaging in these behaviors, many kids can successfully avoid completing the task. Examples of some activities that might cause children to engage in challenging behaviors include: structured activities at school like reading, writing, and completing worksheets; household chores like cleaning up toys, eating unfavorable foods, and completing hygiene routines. Oftentimes, tasks that are more difficult or take more time to complete lead to challenging behaviors, especially if the child isn’t sure how to ask for help, or has been unsuccessful getting help in the past.

The last reason a child may engage in challenging behavior is to gain access to something. This could happen because they may not know how to effectively ask, they may have already been told ‘no’ or ‘wait’, or they may know that the item is unavailable to them. Often, young children lack the necessary communication skills to appropriately ask for something, to ask to have something back, or to ask for an alternative, resulting in them engaging in these challenging behaviors. As a parent, it can be overwhelming when your child begins screaming and crying, especially if you are in public. Understandably, in those situations a parent might decide that the fight isn’t worth it and allow the child to have what they want in order to stop those behaviors. That is why challenging behaviors can be so effective for children to gain access to things they want.

To recap, the three main reasons why a child might engage in challenging behaviors are to gain the attention of another person, to escape or avoid a task that has been presented to them, or to gain access to something that they want that might not be available. It’s also important to note that challenging behavior can also occur for a combination of these reasons. Once we understand why these behaviors are occurring, we can start addressing them by making accommodations to their environment to help increase communication skills and lower the likelihood of these behaviors from occurring in the future.

Thanks for reading! Be sure to follow us on social media, and stay on the lookout for our next blog, where we’ll discuss strategies to help minimize these challenging behaviors.

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