Paediatric Psychology Team Toolkit - Challenging Behaviour

The aim of our toolkit is to provide advice, activities and general resources to help families to manage some every day challenges and difficulties.  As a parent, you are the best person in your child's life to support these difficulties, however, working with all key people in your child's life to ensure consistency is paramount and essential for success.


The term 'Challenging Behaviour' usually refers to those behaviours which are likely to cause significant harm, result in someone being excluded from everyday activities or affects their ability to learn and develop.  This can include, refusing food, staying awake at night or removing clothes in public, but of course what seems challenging to one person may seem perfectly reasonable to someone else.  Others may feel challenging behaviour refers to those behaviours which are likely to cause significant harm to people or themselves, for example, aggression, self injury, destruction to property, temper tantrums, defiance, restricted and repetitive behaviours or wandering off unsupervised.

What causes Challenging Behaviour?

  • struggle to understand what is happening around them or struggle to communicate their needs 
  • feel they have no control over what happens to them or the chance to make choices about what they want to do
  • be in pain or discomfort as a result of physical problems such as ear ache
  • have sensory processing differences, which can cause an aversion to noise or bright lighting or difficulties knowing where their bodies are in space
  • be reacting to change or unfamiliar situations or events
  • not be comfortable in social situations, such as having to meet new people or look people in the eye
  • be asked to do more than they can cope with or manage, such as a task that is too difficult, too long, or not motivating
  • want something they can’t have, such as a toy
  • being tired, unwell, fed up or just having an ‘off day’.

Challenging behaviour can be confusing and difficult to understand, however, it can be an attempt to communicate, or a way of coping with a particular situation.  To change your child's behaviour you need to understanding what is causing it and what your child is getting out of it.  You can work on your child's difficult or challenging behaviour by either changing the trigger or reward your child gets from the behaviour.

It is important to focus on one behaviour at a time, so not to overwhelm yourself or your child.  Below are some idea's and strategies and additional links to help you to support your child's behaviour at home. 

Useful Downloads:

ABC Chart

Managing my Child's Behaviour

Supporting visits and social gatherings

Positive Language

Using Time-In and Time-Out

Traffic Light Cards


Useful Websites:

National Autistic Society - Behaviour

NAS - Top Tips for Behaviour

NAS - Challenging Behaviour

NAS - Visual Support

NAS - Meltdowns

Scottish Autism - Getting a hair cut

Scottish Autism - Visiting the Dentist

Scottish Autism - Going on Holiday

Scottish Autism - Preparing for Christmas

Encouraging Positive Behaviour:



The page was last updated on 23 June 2020 by paediatricpsychologicalservices.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust
Elizabeth House, Fulbourn Hospital
Cambridge, CB21 5EF

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