Challenging & complex behaviours: the message behind behaviour
Understanding the cause behind a behaviour leads
to effective responses which can have a dramatic impact on future
All behaviour serves a purpose, and therefore communicates a
message. This simple statement can work wonders in situations that
may otherwise leave you feeling powerless, frustrated and
Challenging behaviours can be very tiring, frustrating and
draining for partners, carers and family members, but it can be
very empowering to respond positively, instead of just reacting
negatively. Looking for the underlying message is usually the first
step in providing Positive Behaviour Support.
Three main messages behind a behaviour
A complex or challenging behaviour usually communicates:
- an unmet need (e.g. emotional or physical discomfort)
- expression of mood, such as sadness, anger or frustration,
- response to stimulation whether it's too little (e.g. boredom)
or too much stimulation (e.g. a noisy crowd).
Helen often screams loudly when her family members are talking
with her. This was seen as either bad mood or attention-seeking
behaviour by her family until they looked closer - they realised
she usually screamed when someone completes sentences for her
because she talks slowly.
Unmet need: Helen wants to be able
to express herself and resents having control of her own
communication taken away.
Expression of mood: Screaming is
Helen's way of expressing her frustration at being interrupted.
While this message appears to be very obvious, it is
surprising how often we fail to see the message behind certain
behaviour. Helen needs time to gather her thoughts and express them
because of her brain injury, but family members thought they were
helping Helen by finishing sentences for her because it took so
long to finish a sentence.
a common message
Behaviour specialists report that the most common message behind
challenging behaviours is "I'm bored" - a brain injury can
result in unemployment, loss of friendships and difficulty making
new friendships. Some behaviours may simply be based on the
principle of "any attention is good attention".
This does pose problems for family members, as often the caring
role is so demanding that little time and energy may be left for
finding recreational activities for their loved one. The Brain
Injury Association in your State may have a list of community
activities available in your area.
Other common messages behind a
- There are too many demands being put on me at once
- This is an unfamiliar environment/activity and it's disturbing
- I've got sensory overload from too much
- I'm tired
- I haven't got the social skills to cope with this