What are challenging behaviours?
On a general level all children will present with ‘challenging’ behaviours during different stages of their development and life. Challenging behaviours can be explained as those that can affects the child’s development, learning and relations with others. These behaviours may also be detrimental to the child’s wellbeing, especially as they get older.
Challenging behaviours can be caused by:
- Biological risk factors;
- Environmental risk factors;
- Stressful life events for the child.
It is important to understand and differentiate challenging behaviours from age appropriate behaviours.Therefore, children who are in the out of home care system may display more challenging behaviours. This can make the task of caring for the child difficult at times; especially when considering many of the experiences they have had and the reasons as to why they may now be in your care.
Why are challenging behaviours important?
As the carer of a child who has been removed from their family/relatives, it is important for you to understand that there are many emotions the child is feeling. There will be stages where the child will behave in ways that are both new and/or confronting for you.
Some practical ways to PREVENT challenging behaviours include:
- Make the child feel as comfortable and welcome as possible-give them lots of love, support and encouragement.
- Be open to what the child has to say.
- Give them plenty of positive feedback/comments.
- Discuss their Aboriginal identity-encourage them to participate in cultural activities, both at home and within community.
- Be present and available; let them know you are always there to talk with them.
- Encourage them to participate in sports or physical activities.
- Teach them respect-within a cultural sphere.
- Keep them safe.
- If you find the child’s behaviour to be hard to handle or cope with, try your best to remain calm and relaxed. Do not get angry or shout, you are better off walking away at this stage.
- Note and emphasise that challenging behaviours aren’t always the fault of carers.
Some ways of working with challenging behaviour.
- Acknowledge the behaviour-don’t ignore it.
- Discuss ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviour with the child. Let them know what you expect of them.
- Let the child know how their actions or behaviour makes you and others feel, in terms of feelings. Talk about apologising or ways of making things better.
- Although they are not behaving appropriately, always let the child know that they are loved and cared for.
- Make sure that you encourage them to talk about everything and anything, regardless of what it is.
- Try your hardest not to judge and do not let your assumptions get in the way of talking with the child and trying to understand them.
- If the child is young, some methods, which you could use to deal with their inappropriate behaviour, is to use a ‘time out’ system instead of getting angry or annoyed with them. A good way of
- rewarding them is to implement a ‘star’ chart for their good behaviour.
- Avoid letting children watch violence on TV, videos or games.2
- Encourage time-in activities, be aware of the words you use, don’t focus on the negative but instead the positive/strengths
If the child’s behaviour becomes too much to handle or they are violent and hurt others, make sure you speak to your caseworker and seek support from an Aboriginal specific service.
Links to further readings and resources
1 R, McMillan, Helping Parents Deal with Challenging Behaviours.
Canadian Child Care Federation, accessed on the 8th April 2013,
2 NSW Department of Family and Community Services, Raising them Strong: Support for
Aboriginal Kinship and Foster Carers in NSW, Canadian Child Care Federation, (2011)