How should a support worker respond to challenging behaviour? How should they react when faced with an individual who may be shrieking, crying, screaming or shouting, who may be throwing objects, damaging property, pulling hair, lashing out, self-injuring, spitting, kicking, scratching or biting? One thing is for sure; without training there is no guarantee that they will do the right thing.

Preventing & Managing Challenging Behaviour


The mark of a highly competent organisation is the fact that they will be assessing and planning continually in order that they might provide truly person-centred positive and proactive care. A by-product of such carefully and considered support planning will be a reduction in episodes of challenging behaviour. What must be recognised however is that even with the best preventative planning in place staff will need to respond to those instances where some form of physically challenging behaviour does indeed break through.

The first thing to recognise is that the way in which someone responds to a situation is governed in large part by the sense they make of it. Ordinarily such behaviour, the likes of which we have already described, may be construed as hostile, aggressive or anti-social by the lay person (or new staff member). When occurring outside of the care setting, and when presented by someone other than a supported individual, such behaviour may be deemed unacceptable or wrong and often met with some form corrective or even punitive action. This is the very real danger that we must guard against.

Staff need to understand that challenging behaviour is NOT aggression or violence. In actuality it is what happens when someone who can’t communicate effectively is desperate to try to communicate some form of unmet need. They are trying to bring about change and can’t see any other way of doing so. Staff should need to ensure that they remain conscious of this fact and ensure that the individuals actions are not perceived as hostile and not taken personally.

It goes without saying that staff should always aim to respond with safety in mind. It is worth pointing out here however that this doesn’t mean some form of physical restraint is the answer. Staff should only ever resort to physical intervention if safety is actually jeopardised. In these instances approved approaches should be used with the minimum amount of force for the minimum amount of time. Otherwise staff should be looking to calm and de-escalate.

The main focus should be on attending to the individual in question and providing reassurance through the prism of empathy. To do this staff should choose a method of communication that is known to be effective.

Staff need to be patient and willing to try, try and try again. This may involve adapting to the situation and circumstances. Perhaps a less formal approach may be in order; the use of humour, or other distractionary/diversionary tactics. 

Many with intellectual disabilities can experience difficulty empathising with others, which can lead to very difficult situations when negative behaviour is directed towards others. In this circumstance it important not to punish them for their behaviour, but to openly explore the concepts of ‘others’ and their ‘feelings’.

It’s also useful to try and continue learning after the event. Are there perhaps coping skills that can be taught? Are there other communication strategies that could be employed? This learning extends to the performance of individual staff members; is there anything that I did that worked well? Is there anything that didn’t? Is there anything I could do differently next time?

SecuriCare offer a range of courses designed to enable support workers, carers and foster families to best respond to any ‘Challenging Behaviour’ that may occur. All programmes are finalised after full training needs analysis and delivered by experienced frontline practitioners. Click to see our ‘Preventing & Managing Challenging Behaviour’ Course which includes ‘Positive Behaviour Management’ techniques designed to minimise the need for any kind of restrictive intervention. You can also take a look at our person centred Behaviour Planning Service.

SecuriCare have also developed a suite of ‘Care Certificate’ courses for induction purposes. Put together by a development team comprising PhD and Masters’ Graduate Nurses with a combined 50 years of practice in Health and Social Care, these courses provide a powerful, engaging and cost effective training solution.

Our suite of Care Certificate courses allow you to select a range that best meet your local needs. Each individual course content is fully mapped across to meet the underpinning knowledge requirements for the QCF Diplomas in Health and Social Care at Levels 2 and 3. Completion of all of the courses allows the candidate to meet the knowledge specifications of all of the mandatory units of these QCF Diplomas. Click to see our ‘Care Certificate’ Courses

Contact us for more information and to discuss your needs: E: or T: 01904 492442