A key aspect of SecuriCares Preventing & Managing Challenging Behaviour programme is an examination of the terminology used to describe behaviour, and exactly what it means. So just how important are words?

It was George Orwell, in his novel 1984, who said “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought...” In this single elegant sentence he seemed to pinpoint the link between what an individual ‘says’ and what others subsequently ‘think’. The power of this assertion lies in the fact that we are already only too aware of the fact that ‘thoughts’ themselves can catastrophically corrupt ‘behaviour’. Winterbourne View was sadly proof positive of this brutal and unforgiving phenomenon. Therefore words and language need to be considered carefully.

When a newly recruited support worker bears witness to a supported person who is screaming or shouting, who is destroying property or lashing out, what do they see? It might be that it is characterised by others in the team as a piece of aggressive or violent behaviour. That wouldn’t be unfair or unjust, but what can’t be escaped is that such a choice of words is freighted with meaning. It frames the behaviour as something hostile, wrong or even unlawful and potentially something that needs to be punished. To compound the situation, in health and safety parlance ‘violence’ is something hazardous, something to be controlled or eliminated. Both interpretations seem inadvertently to justify a firm response. What staff behaviour could this provoke or validate?

Perhaps a different turn of phrase will elicit a different response. How about: ‘behaviour that challenges’. In this context the behaviour can be seen as something that tests the provision, or perhaps as something that is seen by some as being contrary to expected norms - somehow socially unacceptable, deviant or wrong and by extension something to be corrected. In a recent  Independent newspaper article, Erin Grufydd, a 17 year old who experienced a terror of speaking, talks about how her behaviour (selective Mutism) was misconstrued by staff as ‘challenging,’ and more specifically the impact that this determination had on the behaviour of staff towards her.

Erin explains, “My teacher misinterpreted this anxiety as stubbornness, and I was consistently punished for 'challenging behaviour'. On one occasion the teacher told my mum ‘I've never seen anyone like her in 20 years as a teacher, but I'll break her by the end of the year.’ Little did she know that the more I was pushed, the more I panicked, and it became harder and harder for me to speak.” She continues, “(Teachers) would take me into a tiny storeroom to try to make me speak, and would take food out of my lunchbox to make me ask for it back, but I never could. They made me feel like it was my fault, which made me feel awful…”

It may then be more accurate to describe the aforementioned displays (shouting, screaming, property damage and self-injury etc) as ‘behavioural distress’ or ‘behaviour indicating distress’. This terminology then positions the behaviour, irrespective of its form, as something to be understood and analysed until, its underlying root cause and message is more fully understood. Only then can the support being provided be reconfigured in a way that addresses the unmet needs of the individual.  This is the type of staff behaviour that services desire.

SecuriCare offer a range of courses designed to enable support workers, carers and foster families to best respond to any ‘Behaviour’ that may occur. The starting point is a discussion about exactly what it is that staff are trying to understand, before going on to explore positive and proactive support strategies, as well as the ongoing need for monitoring, assessment and adaptation to changing circumstances. All programmes are finalised after a full training needs analysis, and delivered by experienced social care 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.

Contact us for more information and to discuss your needs: E: trainers@securicare.com or T: 01904 492442