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In the world of caring for young people, practitioners are often faced with behaviours that might be labeled as ‘complex,’ ‘challenging,’ or ‘risk-taking.’ However, these labels often fail to capture the true essence of what these behaviors are trying to communicate. In this blog, we’re going to delve deep into understanding behaviours from a lived experience lens, shedding light on the messages they convey and how practitioners can go beyond mere behaviour management.

Breaking Down Communication Barriers:

When we encounter behaviours that puzzle us, it’s essential to recognise that they are not isolated incidents but rather a form of communication. The language barrier between adults and children can hinder effective understanding, leading to misconceptions about intentions. By fostering a culture of empathy and active listening, practitioners can bridge this gap and decode the messages within these behaviours. The words ‘complex’ and ‘challenging’ take on new meaning when we begin to see them as invitations for understanding.

Non-Verbal Communication and Development:

Communication isn’t solely about spoken words. Young people often develop unique non-verbal methods to express their feelings, needs, and experiences. As practitioners, we must attune ourselves to these non-verbal cues – the silent pleas for help, the withdrawn postures, and the intense gazes or outbursts. Beneath the surface of behaviour lies conscious and unconscious messages waiting to be deciphered.

Shifting from Managing to Understanding Behaviour:

The shift from managing to understanding behaviours marks a transformative moment in a practitioner’s journey. While behaviour management seeks to control actions, understanding behaviour delves into the ‘why’ behind these actions. When we strive to understand, we acknowledge the context, triggers, and emotions that drive behaviours. This shift enables us to create more supportive and nurturing environments where young people feel heard and validated.

Building Empathy and Trust:

By embarking on the path of understanding behaviours, practitioners pave the way for a deeper connection with the young people they serve. This newfound empathy cultivates trust, which is essential for meaningful relationships. As practitioners gain insight into the messages behind behaviours, they can respond in ways that nurture confidence, reduce anxiety, and promote a sense of calm among young people.

Developing Survival Behaviours:

Children are remarkably resilient, adapting to challenging circumstances by developing what can be termed as “survival” behaviours. These behaviours are not born out of a desire to disrupt, but rather as coping mechanisms to navigate adversity. Recognising this underlying drive helps practitioners approach behaviours with compassion, aiming to provide the support and guidance necessary for healthier coping strategies.

De-escalation and Effective Response:

In moments of heightened tension, de-escalation techniques become invaluable tools for practitioners. By staying attuned to the messages within behaviours, professionals can respond effectively and with sensitivity. De-escalation involves creating a safe space, validating emotions, and offering appropriate alternatives. This approach not only diffuses immediate challenges but contributes to long-term growth and development.


In a world that often seeks quick fixes and surface-level solutions, understanding the messages behind challenging behaviours is a profound and transformative approach. By breaking down communication barriers, decoding non-verbal cues, shifting from management to understanding, and fostering empathy, practitioners empower themselves to create impactful change in the lives of young people. This journey isn’t without its challenges, but the rewards are immeasurable – confident, resilient, and empowered individuals who have been heard, understood, and supported every step of the way. So let’s embark on this journey of understanding, one behaviour at a time.

Learn more about the messages in children’s behaviour and gain effective tools for effective responses and support with out popular online seminar: Click HERE

Care Leavers Middlesbrough Children Matter Youth Voice Bucks The House Project Buckingham Council Department For Education Leeds City Council
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