Behaviour management alone fails with children who have complex emotional needs


An article, written by Principal Clinical Psychologist Colby Pearce, which originally appeared on Colby’s blog site Attachment and Resilience.

One of the challenges when working with children who have complex emotional needs is ensuring that adults who have a caring concern for them address their care and management requirements with understanding and sensitivity.

Too often, the primary focus of adult caregivers in various settings is behavioural control and an over-reliance on reward and punishment paradigms. The rationale for such management of the child is the promotion of socially-acceptable behaviour through experiential learning of what does and does not get you what you want and need.

This approach overlooks the fact that behaviour is a form of communication. For children who have complex emotional needs, behaviour is often a primary form of communication.

Over-reliance on reward and punishment paradigms results in the child having the experience that they are not being heard and that nobody cares about them. This increases the likelihood of maladaptive behaviours, low self-esteem and unhelpful attitudes towards others.

Over-reliance on reward and punishment paradigms also neglects the central role of relationships in influencing personal development and behaviour.

At Secure Start, we assist adults with a caring concern for children in various settings understand what a child with complex emotional needs is trying to communicate through their behaviour and offer strategies for addressing the child’s underlying needs and intentions in a sensitive, understanding and proactive way. Where this occurs, children with complex emotional needs develop a basic trust that their needs and intentions are understood and important, and they increasingly use their words, as opposed to their actions, to communicate them.

AAA Model of Therapeutic Care