What is Challenging/problem behavior?

Challenging behaviors are those behaviors that cause a problem for a child and those around him/her.

All children display difficult behaviors at times but the frequency and intensity at which some children react, causes significant problems for themselves and those around them.

  • Can you count or time the behavior, or measure how long it takes before it occurs?
  • Did you use observable and measurable terms in defining the behavior?
  • Will a stranger know exactly what behavior to look for after reading your definition?
  • Can you explain what the behavior is not (i.e., give non-examples of the behavior)?
  • Can you break the behavior into smaller specific, and more observable units?

Identifying the Primary Causes of Challenging Behavior in Children with Special Needs.

For parents to identify the primary causes of challenging behaviors in children with special needs, they need to look beyond the behavior and focus on identifying the social, emotional, environmental, and biological factors that begins, strengthens or end the behavior. This helps parents to see beyond the symptoms (i.e the behavior) and understand the primary motive behind the behavior (which could be either to have access to something or escape/avoid a task) (i.e cause of the behavior).

The function of the behavior is not always considered inappropriate rather it is the behavior itself that is seen as appropriate or inappropriate.

Given the above, examine your child’s challenging behaviors from many different angles using the underlisted questions.


  • Are there settings where the behavior does not occur?
  • Does the child have the skills necessary to perform the expected behaviors?
  • Does the child realize that he/she is engaging in an unacceptable behavior or has that behavior simply become a “habit”?
  • Does the child need support to control the behavior?
  • Does the behavior occur only in certain social or environmental conditions?
  • Is the child attempting to avoid a demanding task or getting access to something?
  • Is there a more acceptable behavior that might replace this behavior?
  • What activities or interactions take place just before the behavior?
  • What actions follows the behavior?