What do you do about challenging behaviours? …

3 March, 2022

At the moment, MyST is a growing service and so we’ve been holding job interviews recently. We value the involvement of young people in our recruitment processes, and over the years, their participation has taken different forms. This time, with winter Covid restrictions limiting the number and size of our interview panels, we asked young people if they would give us a question that they would like us to ask the candidates.  Young people have the experience to be able to cut straight to the point and as such they generated some brilliant questions and key areas that we should hold in mind when selecting new team members.

One of the questions from a young person was brilliantly simple and to the point – ‘What three things would you do to manage my challenging behaviours?’ An apparently simple question and yet look again and there’s so much in it. An implication – you will be challenged in this job, and that challenge will occur in the relationship between you and the young people you’re here to help. An invitation – be transparent with young people, and for all that you know, what does this boil down to in terms of what you are actually going to do? And a limit – give just three things, what really matters in your practice, what defines it when push comes to shove?

During an afternoon of interviews, candidates were faced with this question, and I was struck by two of the four candidates giving the same answer to the panel. The two candidates, each in their own separate turn, delivered their same responses to us: ‘First, I’d attend to the safety of everyone involved. I’d try to make the environment safe for the young person and for everyone else concerned.’ Yes, agreed, I thought, we have to have enough safety as a foundation upon which everything else can be built.

‘Second, I’d try to get alongside the young person in their experience and try to help them to regulate their emotions, help them to calm down and feel safe enough so that I could ask them a bit about what was going on for them, what they were expressing and what they needed from other people.’ Yes, I thought, understanding that behaviours are an expression of our inner worlds of thoughts, feelings and sensations, understanding that none of us can reflect well whilst we are surviving a peak of being emotionally overwhelmed, and understanding that the sensitively placed presence of a calm and caring other person alongside us helps us to re-establish our foundation of safety.

‘And then third…’, the candidates thought carefully, ‘Well third I think the most important thing would be to repair any harm done to relationships through the whole encounter. I would want to give young people an experience that harms are sometimes done in relationships and yet relationships can survive this, be repaired, perhaps even be stronger through the process of showing our genuine selves and sticking with one another through the ups and downs. I think that’s probably the most important thing to do about challenging behaviours.’ Yes, I smiled inwardly, the thing that really makes the difference in the end is having relationships which we know won’t crumble when we struggle, that are a strong enough container to hold us and our difficulties as we work out what is wrong and what we need to put it right.  It is secure and abiding attachment relationships within which we discover our capacity to develop and to overcome our problems.

In our work at MyST with young people who have experienced grievous insecurity and loss of significant relationships, this focus on attachment security is right at the heart of our approach to ‘challenging behaviours’. We work to strengthen family bonds, to build secure attachments with foster carers, to maintain young people in their schools, peer groups and communities, and we offer them long term caring relationships with us too. Time and again, young people affirm that their challenging behaviours begin to dissolve in this relational solution. Needless to say, the two thoughtful candidates were hired to help keep the wheel of this work turning.

Jen & Jael



A Gwent Partnership Board Service