What is challenging behaviour?

Community workers, by the nature of their work and client group, regularly find themselves in a position of responding to and monitoring client behaviour. One term that is often used in the human service field to describe client behaviour is ‘challenging’. So what do we mean by ‘challenging behaviour’ in the community services context?

Definition: According to the Centre for Developmental Disability Health Victoria (CDDHV) challenging behaviour can be defined as ‘Behaviour of such intensity, frequency or duration that the physical safety of the person or others is placed in serious jeopardy or behaviour which is likely to seriously limit or deny access to the use of ordinary community facilities’. (CDDHV 2005)

‘Challenging behaviour’ describes negative behaviour that is often complex, erratic, unpredictable, and difficult to work with and/or control. Some types of behaviours that are considered to be challenging for workers, and/or problematic for a client’s functioning include:

  • Self-harming
  • Aggression and violence
  • Harming others
  • Passive aggression
  • Suicidal behaviour
  • Prolonged depression
  • Hyperactivity
  • Withdrawal
  • Learned helplessness
  • Forceful refusal to co-operate
  • Severe lack of motivation/ procrastination
  • Harassment (e.g. sexual advances, bullying, racism, stalking).

Challenging behaviour can also mean negative behaviour that is consistent with particular life issues or conditions, such as:

  • Mental health (e.g. irrational behaviour, confusion, disorientation)
  • Alcohol and other drug abuse
  • Developmental stage (e.g. youth risk-taking experimentation, three-year-old tantrums, aged person’s dementia).

Other challenging behaviours that can cause problems for human service workers include behaviour that:

  • causes offence or distress
  • is life threatening
  • limits the person’s life opportunities (e.g. committing offences, sabotaging case plan goals)
  • does not comply with organisational procedure or policy
  • threatens the emotional wellbeing of others.

Reading 1

Read the articles listed below on various negative behaviours in human beings including:

Note: These readings will help you prepare for Assessment 1.

Activity 1.1

Reflection: Write a brief account of your current experience as a community worker by considering the following:

  • What services does your agency offer?
  • What are some of the issues that people present to your agency with?
  • What challenging client behaviours have you or your co-workers had to deal with at your agency?
  • Describe one of these situations in terms of the problem and what was done or could have been done to manage it.

Further reading

Challenging behaviour fact sheet, Centre for Developmental Disability Health Victoria

Indicators of aggressive behaviourReport to the Minister of Health and Family Services and the Minister for Family Services from an Expert Working Group, Canberra, August 1996

Last modified: Thursday, 15 September 2016, 4:18 PM