Positive Behaviour Management

Behaviour is seen as a way of communicating ones likes/ dislikes/ fears etc.  Sometimes behaviours can occur if a person has some undetected medical issue that they are unable to identify. During the Home Sharing introduction process an outline of the person should be given to the hosts. In the case of children, parents will inform the Hosts the strategies they use at home to manage certain behaviours as well as identifying what techniques they are happy for the host family to use. Some children and adults may have a Behaviour Support plan which is drawn up by a Positive Behaviour Therapist, based on the information gathered from all the people who are involved with that person (family /school / day service etc). In this instance the plan should be discussed with the Host Family.

What is Behaviour?

Behaviour is:

  • Actions
  • Verbal
  • Non Verbal
  • Everything observable
  • Are we behaving now?
  • What information do we use to form an opinion of someone

Actions are things we do – be mindful of your body, posture, Space, Voice

  • Verbal – things we say
    • Things we think
    • Raising voices, communication,
    • If you feel like shouting what should you do instead,
    • Show respect for others
  • Non Verbal:
    • Photographs will help someone who is non-verbal to understand what is going on or where you are going
    • If someone is non verbal watch their facial expression, eyes,

What causes Behaviour? / Why do we behave?

  • Tiredness, anxiety, distress, fear, pain, hunger, medication
  • Movement, sensory issues, worry, not getting own way, out of comfort zone
  • New environment (remember the 1st thing most do on holidays is to check out the hotel room. Bathroom etc and see where everything is and become familiar with the environment)
  • It has a direct response to either environmental or internal signs.
  • Environment includes people-staff behaviour is important
  • Because it services a function
  • It has consequences
  • It makes us comfortable

Be aware that your tolerance for behaviours will change throughout the day, give example of problems occurring early in the day, how they make you late etc and how they effects how you react to other behaviours.

Everyone exhibits some behaviour that others find difficult to deal with and that conflict due to behaviour problems could actually be your behaviour problems causing it.

Why do we stop behaving / What helps? 

  • Quite environment, less stimulation
  • Seen the cause of the behaviour and have tried to address it
  • Need to treat every behaviour as different and address each behaviour.
  • The behaviour does not have the same function anymore

1: the behaviour no longer has any positive consequences

2: It no longer makes us comfortable

3:The environment has changed i.e., nothing to respond to

  • Don’t get attention any more
  • Something bad happens – negative consequences
  • Environment has changed – different approaches/ facial expressions
  • Why would we stop going to work – Lotto, Social /Home

How do we learn

  • By imitation
  • By consequences
  • By association
  • Each person has a different learning history
  • People with Intellectual Disabilities have difficulty regarding learning
  • Consequences – trial and error
  • Association Green man on traffic light – ok to cross road

How do we teach

  • By modelling
  • Using positive reinforcement
  • Breaking down tasks to small ones
  • Reinforce approximations
  • By association-Linking of activities, Environment, Audio- visual aids, Generate Conversation-Pay attention to the environment – age appropriate
  • How was the sentence taught
  • Non pressured atmosphere

Coping with Difficult Behaviour

  • Example of Ice berg and how what we see is only about 1/5 of the ice berg, the same with behaviour you see it is only a glimpse of what is going on for the person.
  • Try to understand why the person is behaving in this way
  • Instead of disciplining bad behaviour – Always encourage good behaviour
  • Set goals that are achievable
  • Clear & consistent approaches all members of family must know what the approach is
  • If a small child is doing something that will harm them lift them up and remove them be careful as the child could see this reaction as positive
  • Arguments can become a habit- Try not to escalate, move away and stay calm
  • Choose a calmer time to tell the person what will happen if they behave in a certain way
  • If you have offered a consequences follow it through

Behaviour – Low Arousal Approaches 

Don’t pour fuel on the fire 

Any individual who is threatening or aggressive can be extremely frightening. Often the responses we give tend to increase that individual’s behaviour until something extreme happens.

A commonplace observation is that it is difficult to reason with an individual who does not wish to be reasoned with.

When a person is upset or angry, what you do or say or what you don’t do or don’t say could have an effect on the situation you are trying to manage.

Remind them of friends who react to you being agitated by calming you down.

We recommend the following interpersonal rules to promote a positive engagement approach to managing any incident:

Appear calm

We know that trying to stay calm in a tense situation can be difficult. But if we can try to appear calm to the individual in these times, this may lead to them feeling less confrontational. To achieve this, we need to think of our body language: Avoid tensing muscles, such as folding arms or clenching fists. Have a stance and body language that is hands out front (give example of swan, calm on the surface but paddling underneath)

Breathe slowly and regularly.

Trying to appear calm on the outside when you are scared on the inside, takes practice. Over time the more you practice, the more confident you will become. 

Personal space 

Try to maintain a safe distant between you and the individual concerned. The minimum acceptable distance is approximately three feet.

At this distance, you can communicate with the individual without “invading” their space.

If you have to, back away to achieve this, do so in an unhurried manner.

Moving towards an individual can also be seen as threatening.

  • e.g. of 2 people to face one another, to look in each others eyes, To put their hands on each others shoulders, to rock each other side to side and shout “NO”.

Eye contact

Sustained eye contact (staring) is an almost universal sign for aggression in the animal kingdom. Avoid staring at an individual, but do try and maintain regular intermittent eye contact and watch how they react.

If you find this difficult, look somewhere else on the face, for example the forehead.

  • Go around the room and show how long people can maintain eye contact and how it can be uncomfortable.
  • Advise that people with Intellectual Disabilities may not know the social norms about personal space.
  • Advise that maintain eye contact with someone can cause their behaviour to become aroused so need to be careful.


Touch is generally perceived by people as either a sign of warmth and friendliness or as a signal of dominance.

Even if you know the individual well always avoid touching them, at least initially. When they appear to be calming down, it may well be appropriate to touch them, but be aware that they may not interpret this contact in the manner which you intended it. 


When an individual is upset, the noise’s that surrounds them can make a situation worse. So think of the environment, turn the radio or television down or off. 


Listen to what the individual is saying as they are often trying to tell you something. It may well be something very simple that is upsetting them and can be sorted out just by talking about it.

It is often a good idea to try sitting the person down to talk to them. But remember your body language and personal space so do not sit too close to them and do not stand over them. Sit or kneel at a safe distance.


How we communicate with people is very important at anytime, more so when a person is upset.

Be aware of your tone of voice. Speak slowly, calmly and softly.

Keep you sentences short and simple. Using overlong sentences or explanations can make a person more confused.

Again, be aware of your body language, avoid arms folded and appearing distracted. Ensure you show the individual that they have your complete attention. 


Opportunities to distract the individual often present themselves, think of ways to do this and bring down their arousal level. Try to change the subject (avoid being obvious about this) and talk about things and subjects that the person likes

Be aware that if you promise the individual something you are morally obliged to provide it. So for example, do not promise to take them somewhere later, if it is not possible to do so.

Remove other people

To avoid an escalating situation, consider removing other people from the area. It is a lot easier to remove these people, than try to remove the individual who is upset. Also removing these people may prevent any negative feelings and behaviours occurring with them. 


Talking about the incident is very important, as it can be a very emotional experience for everyone. Remember to talk to everyone who was involved or even witnessed the incident. This means staff, family, carers, other residents and importantly the individual who was initially upset. Talking about the incident afterwards can also help in understanding how and why the incident occurred and may provide information to manage similar incidents more appropriately in the future. Remember, de-briefing is confidential and the listener should be non-judgemental. Debriefing is not a post-mortem it’s more about how you feel after an incident. If you were involved in the incident, it is your time to talk. Take as long as you need.

Record the incident

Try to do this as soon as possible after de-briefing. This will help you recall the incident more accurately and provide you with invaluable information on how to minimise or manage future incidents with this individual and allows others to learn from your experience. Aim to minimise behaviour, very difficult if not impossible to eliminate.

Remind people that everyone has repetitive behaviour/movements. People with Intellectual disabilities just have more behaviours.

We all have behaviours that other find difficult to accept!