Behaviour: the way in which an animal or person acts in response to a particular situation or stimulus.
We are being encouraged by the Government to “take behaviour seriously”; I couldn’t agree more. As social beings, behaviour is a crucial part of communication and to take it seriously will mean taking the time to understand more about it.
Thankfully there is a wealth of academic and scientific research to help us and this is being explained and communicated beautifully by more and more people. (e.g. Harvard Centre on the Developing Child, The Brain Story, Prof Eamon McCrory at UCL and others). We can understand now how feelings drive behaviours and that for successful life outcomes for our young people, the first thing we need to address when presented with challenging behaviour are the feelings. Purely behavioural strategies might help in the moment for some challenging behaviours, however for longer-term thriving, we need to address the emotional drivers and needs too.
The training for staff in schools therefore needs to include the latest findings in child development coupled with practice in providing the responsive adult presence which is required for all children and young people to learn and to thrive. This includes practising strategies involving empathy, curiosity, reflection, self-awareness, appropriate expectations, kind & clear boundaries, and crucially - support with co-regulation.
For executive function skills to develop well, children & young people need to be surrounded by adults who are able to understand their role in supporting with these. They also need adults around them who themselves feel supported enough to be able to respond to moments of challenge.
Children, young people and indeed adults arrive in schools as the product of their relational experiences so far, and any vulnerabilities will reveal themselves in their relationships with the adults and peers around them. As social beings, we can all react in instinctive and unhelpful ways when presented with unexpected behaviours. In this way, vulnerable children and young people can end up receiving more of the kind of responses which have led to their difficulties. If we are to provide the protective factors for these children and young people, we need to understand and to have developed habits of relating which can support the development of their emotional health.
So yes, let’s take behaviour seriously at a national level. To do this we must respond to the clearly presented neuroscience research and support responsive relationships in schools, creating nurturing environments where “good” behaviour is part of a culture of respect and understanding.
Head of Programmes