Understanding behaviour

Help to understand your child's behaviour, support them and deal with conflict

All behaviour is communication. 

Children share how they are feeling through their behaviour, actions and interactions with others. 

We sometimes use the analogy of an iceberg to explain why children and young people behave in ways we may find challenging. 

Find out more about the iceberg analogy on the YoungMinds website 

Understanding what your child’s behaviour is trying to communicate will help you to identify their needs and support them.    

Watch a video about understanding behaviour and supporting emotional wellbeing on Essex County Council’s YouTube channel 

Understanding the causes of behaviour  

Everyone has a window of tolerance where they feel at their personal best.   

When your child is in their window of tolerance, they:  

  • feel safe and secure  
  • can think, learn and relax  
  • might feel some stress or pressure, but it is not uncomfortable  

Things happen throughout the day that affect how your child is feeling. We call these stressors. 

Stressors can make people 'feel on edge'. We call this feeling hyper-arousal. This can results in behaviours such as: 

  • physical aggression 
  • risky behaviours 
  • anger 
  • fidgeting  
  • irritability 

They can also cause people to 'shut down'. We call this hypo-arousal. This causes less obvious behaviours, such as: 

  • withdrawing  
  • being quiet 

Everyone’s window of tolerance is a different size. We all manage stress differently. This is why some people appear to be more resilient than others. 

Understanding your child’s brain 

Knowing how your child’s brain works can help you to understand their behaviour.   

Find out about the idea of an 'upstairs brain' and 'downstairs brain', and how this affects our emotions on the Start Now website

Watch a video about the brain and the effect of stress on the EmpowerU Education Building Resilience YouTube Channel

Your child's senses may affect their behaviour. Read about understanding sensory needs.

Ways you can support your child 

Managing our emotions is a skill. 

You can support your child to soothe and manage their emotions. We call this co-regulation. 

Find out about helping your child deal with emotions on the Action for Children website 

It helps children to learn how to manage emotions on their own. We call this self-regulation. 

Find out more about helping children self-regulate on the Understood website 

Find out about support with your child’s mental health 

Helping your child understand consequences  

Using natural, logical consequences can help you manage your child’s behaviour.  

An example of a natural consequence is a toy has been left outside, so now it has got wet and mouldy. An example of a logical consequence is apologising to another child after breaking their toy, or picking up paper that they have ripped up and scattered on the floor.  

But, consequences can look different for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Especially if your child has communication needs or a learning disability. You may need to adapt your approach to your child’s needs. 

Find out more about the importance of limits and consequences on the Place2Be website 

Dealing with conflict 

Supporting your child to manage their emotions and behaviour can lead to conflict. 

Find out about repairing the connection after conflict with your child on the Peaceful Parent website 

Find out about setting boundaries and building positive relationships on the NSPCC website 

Who to speak to for support with behaviour 

For help understanding and managing your child’s behaviour, you can speak to: 

If you think there is pain or other physical reasons affecting your child’s behaviour, speak to a medical professional.  

If you are working with social care, they can support you with behaviour.  

Find local support with behaviour 

There are local services that can help. 

Find local support