These behaviours aren't the focus of the question, simply provided for background information. I'd appreciate it if answers focused on the main question at the end.

Sometimes I look after a child that has some mild learning difficulties. They get frustrated and angry and often don't know how to express themselves properly. This is being treated and there are active plans in place to help them.

The most common trigger is if they feel unfairly treated, sometimes they have genuine cause for this, other times it has been fair but they didn't agree. Fairness is obviously subjective.

The problem

Sometimes the resultant outburst can lead to a situation where the child becomes fixated on something such as "I want this to happen" or "I'm going to keep doing this as long as I want". This can sometimes be unsafe behaviours such as absconding and refusing to return unless a certain person picks them up (it's never the person who is with them), refusing to provide information that affects others or their own safety (say someone may have ingested something), or in rare extreme cases banging their head against the wall repeatedly.

Obviously if there's an immediate danger such as with the head banging we may have to restrain them and physically not allow them to continue what they are doing.

So the main question is: for vast majority of situations where restraint isn't appropriate, how can we break their fixation and get them to cooperate?

1 Answer 1


Disclaimer: I don't know much about learning difficulties and my advices could be inapplicable. It seems that the child has a pattern where he gets in these bad behaviours to vent or express his frustration. It must provide him with something he needs, like attention or simply a way to unwind. I don't think there is an easy solution to instantly break the bad behaviour, because when he is engaged in those it is likely too late to reason with him.

Does he have a way to express that his frustration or anger is building? It could be a pictogram that he could point to, or a special sign that he could make to get the help of an adult to manage the situation. Obviously the challenge with him is to get him to communicate before he's out of control.

When the bad behaviour begins, I would let him unwind without trying to talk or reason with him (except if there is any danger of course, then I would remove him from the situation stating that I won't let him hurt himself or other). Does he have a "safe space" where he could go?

Only when he finally calms down, what happened could be talked about and maybe review what he could have done differently instead of engaging in the bad behaviour. Help him find a couple safe and acceptable ways he could have expressed his frustration, and hopefully sometime he will be able to apply one of those. Ultimately he will cooperate if he thinks he has other ways to be heard.

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