Managing challenging behaviour

Staff/volunteers delivering sports activities to children, may be required to deal with a child’s challenging behaviour. These guidelines aim to promote good practice & to encourage a proactive response to supporting children to manage their own behaviour. They suggest some strategies & sanctions which can be used and also identify unacceptable sanctions or interventions that must never be used.

These guidelines are based on the following principles:

  • The welfare of the child is the paramount consideration.
  • All those involved in activities (including children, coaches/volunteers and parents/carers) should be provided with clear guidelines about required standards of conduct, and the organisations process for responding to behaviour that is deemed unacceptable.
  • Children must never be subject to any treatment that is harmful, abusive, humiliating or degrading.
  • Some children exhibit challenging behaviour as a result of specific circumstances, e.g. a medical or psychological condition, and coaches may therefore require specific or additional guidance. These and any other specific needs the child may have should be discussed with parents/carers and the child in planning for the activity, to ensure that an appropriate approach is agreed and, where necessary, additional support provided e.g. from external agencies, Children’s Social Care services.
  • Sport can make a significant contribution to improving the life experience and outcomes for all children and young people. Every child should be supported to participate and, only in exceptional circumstances where the safety of a child or of other children cannot be maintained, should a child be excluded from club activities.

Planning Activities

Good coaching practice requires planning sessions around the group as a whole but also involves taking into consideration the needs of each individual within that group. As part of session planning, coaches should consider whether any members of the group have presented in the past or are likely to present any difficulties in relation to the tasks involved, the other participants or the environment.

Where staff/volunteers identify potential risks, strategies to manage those risks should be agreed in advance of the session, event or activity. The planning should also identify the appropriate number of adults required to safely manage and support the session including being able to adequately respond to any challenging behaviour and to safeguard other members of the group and the staff/ volunteers involved.

When children are identified as having additional needs or behaviours that are likely to require additional supervision, specialist expertise or support, this should be discussed with parents/carers and where appropriate young people. Angling activities will seek to work in partnership with parents/carers, and where necessary external agencies, to ensure that a child or young person can be supported to participate safely.

Responding to Challenging Behaviour

In responding to challenging behaviour the response should always be proportionate to the actions, be imposed as soon as is practicable and be fully explained to the child and their parents/carers. In dealing with children who display negative or challenging behaviours, staff and volunteers might consider the following options:

  • Time out - from the activity, group or individual work.
  • Reparation - the act or process of making amends.
  • Restitution - the act of giving something back.
  • Behavioural reinforcement - rewards for good behaviour, consequences for negative behaviour.
  • De-escalation of the situation - talking through with the child.
  • Increased supervision by staff/volunteers.
  • Use of individual ‘contracts’ or agreements for their future or continued participation.
  • Sanctions or consequences e.g. missing an outing.
  • Seeking additional/specialist support through working in partnership with other agencies to ensure a child’s needs are met appropriately e.g. referral for support to Children’s Social Care, discussion with the child’s key worker if they have one, speaking to the child’s school about management strategies (all require parental consent unless the child is felt to be ‘at risk’ or ‘in need of protection’).
  • Temporary or permanent exclusion

The following should never be permitted as a means of managing a child’s behaviour:

  • Physical punishment or the threat of such.
  • Refusal to speak to or interact with the child. 
  • Being deprived of food, water, access to changing facilities or toilets or other essential facilities.
  • Verbal intimidation, ridicule or humiliation.

Staff and volunteers should review the needs of any child for whom sanctions are frequently necessary. This review should involve the child, parents/carers and in some cases others involved in supporting or providing services for the child and his/her family, to ensure an informed decision is made about the child’s future or continued participation. As a last resort, if a child continues to present a high level of risk or danger to him or herself, or others, he or she may have to be suspended or barred from the group or club activities.

Physical Intervention

The use of physical intervention should always be avoided unless it is absolutely necessary to prevent a child injuring themselves or others, or causing serious damage to property. All forms of physical intervention should form part of a broader approach to the management of challenging behaviour.

Physical contact to prevent something happening should always be the result of conscious decision-making and not a reaction. Before physically intervening, the member of staff or volunteer should ask themselves, ‘Is this the only option in order to manage the situation and ensure safety?’ It is good practice to ensure that if you have to physically intervene in a situation with a child/young person, it is in the least restrictive way necessary to prevent them from getting hurt, and used only after all other strategies have been exhausted.  Studies have shown that, where this is the case, children and young people understand and accept the reasons for the intervention.

The following must always be considered:

  • Contact should be avoided with buttocks, genitals and breasts. Staff/volunteers should never behave in a way that could be interpreted as sexual.
  • Any form of physical intervention should achieve an outcome that is in the best interests of the child whose behaviour is of immediate concern.
  • Staff/ volunteers should consider the circumstances, the risks associated with employing physical intervention compared with the risks of not employing physical intervention.
  • All forms of physical intervention should be proportionate to the behaviour of the young person and the nature of harm/damage they might cause –i.e. the minimum force needed to avert injury to a person or serious damage to property - applied for the shortest period of time.
  • Staff/volunteers should never employ physical interventions which are deemed to present an unreasonable risk to children or staff/volunteers.
  • Staff/volunteers shall never use physical intervention as a form of punishment.
  • Physical intervention should not involve inflicting pain.
  • Where children are identified as having additional needs or behaviours that are likely to require physical intervention this should be discussed with parents/carers and where necessary the club will seek advice from or to work in partnership with external agencies (e.g. Children’s Social Care)  to ensure that a child or young person can be supported to participate safely. This may include asking for the provision of a suitably trained support worker/volunteer or accessing staff/volunteer training in physical intervention.

Any physical intervention used should be recorded as soon as possible after the incident by the staff/volunteers involved using the Incident Report Form and passed to the home county/country Welfare/Child Protection Officer as soon as possible. 

Views of the child

It is clear from the accounts of children and young people that physical intervention provokes strong feelings.  Children may be left physically or emotionally hurt. Even a child who hasn’t directly been involved in the situation may be fearful that it will happen to them in future or have been upset by seeing what has happened to others.

A timely debrief for staff/volunteers, the child and parents should always take place following an incident where physical intervention has been used. This should include ensuring that the physical and emotional well-being of those involved has been addressed and ongoing support offered where necessary. Staff/volunteers, children and parents should be given an opportunity to talk about what happened in a calm and safe environment.

There should also be a discussion with the child and parents about the child’s needs and continued safe participation in the group or activity. It is important that staff and volunteers are made aware of and understand the organisation/club’s guidance about managing challenging behaviour to ensure that they are aware of ways in which they may need to intervene and are clear about the practice guidance in this area.

Discipline and Sanctions

When discipline is used it should be with the clear intention of teaching or reinforcing appropriate behaviour. It must not be used impulsively, to gain power, or to embarrass or humiliate a young person.
Discipline should be used only to:

  • develop a sense of responsibility for behaviour
  • develop respect for others and their property
  • reinforce the rules or values of angling
  • reinforce positive behaviour or attitudes
  • reinforce awareness of health and safety aspects of the activity.

The use of sanctions is an important element in the maintenance of discipline. The age and developmental stage of the child should be taken into consideration when using sanctions. Sanctions should be fair and consistent and in the case of persistent offence, should be progressively applied. They should never be used to retaliate or to make a coach feel better. The following steps are suggested and should always be used in conjunction with the Code of Practice and Conduct:

  • rules should be stated clearly and agreed
  • a warning should be given if a rule is broken
  • a sanction (for example, removal from the activity for a short time) should be applied if a rule is broken for a second time.
  • if a rule is broken for the third time the child should be spoken to, and if necessary, the parents/guardians may be involved
  • sanctions should not be applied if a coach is not comfortable with them. If an appropriate action cannot be devised right away, the child should be told that the matter will be dealt with later, at a specified time and as soon as possible
  • a child should not be sanctioned for making mistakes in his or her game
  • physical activity (e.g. running laps or doing push-ups) should not be used as a sanction. To do so only causes a child to resent physical activity, something that s/he should learn to enjoy throughout life
  • sanctions should be used sparingly. Constant sanctioning and criticism can cause a child to turn away from sport
  • once sanctions have been imposed, it is important to make the young person feel s/he is a valued member of the group again
  • where relevant, some sanctions may need to be recorded and parents informed. 
Managing challenging behaviour
Managing challenging behaviour
Managing challenging behaviour
Managing challenging behaviour