A large part of my job involves supporting staff in developing strategies to manage challenging behaviour in children. I also spend a significant amount of time supporting senior staff in managing challenging behaviour from other staff members. In my experience, although the behaviour may differ, challenging children and challenging staff have a lot in common.
The vast majority of people do not choose to present difficult behaviour, and in the same way that children communicate through their behaviour, so too do adults. When children are challenging adults, refusing to do things and generally being difficult, they’re often feeling scared and anxious. When adults show similar behaviour, the feelings are often the same.
The importance of a positive working environment can’t be underestimated. If you want an effective workforce, it’s crucial that people feel they belong; that they’re needed and valued, and that any negativity, blame and gossip is dealt with so that people feel happy and experience job satisfaction.
Openness and honesty
Relationships between staff should incorporate open and honest communication, along with mutual respect and appreciation. This can be demonstrated in front of the children so they’re able to experience the positive impact of relating to other people in the same way.
Conversely, if relationships between staff are characterised by mistrust, resentment and animosity, this may be witnessed by the children through verbal and non-verbal interactions, which can result in them becoming anxious and their behaviour changing. Staff need to be able look after and support each other’s emotional wellbeing, and identify positive ways of managing their stress.
The key to maintaining any good relationship is the ability to self-reflect. It’s beneficial for all practitioners to reflect on themselves and their practice in an honest and open manner, while also considering how their behaviour may impact on other members of their team in a positive or negative way.
To develop this self-awareness, staff need to feel comfortable, and for other members of the team to demonstrate mutual support and a commitment to excellent practice. This will create a positive environment that encourages practitioners to identify and work together on areas that need improving – conducting honest appraisals of what they react to and why, listing strengths and areas to improve on, and cultivating a willingness to change.
The quality of relationships and levels of professionalism between staff across a setting can create a supportive and effective team, or a divided group of people who all struggle to go to work every day.
For a setting to be successful, it’s crucial to nurture, support and empower your staff in the same way as you do with your the children. When staff feel valued and happy, conflict is less likely, resulting in a more harmonious place of work for all.
Cath Hunter is a play therapist, trainer, therapeutic consultant and author specialising in understanding children’s behaviour.