A brief explanation of Classical and Operant Condition by Malcolm Macmillan

There are certain names that come to mind when you consider the Behaviourist perspective.  Pavlov (1849 - 1936) and Skinner (1904 – 1990) were influential in developing an understanding of the behavioural responses or organisms to the presentation of stimulus.

Ivan Pavlov has been associated with the term “Classical Conditioning” since around 1947.  He noticed through his research with dogs that there was an automatic response from the dog being used for the experiment and the presentation of the food.  When the dog was shown food it was noticed that the dog salivated. We know that salivation is used to soften food in order to digest the food so when we put something in our mouths saliva is secreted as an automatic bodily response.  On just viewing the food the dog would salivate.  I think we can all relate to that in that when we smell something we love to eat, or even just think about it, our mouth begins to water.  This automatic response in preparation for digestion is what Pavlov called “unconditional response” (Gross, 2001, Pg 141).  This “unconditional response” is triggered by the “unconditional stimulus”, the introduction of food.  What Pavlov began to work on was to create the same response to a totally different and seemingly unconnected stimulus, a bell.  We know that normally the ringing of a bell would not cause a dog or a person to salivate so Pavlov introduced an association between the sound of the bell and the food to produce the salivation response.  Pavlov’s introduction of a “conditioned stimulus”, the sound of the bell, would be recognised by the dog as a pre-emptor for the presentation of the food.  The more often the is done the better established the association becomes.  Therefore; when the dog hears the sound of the bell and the food was presented the response that the dog salivated.  As this was repeated over and over, the sound of the bell, known as the “conditioned stimulus” began to generate a “conditioned response” for the dog began to salivate on hearing the sound of the bell and before the presentation of the food.

We can see similar patterns in the work of John Watson (1920) as he worked on the phobic responses of children to certain animals.  It was thought that the child’s response was a “conditioned response”, although the reason for this development was not always clear, to a “conditioned stimulus”.  What was required to alleviate the troubling response was for work to be carried out to establish that whatever events or circumstances caused the “conditioned response” were no longer present therefore, the response is no longer required. 

“Operant conditioning”, as introduced by B.F. Skinner (1957) looks at the relationship between certain behaviours and the events or circumstances that stimulated the behaviour.  Skinner’s work demonstrated that the animal could be encouraged to perform and action based on the introduction of a “reinforce”, usually food.  A lever would be pressed by the animal resulting in food being released (a positive reinforcer) for the animal.  The action is repeated, determined by the motivation of the animal (hungry) and the “positive reinforcer” (food) is presented.  The timing and frequency of the presentation of the “positive reinforcer” (reward) will influence the effectiveness of the establishment of the behaviour.  If the timing or frequency becomes inconstant the expected behaviour will not be established as effectively.

Negative reinforcement can also be seen when a behaviour results in a “punishment” being introduced to discourage the repetition of unwanted behaviour.  This can sometimes prove questionable as the concept of punishment takes on moral issues.  We do however, find we often use such methods to discourage seemingly negative behaviours in children and adults as we see the introduction of reward and consequences as a positive or negative reinforcer.  Richard Gross (2001, Pg 151) speaks of some of the challenges this can present as in the case of the child who is starved of emotional connection gets punished for being “naughty”.  The parent intends for the punishment to be a negative reinforcer to cease the unwanted behaviour, however, as this is the only interaction the child receives, the behaviour is repeated.  The same can be seen in adults who may have been socially isolated for whatever reason, and they demonstrate behaviours requiring intervention from the police, fire department, health etc. The more the behaviours are responded to the more the unwanted behaviour will be established, reinforced.  This can lead to children or adults to demonstrating frequent negative behaviours or the other party ignoring the behaviour, or person, resulting in an escalation of the behaviour to the point of risk. 

Work carried out with people demonstrating such behaviours looks at the introduction of positive reinforcers prior to the escalation.  For example, as an individual becomes aware of the rising issue they are given a method of indicating that they are struggling with the situation.  The positive reinforcer might be that they are given time out with or without company and praised for recognising the potential difficulty.  No such situation is without the possibility of being misused though for it could be used as a way to get out of situation they need to be involved with.  The time out, company or praised serves as a positive reinforcement to do the same again when they get anxious again.  One major factor in the effectiveness of this is the consistency in the presentation of the positive reinforcer.  If only some staff, for instance, value the positive reinforcer as an appropriate response to the behaviour whilst others disregard it, the behaviours can revert back to the original negative pattern.  It might also be the case that the individual learns the difference between the staff and discriminate their responses based on who is in the area based on what has been taught by the responders.




Gross, Richard. 2001. Psychology- The Science of Mind and Behaviour. 4th Ed. London: Hodder and Stoughton Educational



Category: Social Care

Person-Centred Principles by Malcolm Macmillan

Carl Rogers (1986) wrote “…the individual has within himself or herself vast resources for self-understanding, for altering his or her self-concept, attitudes and self-directed behaviour- and that these resources can be tapped if only a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided.” (Rogers, C., 1986, as cited in Miller, A., 2012, Pg 5)

For me, these words epitomise the concept of the person-centred approach.  The individual at the core of what is taking place, whether support, therapy or intervention, is recognised not only as an important part of the process undertaken but is the lead on what is required and how this is to be achieved.  This involves a massive shift in thinking for some and a natural way of engaging for others when involved with an individual who, even in the short-term, requires support to manage an aspect of their life experience.  Even the very fact that individual’s providing support have their own individual approach to working with people in care, or who require therapy, indicates the requirement for individuals to receive a personalised approach to care provision. 

The person-centred approach is more than just considering the needs of the individual and being able to use professional assessment to ascertain the best way of meeting that individual’s needs.  It is more about seeking the answers within the individual as they are the expert in how to meet their needs and those who are facilitating the care provision, the meeting of that need, then use their knowledge and skill to meet the proposed requirement or need.

Valuing People State: “Person-centred care is a philosophical approach to service development and service delivery that sees services provided in a way that is respectful of, and responsive to, the preferences, needs and values of people and those who care for them.” (http://valuingpeople.org.au/the-resource/what-is-person-centred-care)

They cite the key principles of person-centredness as being:

  • ·         Valuing people”;
  • ·         “Autonomy”;
  • ·         “Life experience”;
  • ·         Understanding relationships”; and
  • ·         “Environment”.

The key principles enable the effective delivery of services for those in need and for those providing the service.  Each of these key principles are embedded into legal obligation of Human Rights legislation and key policy such as practice Codes of Practice and the National Care Standards. Whilst there is the professional element to what is seen to be basic requirements for care provision we must not miss the obvious.  We are working, caring for, valuable human beings.  Their value is not based on their contribution but their existence.  As a valued human being it should be expected that rights are upheld, that development is encouraged and life is cherished.  Again, each of these take on their individuality as what might constitute safety, as a right, will mean different things to different people.  The development expected or encouraged in one will differ from another.  Nevertheless; at the heart of it, however long or short, the life is cherished.

When we see the “Understanding relationship” of those working collaboratively to meet the “needs, preferences, and values” of individual’s we see the development of an environment where potential is realised, people relate and life is experienced in its individual fullness.  Recognising that whilst there may be diverse foci from different practitioners, the centrality of the individual ensures a pulling together to enable and empower the autonomous development of a valued person.  Valuing the work done by other practitioners enables a powerful backdrop for encouraging the development of autonomous individuals.

 “Gentle Teaching is a way of educating and raising children, or serving adults for who don’t automatically feel safe and connected with others. The main focus in Gentle Teaching is to establish the strong and unconditional individual relationships with, and the safe and caring community around each individual.” (http://www.gentleteaching.nl/gentle/index.php/en/home-en)

Although we are placing this into the concept of a method of intervention proponents of Gentle Teaching discuss this as a philosophy for life that should be integrated into all spheres of society.  It is though, held out as a way of encouraging interdependence and companionship which can enable an individual, who may be dependent on others, to be held in higher regard.  There is a shift from staff – client concepts to a co-existence without the power imbalance that so easily arises in care environments.

How often do we find ourselves caught up in a hierarchical set up that places those receiving care in a less favourable position than staff?  For some this may not seem to be an issue as it feels as if this set up fulfils a purpose that enables the element of control in the environment. 

French and Raven (1959) described five bases of power:

  • 1.       “Legitimate – This comes from the belief that a person has the formal right to make demands, and to expect others to be compliant and obedient.
  • 2.       Reward – This results from one person's ability to compensate another for compliance.
  • 3.       Expert – This is based on a person's high levels of skill and knowledge.
  • 4.       Referent – This is the result of a person's perceived attractiveness, worthiness and right to others' respect.
  • 5.       Coercive – This comes from the belief that a person can punish others for noncompliance.

Six years later, Raven added an extra power base:

  • 6.       Informational – This results from a person's ability to control the information that others need to accomplish something.”


It is important for us to reflect on how we use or power when providing services in social care.  Gentle Teaching suggests that the misuse of power is not necessary as having a level of interdependence and companionship is a more effective measure than a punitive power structure.  Control is not relinquished but shared with all who play an important role in the environment.

“Gentle Teaching is a non violent approach for helping people with special needs and sometimes challenging behaviors that focuses on four primary goals of care-giving:

  • I feel safe in your presence
  • I feel unconditionally loved by you
  • I feel loving towards you
  • I feel engaged with you and trust you”

( http://www.gentleteaching.nl/gentle/index.php/en/home-en)

There are many different ways of working with the individual to support them to experience life in a way the suits them.  The care planning process can bring into play a number of tools designed to fit the individual needs and practitioners need to be aware of what will suit that person right now.  It is not a case of “This is how I work!”  A needs led service focuses on what the recognised need is and how it is to be met based on the person at the centre of it all.  There are many tools discussed on the Inclusive Solutions (http://inclusive-solutions.com/ ) and Helen Sanderson Associates (http://www.helensandersonassociates.co.uk/person-centred-practice/)  websites.



Miller, Ali, 2012, Instructors Manual for Carl Rogers on Person-Centred Therapy, Mill Valley: Psychotherapy.net

Valuing People, What is Person-Centred Care, Available online at: http://valuingpeople.org.au/the-resource/what-is-person-centred-care, Last Accessed 21/09/2016


Gentle Teaching, Available online at http://www.gentleteaching.nl/gentle/index.php/en/home-en , Last Accessed 14/09/2016

Category: Social Care

Attachment Theory

Attachment Theory


The aim of this article is to understand the different types of Attachment styles and how these may affect behaviour and personality. We will look at the different relationships we form and how these meet specific needs as we grow up. TDad and Sonhrough applying this to ourselves we will learn how our styles may affect the relationship with the child with the aim of adapting what we offer the child/young person as a model of attachment.


When we think about the different relationships we have and the relationships we see that other people have we may see that these relationships are different. People seem to relate to different people in different ways depending on the type of relationship they have with them. For instance, a mother and child relationship may be different to a sister and brother relationship yet there would still be what is called ‘attachment’ in both. In the following sections we will refer to the child or infant as ‘he’ purely for the ease and flow of discussion.


What do you think this ‘attachment’ is?

People see ‘attachment’ differently, however; John Bowlby sees it:

Is a unique response that protects the young from harm

Maintaining proximity or closeness to the caregiver is essential for survival

Behavioural system built to ensure goal of proximity or closeness

The development of attachment follows a clear developmental course

These are very important points as the core attachment relationship is often seen as the relationship between the mother and the infant. We know that there are many times when this does not work well and we will look at that later but for the moment we will look at the ‘normal’ pattern of attachment. We can see from the list above that the relationship has a purpose and that both people involved in this have to behave in a certain way to allow for this to work and this can be seen in the characteristics of attachment:

Safe Haven: When the child feels threatened or afraid, he or she can return to the caregiver for comfort and soothing.

Secure Base: The caregiver provides a secure and dependable base for the child to explore the world.

Proximity Maintenance: The child strives to stay near the caregiver, thus keeping the child safe.

Separation Distress: When separated from the caregiver, the child will become upset and distressed.

(Van Wagner, K. (2007))

So, from this information we can see that Secure attachment has something to do with keeping someone safe and being kept safe and growing and developing in a world they are not ready to be alone in. The relationship serves the immediate needs of the infant as well as equipping them for later relationship as this attachment becomes the ‘master template’ for future relationships. When we consider the work of Erik Erikson (1902-1994) we may remember the importance of the building up of Trust and balancing that out with Mistrust as a springboard for development throughout life. Similar to that, attachments at the early stage of life significantly impact on the development of the individual throughout their life.

Richard Gross discusses the attachment process as set out by H.R. Schaffer (1996a) in a three phased development:

The Pre-attachment phase (6weeks-3 months)

The infant develops an attraction to human rather than specific objects around them. This can be exhibited through nestling, gurgling and smiling. At this stage this is no apparent distinction between specific individuals .

(Schaffer, 1996a, as cited in Gross, R., 2005, p460)

The Indiscriminate attachment phase (3-7 months)

At this stage the infant begins to discern between familiar and unfamiliar people. However as long as the unfamiliar provide the feeling of comfort and security required by the infant their attention will be accepted .

(Schaffer, 1996a, as cited in Gross, R., 2005, p460)

The Discriminate attachment phase (7-9 months)

It is here that the child develops what is known a separation anxiety. This is due to the child recognising that there is a significant individual that provides for its needs and if that person is not around then anxieties develop with regard to the meeting of those needs. We also recognise the development of the fear of strangers as the unfamiliar can cause the child to cry or recoil away from .

(Schaffer, 1996a, as cited in Gross, R., 2005, p460)

The Multiple attachment phase (9 months onwards)

“strong additional ties are formed with other major care givers (such as the father, grand-parents and siblings) and with non-caregivers (such as other children). Although the fear-of-strangers response typically weakens, the strongest attachment continues to be with the mother.”

(Schaffer, 1996a, as cited in Gross, R., 2005, P460)

This development would lead to what Mary Ainsworth called a Secure Attachment style. The child who has developed has developed in this way will be able to relate to the mother effectively and will feel safe enough to explore the world around him knowing that the secure base found in the relationship he has with mum. This was seen in the studies that Ainsworth and Wittig (1969) carried out where a mum would take their child into a strange situation they had never been in before while the researchers observed them from behind a two way mirror.

The child in this instant would play happily almost ignoring the mother even when a stranger came into the room. When the mother left the child would be uneasy and may be upset. Whilst the child may allow the stranger to offer some comfort they did demonstrate a significant easing when mother came back. In the study 70% of the children responded to the ‘Strange Situation’ in this way. (Gross, R., 2005, P465)

In order for this type of attachment to take place there is a need for the child and mother to behave and respond in effective ways.


What behaviour does an infant show to encourage ‘Mum’ to come?

What we have identified are the behaviours used by the infant to communicate a need. We know that the infant is not able to, at such an early stage, tell mum that he is hungry or has a dirty nappy. The infant has to then let them know that something is needed through these behaviours. Then the mother has to behave in a way in response to this.


What do you think is needed from mum when the infant behaves in this way?

In this task it is important to see that the behaviour of the child has influenced the response of the mother. At this point we are thinking about what could be seen in the behaviour of both child and mother and not what we may have seen or experienced ourselves. Whilst is it important to reflect on our own situations it is as important to be aware of what it could be like. The reason for this is that it is hoped that when you begin to understand what responses are needed you will be able to help the person you are caring for to develop a more secure attachment.

Bowlby’s major conclusion, grounded in the available empirical evidence, was that to grow up mentally healthy, “ the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment ” (Bowlby, 1951, p. 13).

Daniel Hughes writes that “Stern (1985, p. 70) states that the infant's "first order of business," accomplished to a large extent during these early 4 or 5 months, is to form "the sense of a core self and core others." During the first year the infant is not fully differentiated from the mother, but the origins of the sense of self are evident as the child is becoming more autonomous. He is becoming defined within this intimate relationship with his mother. The self and mother are the two sides of the same coin.” (Hughes, D.A., 2004, P14)

So while the mother responds to the attachment behaviour of the child we would see the development of the infant’s idea of who he is and who the mother is. The relationship they create within the behaviour and response “dance” (Kaplan, 1995) establishes the core template for relationships and emotions in days and years to come.


What do you think could affect this relationship?

There are a number of factors that may cause difficulties where the attachment between the child and mother does not turn out to be as secure. This does not mean that the relationship is a ‘bad’ relationship but that the style of attachment can be seen to affect the relationship, behaviour and personality of the individuals involved. The circumstances that are experienced by children coming into care could be seen to impact on the development of core attachments. These circumstances may cause stresses and strains on the child – mother attachment when the needs of the child are not picked up on because the mother is not in the ‘right mindset’ to see those needs. This, in turn, could be seen to affect the behaviour that the child is demonstrating and the personality this reflects.

Children who were observed by Ainsworth and Wittig (1969) did not all ‘fit’ into the Secure Attachment category and two other ‘types’ associated with Insecure Attachment were identified. These types were given the names Insecure-Avoidantand Insecure Ambivalent due to the way that the children in the study responded.

In the studies the Insecure Avoidant child did not demonstrate any real closeness to the mother when they went into the ‘Strange Situation’. The child did not show any need to rely on the mother as a source of comfort or security in the new environment nor when the stranger came into the room. When the mother left the child appear unaffected as long as there was someone there, even a stranger. The distress displayed seemed to relate to being left alone and not the fact that the mother had left (Ainsworth, 1978, as cited in Gross, R., 2005, P465). This is quite significant as the child seems to demonstrate a level of self trust or reliance that is not dependent on the capacity of the mother to provide for a secure environment. It may be that the circumstances around the child has encouraged them to look out for themselves as the mother may not have been able or willing to meet the needs of the child. This can have a great impact on the child’s ability or willingness to trust others or to let them get close. Very often children who have been let down by significant carers try to maintain a distance between themselves and others in an effort to protect themselves.


Can you think of a child who has used behaviours to keep people away? What behaviours did they use and what effect did this have on the relationships?

For the child the behaviour demonstrated will serve a specific purpose. The effect the behaviour has on the relationships or the environment will either confirm how they see relationships are or challenge this. So your response is vital as you show the child they can trust you and let you in without them feeling threatened by a relationship type they are not used to. It is important to see the behaviour as a response to circumstances as there may be times when it can feel like the behaviour is directed ‘at’ you.

You may find that the child who could be said to have an Insecure Avoidant attachment style may demonstrate personality traits that resists closeness and may appear cold and detached from people and issues. The emotional connectivity may not be evident as they try not to let situations affect them. They may deal with problems in a practical way with a business-like manner or just avoid the issue or problem and pretend it does not exist.

The Insecure Ambivalent type was found to be quite anxious in the new setting which was evident in the way they clung on to their mother. This anxiety meant that the child would not explore the new environment and was seen to cry more than the other children in the study. The child became very upset when their mother left and yet when the mother return could not be easily consoled. The sense of uneasiness remained as the child seemed to get no sense of security (Ainsworth as cited in Gross, R., 2005, P465). The child here seems to be quite distraught and “wary” in the situation and there appears to be no sense of self trust or reliance that they will be okay. This child shows quite a clingy nature and seems to appear quite ‘needy’.


Can you think of a child who has behaved in a way to keep you or another close? What behaviours did they use and what effect did this have?

The behaviours demonstrated here serve to keep the mother close at hand and the mother may feel she is unable to leave that child. The child may be very nervous when approaching new situations and not want to go. He may try to make it difficult to go to these new situations and ‘play up’ so that you may not want to go. This can be very difficult considering the way the children are expected to participate in groups and education as part of the ‘normal’ growth and development of a child in our culture.

“According to Main (1991), there’s a fourth attachment type. This describes a baby that acts as if afraid of the attachment figure (as well as the environment). Fear usually increases attachment behaviour, which includes seeking close proximity to the attachment figure. But since the attachment figure is itself a source of fear, the infant faces a conflict between seeking and avoiding closeness to the attachment figure.” (Gross, R., 2005, P466)

This Insecure Disorganised attachment style can result in a mixture of behaviours where the child may try to keep the mother close and yet make sure they do not come too close. This can cause the child a lot of distress and may demonstrate conflicting and extreme behaviours. The internal conflict has been caused by the lack of any consistent model of attachment with no opportunity to have a clear concept of who they are and what role they play in the scheme of the family group. Whilst the Insecure Avoidant type may see them as having to be the ‘strong one’ and theInsecure Ambivalent type may provide an opportunity to be cared for or be the needy member of the family the Insecure Disorganised type has not been able to internalise a working model for there has been no consistent attachment pattern experience.

When you look at the child and the relationship types he has you find that he ‘fits’ into one of more styles. This does not mean that there is a problem. We can all demonstrate different attachment styles depending on the person we are relating to; our mood or temperament that day; or the type of interaction we are having with a particular person. Nonetheless; when life ‘hits us’ with a challenging situation or something we may find difficult we will find ourselves reverting back to a style that leaves us demonstrating ‘needy’ behaviour or we may try to ‘tough it out’. These, of course, tie in with the Insecure Ambivalent and Insecure Avoidant styles of attachment. How we respond in such situation demonstrates for us the dominant attachment style we have internalised.


I want you to think of the range of people who have some form of a relationship with the child or young person you provide care for?

The reason for looking at who is in the life of the child is that we need to recognise that all of these people, including yourself, has gone through this same process of internalising models of attachment which affect the way we relate to others. Our experiences will mean that we will have had attachments that draw us towards one of the attachment styles. It is important to be able to see how the attachment style we have influences the type of relationship we have with the child. Therefore; it is also important that we identify the most influential attachment you think you have internalised.


Look back at the descriptions of the attachment styles. Which one do you feel best describes how you relate to people? Remember, there is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ here. We are only trying to understand how we relate.

Why do you think it is important to be able to know your attachment style? It is important because it is who you are. You are the one who is caring for the child and the way you relate to that child affects any progress that child is able to make given the circumstances he has been affected by. You may see that the child has a particular need and you would want to make sure that need is attended to. Your attachment style affects how you meet that need: do you attack it; do you avoid it; are you frightened by it; do you seek help; all of these have there time and place and we are not saying these are wrong, however, if you only attack problems you may find yourself in situations you are not equipped to deal with. If you only avoid issues things may pile up. If you always run to someone for help you will never learn to ‘stand on your own two feet’. And, if that is the way you deal with it you are in turn teaching the child that way also.

If we are providing care for someone then we need to make sure that the type of experience they have with us is one that will support the child to overcome some of these relationship issues. These relationship issues may be at the heart of the difficult behaviour the child is demonstrating as they respond to circumstances they have little or no control over. So what can we do?

“For parents to assist their poorly attached child to manage, integrate, and resolve these intense conflict situations, they need to:

Maintain a habitual positive family atmosphere that facilitates a sense of attachment preceding the incident;

Respond to the behavior and the underlying contempt, fear, and rage with empathy and matter-of-fact consequences; and

Reestablish the atmosphere and attachment quickly, thus reducing the child's fear and rage, making the shame an integrated aspect of
a healthy sense of autonomy, and building trust in the attachment.”

(Hughes, D.A., 2004, P205)


Discuss how this might be done with the child you are caring for.

What we are trying to create here is the feeling that the “child gradually comes to realize that his self-worth and his attachments with his parents are both of greater significance than his specific behaviors, no matter how outrageous.” (Hughes, D.A., 2004, P205)

What you are telling the child is that they are more important to you than the behaviour. This does not mean that there will be no consequences for behaviours that require consequences. However, you make it very clear by your interaction with him that your relationship with him remains constant. It is this that begins to build up for the child that sense of who they are that was missed out in earlier experiences. They begin to see themselves in relation to others as someone of value, with something to offer to the home. This then serves well for the internalisation of a self-image that not only has self-value but also sees himself as contributing to the needs of others.


Bowlby, J., 1951, Maternal care and mental health, World Health Organization Monograph (Serial No. 2)

Daniel A. Hughes, 2004, Facilitating Developmental Attachment- The Road to Emotional Recovery and Behavioural Change in Foster and Adopted Children, USA: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-7657-0270-3

Category: Social Care

Life Span Development

Erik Erikson- Eight stages of man


The aim of this article is to come to a better understanding of important stages in the life of a child and those who care for them. Using Erik Erikson’s eight stages of man we will look at what are important experiences to help the child to grow and develop effectively.


When we look at people and the life they live we have to admit that we seem to be in a constant state of change. Nothing ever stays the same and we seem to be always adapting to those changes. It is important to see these changes and adaptations as a ‘normal’ part of life but also that each individual will experience these in their own individual way. We have a tendency to create ‘rules’ of development where people are expected to grow and develop at the same rate but this does not always occur.

We will be using Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Model to become more aware of the individuality of the growing experience and how we can play a part in helping the people we care for grow and develop effectively. The Psychosocial model helps us to look at the development that takes place within us and the impact of experiences, events and relationships on that development. Erikson does identify milestones but we will look at the stages of development and how these relate to the patterns of development we see in our experience.

Developmental stages

People grow and develop right in front of our eyes. The older we get the quicker life spins past us. We look at the lives of the young people around us and they seem to grow at such a rate it is sometimes hard to keep up. However, we have to admit that people develop and progress throughout life and change the way they operate in this world. They take on new roles and responsibilities in keeping with the level of understanding of the world they have.


If I was to ask you to describe how you see people develop from birth to old age how would you sum up the different stages?

Erik Erikson (1902-1994) identifies 8 stages through which he saw people develop. We will be focusing on the childhood stages.




Positive Characteristics

Gained and Typical Activities

Birth to 1 year

Trust versus Mistrust

Hope; trust in primary caregiver and in one’s own ability to make things happen (secure attachment to caregiver is key)

1 to 3

Autonomy versus shame and doubt

Will; new physical skills lead to demand for more choices, most often seen as saying “no” to caregivers; child learns self-care skills such as toileting

3 to 6

Initiative versus guilt

Purpose; ability to organise activities around some goal; more assertiveness and aggressiveness (Oedipus conflict with parents of the same sex may lead to guilt)

6 to 12

Industry verses inferiority

Competence; culture skills and norms, including school skills and tools use (failure to master these leads to sense of inferiority)

12 to 18

Identity verses role confusion

Fidelity; adaptation of sense of self to pubertal changes, consideration of future choices, achievement of a more mature sexual identity, and search more new values

18 to 30

Intimacy verses isolation

Love; person develops intimate relationships beyond adolescent love; many become parents

30 to old age

Generativity verses stagnation

Care; people rear children, focus on occupational achievement or creativity, and train the next generation; turn outwards from self toward others

old age

Integrity verses despair

Wisdom; person conduct a life review, integrates earlier stages and comes to terms with basic identity; develops self acceptance

(Helen Bee & Denise Boyd, 2002, p29)

We shall go through these to see how we are influenced by our experience and development and also how we influence the experience and development of those we care for.

Birth to 1 year

Trust versus Mistrust

Hope; trust in primary caregiver and in one’s own ability to make things happen (secure attachment to caregiver is key)

The first stages of life are the most crucial of all. Here we create the core requirements for people to live and grow and have relationships. The human baby is very vulnerable during the early years and is entirely dependent on the care of others to survive. The human child is not equipped to stand and go to a place of safety or forage for food. It is reliant on the carer to feed, clean and protect it from harmful situation. It is in the meeting of these needs that we begin to see the infant demonstrate behaviours that will cause the carer to stay close by.


What behaviours can you think of that keeps the carer close?

These behaviours serve a number of functions, one of them is to be made comfortable or safe but another is to develop the trusting relationship. During the infant stage the infant and carer will participate in a relationship that will build up confidence between the two. The infant will have needs to be met and the carer will respond to those needs. The meeting of the needs satisfies not only the need, say hunger, with a response of being fed, but also develops within the infant the awareness that they can trust the carer to look after them. The more the carer shows they can be trusted the more secure the relationship is. However, as with most things in life, this is a fine balancing act. Doing too much; or being anxious around the infant may result in over dependence.


What kind of experiences do you think would build up Trust in the infant?

Why is Mistrust an important aspect of the infants development?

Getting the balance right can be a tricky thing to do. Many of the choices we make in relation to caring for children will be based on our experiences and how we felt these helped us. Sometimes we will accept what happened with us as the ‘right way’ or we may wish to ensure the child in our care does not experience the difficulties we faced. We need to try to encourage the infant to have enough trust in those around them whilst at the same time encouraging them to see that they are okay in themselves.


Who are the important people in the life of an infant?

What should they offer the infant?

Sadly though, this is not always the experience of infants. There may be a range of situations that influence the ability of the carer to provide the consistency; trust; nurturing and love. Life throws things in your path that means the choices you take, the priorities you make, impact on the relationship and the experience of the young people in your life. It is important not focus on ‘blaming’ but understanding to allow the individuals involved the opportunity to improve their situation.


Try to think of a range of situations that may influence the relationship or the care the carer can offer the infant. Try not to focus too much on your own experience but think of these things in general terms.

So when a child comes into our care and we wonder what we can do to help build up this balance between Trust v Mistrust? Sometimes it is the simple things in life that help. The art of play is often sorely misunderstood as something that keeps the ‘kids’ occupied as we, adults, get on with the important work to be done in life. Yet, it is through play we can unlock some of the secrets to how we operate in the world and with those experiencing that world with us.


Think of the different games children play or we play with them.

What do you think they learn from these particular games?

1 to 3

Autonomy versus shame and doubt

Will; new physical skills lead to demand for more choices, most often seen as saying “no” to caregivers; child learns self-care skills such as toileting

In this stage the child develops physically and begins to experience the world on new levels. The issue of mobility, whilst celebrated as a great milestone, may be a time of discovery and risk as the child learns to explore the environment around them. The muscular development required at this stage enables the child, or toddler as they are sometimes referred to, to get on their feet and reach things they had previously no access to. This stage of ‘autonomy’ or independence can be riddled with anxiety for the carer looking after that effective walker. The care becomes an ‘environmental manager’ as they are constantly trying to be aware of the whereabouts of the child to remove any potential hazards. This stage is also associated with toilet training as the child is encouraged to use the toilet for bowel and bladder clearing. Going through this stage the child learns about internal muscular control. The skill to allow bowel movements is something that has to be learned as you train the muscles to push and let go at the right time. The same can be said of the bladder.

The issue of control is an important aspect of the developing child. How you control yourself and your environment, including experiences and people, can relate to the child’s capacity to control and let go of things.


Can you think of childhood experiences that may encourage a child to have an element of control in their lives and experiences that have taught them boundaries?

This can be a very challenging time for the carer as the control exercised by the child may at times challenge the authority of the carer. It may be that the carer has to ‘pick their battles’ to avoid the constant negativity that can arise but again the balance has to be right so the child understands the needs to co-exist and not ‘rule the roost’. Again the balance has to be right for the child to learn that they can control aspects of their lives but this comes with an understanding that every action impacts on those experiencing that environment. To go and just meet your needs without considering the impact on others demonstrates a lack of shame and doubt. Human beings are social beings and exist within a society that needs its people to co-exist effectively. If we encourage people to be independent only and controlling or insecure and dependent we will be left with a society in which people are oppressive or oppressed. We need to teach our children that they can control things but they are to also understand the impact this has on other and consider them too.


Can you discuss a time when helping a child to understand the impact of a difficulty they have caused has been dealt with effectively?

This can be quite a challenging time as to ‘get it right’ means the child learns how a sense of responsibility and ownership of the interactions with those around them whilst to ‘get it wrong’ could mean the child feels the burden of responsibility that is beyond their years. We have to realise that a child does not have the benefit of the insight into life you and I may have. Understanding the consequences of actions may not be grasped by the young person if they have not had the opportunity to develop the sense of shame or doubt in their actions. They may however, have had a lot of responsibility laid on them by the events they have experienced in life and they may feel they have caused a lot of situation to take place that were out of their control. Janet Miller (2005) suggests that the purpose of developing “Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt” is “ To develop a sense of personal agency and control over behaviour and actions, or to mistrust one’s personal abilities and anticipate failures” (Miller, J., 2005, Pg 141)


Can you think why it may be good for a child to develop “mistrust” in their own “personal abilities” and be able to “ anticipate failures”?

It is very important to recognise what we are not saying here. We do not want children to have an overwhelming doubt in themselves nor are we saying that children should expect to fail. However; there is a need for the child to develop the skill to reflect on their capabilities and to be aware that there are some things they may not be able to do. This development can serve three purposes:

1. It can keep the child save. Children who have no questioning of their ability to achieve can sometimes ‘dive headlong’ into situations they have no real control over. If they are unable to anticipate failure they may develop risk taking behaviour. Whilst we want a child to take chances, we do not want them to disregard the clues that something could be dangerous either.

2. It teaches the child to be interdependent. The child needs to recognise that they are part of something bigger. They are part of a family, a community and society. They play their important part but there may be times when they need others to play their part. This develops the sense of a shared responsibility and need.

3. The child needs to learn to prepare for not achieving. Some children are not given the opportunity to learn how to cope with failure. Neil Thompson (2005) talks of child having to make choices in life and some of these choices may result in things not working out whilst others may turn out fine. Thompson calls this “authenticity” where the child is able to make real choices that have real outcomes. This does not mean that we set the child up to fail nor does it mean that we allow them to make decisions that are beyond their ability but they should be encouraged to make decision that have consequences.

3 to 6

Initiative versus guilt

Purpose; ability to organise activities around some goal; more assertiveness and aggressiveness (Oedipus conflict with parents of the same sex may lead to guilt)

“To develop an increasing sense of personal responsibility and initiative, or to develop an increased feeling of guilt and doubt ” (Miller, 2005, p141)

Janet Miller identifies within her description of this next stage the increasing awareness of the child in relation to their sense of purpose. The child recognises the influence they have on their surroundings, people and environment, and they begin to initiate plans and organise game play. Along with this sense of purpose the child will begin to exercise varying roles need to ‘get the job done’. They may see themselves as needing to tell people what to do and begin to organise those taking part in the game or event. It is interesting to point out here that children often begin to act in ways they may have seen other people acting whilst in supervisory roles. So, if they have seen people ‘boss’ others about they may try that method of assertiveness and that may be seen as aggressiveness.


Can you think of a time when you have seen a child play in a way that they have organised the game play? What evidence was there that they were initiating events?

As you think about how the child was acting, did you find that there were links between their behaviour and the people they had around them? It is surprising to see the influence we have on children and we often are unaware that they are taking in this kind of information. Children will often play out events they have had experience of and they learn through re-enacting scenarios they have seen that the ‘players’ in the scenario cause things to happen. In turn they begin to realise that they can cause things to happen and that there can be consequence to action. Here we see the internalisation of ‘guilt’ as the child begins to see that they have a level of responsibility for their actions and what these actions caused for those around them. Children will demonstrate the internalisation of such ‘guilt’ in varying ways. They may see themselves as someone who deserves to be punished for they have done


Discuss a time when you think a child you care for has displayed a response to a situation where you feel they had accepted or internalised responsibility for their actions. What was it about their response that makes you think they felt any ‘guilt’ for their actions?

It is important to recognise that children may display different behaviours as a response to the guilt feeling they may be experiencing. Some of the behaviours may prove quite challenging and although it important to manage the situation it is also important to bear in mind why they may behaving in this way.

6 to 12

Industry verses inferiority

Competence; culture skills and norms, including school skills and tools use (failure to master these leads to sense of inferiority)

To learn to overcome challenges through systematic effort or, to accept failure and avoid challenges, leading to an increased sense of inferiority ” (Miller, 2005, p141)

During this stage the child has experiences that can build them up and establish good ways of dealing with life. They can learn new skills and begin to gain confidence and feel competent. The child has entered into the education world which holds great opportunity and challenge. They are surrounded by others in the same situation and they will be expected to fit into a structure of learning and play where they will want to ‘fit in’. Learning new skills can be difficult and when faced with this some children would rather not ‘fail’ so they may not try. They interpret ‘failure’ as being ‘inferior’ to others as they begin to compare themselves to the other children around them. Such a feeling can result in the child demonstrating challenging behaviours that may be disruptive or aggressive within the learning environment or at home where they may feel it is safer to ‘kick off’.


What kind of behaviour do you think children demonstrate when they feel inferior to others?

Different children respond in different ways. It may depend on their character; the situation; and the model of behaviour they have been exposed to. If they have seen people dealing with problems in an aggressive way they may adopt that approach themselves. If they have found that the people around them shout to get their own way they may feel that this is the way to deal with this issue also. Some may avoid the issue because they have seen others around them bury their heads in the sand in response to difficulties. However the child responds we need to make sure they learn to manage their issue well and in a way that does not negatively affect others.


How do you think you could encourage the child to deal with such situations in a better way?

It can be difficult to help a child who feels they are ‘stupid’ or ‘useless’ and when they compare themselves to other they just don’t compare. Creating an atmosphere of support for the child where you offer them a space to explore these thoughts whilst encouraging them to see themselves in a positive light is important. It can be quite destructive if the child begins to see themselves in this way as the sense of competency decreases. Some children may try to find something they are good at that may not be so positive and engage in behaviours that give them status with their peers in some other way.

12 to 18

Identity verses role confusion

Fidelity; adaptation of sense of self to pubertal changes, consideration of future choices, achievement of a more mature sexual identity, and search more new values

To develop a consistent sense of personal identity faced with challenges in social role and expectations of adolescence, or simply to become overwhelmed by choices and expectations and to fail to develop a sense of consistent inner self ” (Miller, 2005, Pg 141)

The child here, or young person as they are commonly referred to, faces quite a conflict. They have been going through many different phases in their lives where they have been learning who they are in relation to those around them. They have developed a sense of being part of a family or a system consisting of varying people and worked at a sense of belonging and having a part in the family or system. Given the level of understanding the child has gone through they would have come to a conclusion as to who they are and the role they play in accordance with the age and stage of development. However; the young person emerges into a stage of life that thrust on the child new developments that challenge the child role they have so far adopted.


Can you think of the type of changes experienced by a young person at this stage?

The young person who has been working on fitting in sees things happening in their life and body that question the child role they have been used to. Their affinity with childhood is being severed and their biological clock starts to dictate a new alignment with the adults in their world. Some may think that this new alignment would help the young person to understand the complexities of the adult world and they would look to creating a closer relationship with the adults in their life. Whilst this can happen the experience of many adults is that the young person begins to distance themselves from the parental figure. Erikson suggests that one of the main aspects of this stage is that the young person starts to develop a new concept of who they are as a separate individual with a desire to understand the role they are to adopt.

Ego identity means knowing who you are and how you fit in to the rest of society. It requires that you take all you've learned about life and yourself and mold it into a unified self-image, one that your community finds meaningful .” (http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/genpsyerikson.html)


Can you think of ways young people try to find where they fit in to society?

This stage can be challenging as it not only present an identity challenge for the young person but also the adults who are caring for them. The young person will start to see themselves as young adults where the adults caring for them could still regard them as children. This can cause a lot of conflict where the young person may feel they are not being taken seriously. Dr C.G. Boeree suggests that according to Erikson the adolescent takes all that they have learned about themselves and mould this into a whole picture of who they see themselves to be.

It is important to understand that at this complicated time when the young person is creating a self image we contribute to how they see themselves. If we think about what we say to the adolescent, what we call them, or how we label their behaviour or them we begin to understand a bit about the image they might be setting up. Even though they are trying hard to develop a very separate identity from the family they will often use what we give them to formulate a basic concept of self. What we need to be careful of is that we do not present models of behaviour that causes them to be confused about the role they are to adopt in life. If the environment of the young person feeds into their self image mixed or negative messages about their role we may find the young person rebelling or adopting roles they may not be ready or capable of.


I want you think about a conversation you may have had with a young person who is between the ages of 12 to 18. Think about what you said to them and the image you feel you may have left with them.

The young person will demonstrate behaviours that will align themselves with their peers as their peers become significant in the construction of their self image. The young person sees where they fit into their clique and then sees how this then fits into the larger crowd to which the young person identifies with. This is all part of the process of the young person finding a place for themselves within society as they take on certain roles within this system.

This all begins at the earliest stages and builds up to this. Each stage has its conflict and the more effectively the child resolves each stage the more effectively they progress to the next. There may be times when the experience of the child results in an imbalance of the stage and the child needs help to revisit the main aspects of that stage. We often find that children who have had some crisis in relationships need to build up their level of trust. You, as carers, could offer opportunities for them to learn to trust significant people in their lives or you may have to help them to trust you.

Erikson understood that there was a fine balance between the individual and the environment in which they find themselves. Their experiences greatly affect the outcome at each stage and events have been found to have played a significant role in some of the difficulties children and young people are facing. Erikson came up with the concept of the Psychosocial model and this can be used as a useful tool to piece together the development of the child and the influential experiences of their lives. It may be a change of care; the loss of someone important or some significant change in circumstance that impacts on the child at any given stage. This could be the cause of later issues as an unresolved situation lurk in the background inhibiting effective progression.

Erikson’s Psychosocial model

Erikson’s 8 Stages





Integrity verses despair


Generativity verses stagnation


Intimacy verses isolation


Identity verses Role confusion


Industry verses inferiority


Initiative versus



Autonomy versus shame and doubt


Trust versus





Helen Bee & Denise Boyd. 2002. Life Span Development. 3rd Ed. London: Allyn and Bacon

Miller, Janet (Ed), 2005, Care in Practice for Higher Still, London: Hodder Arnold

Neil Thompson, 2005, Understanding Social Work - Preparing for Practice, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan

Dr C George Boeree, General Psychology, Available Online at: http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/genpsyerikson.html Last accessed: 30/04/2010

Category: Social Care

Understanding Challenging Behaviour

Understanding challenging behaviour


The aim of this article is to come to an understanding of what challenging behaviour is. It is hoped that you will reflect on your experience of life events and relationships that may have influenced your behaviours. It is important that we consider the experiences and relationships of the children/young people we care for and how these may influence the presenting behaviour which may be challenging for us. To assist the child/ young person through this phase we will look at how we may build up a more effective and responsive relationship.


Challenging behaviour seem to be two ‘buzz words’ used commonly today to describe the behaviour of young people where the behaviour causes some sort of difficulty for those around the young person. Very often when people discuss challenging behaviour we think of it as a condition to be cured from. It is often capitalised ie Challenging Behaviour, which adds emphasis the label we attach to children and young people. Today I want to de-capitalise these words and begin to understand what challenging behaviour really is. I want us to realise what influences the development of such behaviour and the purpose this behaviour serves. I would also like to look at how we influence behaviour that are more acceptable without looking to breaking the spirit of the young person.


If I was to ask you what challenging behaviour is what would your answer be?

What specific behaviours do you consider challenging?

There are times when certain behaviours can cause difficulty for one person but may not bother another. If you think about the habits that irritate you, I am sure there are some, you may begin to recognise that not everyone is affected in the same way you are. There may be something in your earlier experiences that triggers a response to that particular behaviour, sound or whatever it is, that stimulates a certain effect from you. You may have been taught from an early age that speaking with your mouth full is rude soy as an adult, you respond negatively to this action because you have internalised this rule. It has become part of what you see as wrong.

What do you show?


What behaviours can you see in yourself could others find challenging?

It is important to see that challenging behaviour is not a Youth problem. We all do things that others have issues with. As adults we tend to get off with it because the majority of people do not feel comfortable challenging a grown up about such behaviours. We live in what is known as an ‘adoscentric’ world where the rule of the adult takes priority. So, because of our adult status, our behaviour may go unchecked.


One thing we need to consider is what influences our behaviour?

There are many things that influence our behaviour, things from our early experiences; people; circumstances; events. The relationships we have had, and are in presently, hold much responsibility for the personality we have and the behaviours we show. We discussed in the Attachment training how the style of relationship affects the way we form relationships but also how we maintain these relationships. Depending on our Attachment style we act and respond to certain things and types of people. We may use behaviours that have been modelled for us and over the years we adopt these for ourselves. How often have you thought that is just like so and so? Significant people in our lives play an important role in the development of our behaviour and through exposure to their behaviour we internalise this behaviour without even thinking about it. Some things we do because it feels right. Other things we do because it has become part of who we are. How after have you found yourself excuse someone’s behaviour just because “that’s just the way they are”? This thinking acknowledges that people have a subconscious behaviour pattern that they do not appear to have control over. The difficulty arises when someone finds that behaviour or action challenging.

Another thing that may influence the development of challenging behaviour in us can be the circumstances of everyday life.


Can you think of a time when your behaviour changed due to changing circumstances?

You may find that when things are going smoothly your behaviour is relatively ‘normal’ or unchallenging. However; when something throws you ‘off your stride’ you may find it more difficult to maintain the positive behaviour model, or even your dignity at times. When you feel ill or ‘under the weather ‘this can really impact on your sense of well-being. Another person’s behaviour could also affect two you feel about yourself. This, in turn, can lead to less control over your emotional state. This is what is termed as ‘emotional regulation’ and is about how you manage your emotions at any given time. When you are not feeling at your best physically or psychologically you may find it more difficult to manage your behaviours. If you are having hormonal issues the ability to control specific emotions, often ones relating to temperament, are impacted upon. At these times there can be a real sense of being out of control and when you have been used to an element of control this in itself can cause even more anxiety.


What effect does this ‘loss of control’ have on you?

This sense of loss of control ties in with the issue of our behaviour being affected by events. Positive events in our lives tend to leave us feeling good and we seem to continue in a controlled manner. When a ‘crisis’ hits us, and we may feel that we are hit by it, we can begin to feel less secure. This feeling can result in the demonstration of behaviours that may be difficult for others.


Can you think of something that happened in your life that resulted in your behaviour becoming challenging?

Some of these behaviours we could put down to the character traits of parents or significant people in our lives. We may have developed these responses to crisis because we did not have anyone to turn to so through a trial and error process we find what works for us. Wherever these behaviours come from it is important to understand them.


I would like you to consider certain questions in relation to the challenging behaviour you displayed:

Who did it affect and how did it affect them?

How did they respond and how did that affect you?


Therefore, when you think about the behaviours you demonstrated, can you think whether or not the consequences of the behaviour had a satisfactory outcome for you?

The reason for looking at this is that much of our behaviour communicates something. A need or want becomes evident in our actions. There is a sense of purpose attached to the behaviour we are demonstrating and very often the repetition of the behaviour is the result of a satisfactory outcome for us. For example, I used to work with an individual who used to spit at people. When we looked at the situations this took place we discovered that the outcome of this behaviour tended to be that he was left alone for people did not wish to spend time with someone who would spit at them. The outcome proved that this behaviour was effective in keeping people at a distance. So he repeated this on a daily basis. There was a sense of purpose in the behaviour.


When you considered the consequences of the behaviour discussed in the last task I wonder if you were also able to identify what it was that you were trying to achieve through the behaviour?

When we begin to understand the purpose behind an action or behaviour we are able to understand that challenging behaviour more clearly. It gives us a sense of perspective when dealing with the behaviour and the individual demonstrating that behaviour.

You may have noticed that we have spent some time looking at our behaviours. As was mentioned earlier challenging behaviour is not a youth problem. There are behaviours displayed within society that are seen as acceptable in our thinking and others that are not. We are influenced in our thinking about what is acceptable or not by the fashion of behaviour. I use the word fashion deliberately for the normal patterns of acceptable behaviour are influenced by the mass production of behaviour, and we are very much influenced by what others might say about us.


Can you think of a behaviour that has become unacceptable or acceptable by society as perceptions change?

How we talk about certain groups within society has changed as recognition of the human rights of the individual influences our discussion or our actions towards the disciplining of children can be the focus of discussion due to the attitude to physical correction. Whatever side we fall on in the argument we have to admit that we are influenced by what others think of us.

So, how do we respond to the child who is demonstrating challenging behaviour? We can all remember at time a child or young person started to play up, as we sometimes call it and the behaviour begins to get out of hand. Let us start to unravel what took place.


Think of a time when you had experience of the child presenting challenging behaviour.

What took place just before the event happened?

What behaviour did the child display?

What were the consequences of that behaviour?

What you are building up here is a better picture of what took place that may have triggered the behaviour.

Why do we look at the situation like this? We do it so that we can understand if there were any specific triggers for the behaviour. There may have been something that upsets the young person or something in their lives that may be causing anxiety. If the young person is not able to effectively communicate their difficulty with this specific issue they may demonstrate difficult behaviour. It is also an opportunity to explore how the behaviours were responded to. This is very important as our response to behaviour may cause the behaviour to subside or to escalate. In the next section we will look into how we do things in a more effective way to help with this.


Try to think of factors which might influence behaviour which can be seen as problematic in service users of care agencies.

Some of the factors that can affect behaviour that I came up with are:

• Individual factors such as a hearing loss, visual impairment, head injury

• Environmental factors such as poor quality of care, few friends or institutionalised discrimination

• Emotional factors such as poor self-esteem, perhaps caused by some of the environmental factors I mentioned

• Cognitive factors such as difficulty with trying different ways of dealing with difficult situations or of communicating needs

As you can see there are things that affect behaviour from within the individual (Internal) and from what is around them (External).

The section on Gentle Teaching offers one method of dealing with challenging behaviour.


Special Connections Available online at: http://www.specialconnections.ku.edu/ [Accessed 08/06/12]

Thompson, N., 2005, Understanding Social Work - Preparing for Practice. 2nd Edition. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan

Category: Social Care