Social Emotional And Behavioural Difficulties Setting The Scene Education Essay

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Social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD) are considered to be a sort of Special Educational Needs (SEN), according to the SEN Code of Practice (2001). In fact, the Code sets out four areas of SEN, at paragraph 7.52, in order to provide guidance to schools, local authorities and other professionals, in terms of what must be taken into consideration when identifying and assessing a student as having SEN. These four areas include:

Cognition and Learning

Behavioural, Emotional and Social Development

Communication and Interaction

Sensory and/or Physical Needs

A definition of what kind of behaviour students with SEBD demonstrate is provided in the Code of Practice, at paragraph 7.60, as well as in the Behavioural Emotional and Social Difficulties (BESD) 2008 Guidance, paragraph 49. According to these guidances, SEBD is a term which covers a wide range of needs. A student experiencing SEBD could be one who seems to be withdrawn or isolated, shows traits of disruptive and disturbing behaviour, suffers from hyperkinetic or conduct disorders (including attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) and lacks of concentration, seems unable to form mature social relationships or exhibits behaviours which may stem from complex special needs. Such difficulties, however, might be less obvious and present themselves in the form of anxiety, depression, phobias or self-injury.

Apart from the nature of the behaviour, other factors which are usually taken into account, in order to identify and assess a child as having SEBD, is how frequent the incidents of challenging behaviour are, their persistence, the grade of their severity, their abnormality and the cumulative effect, that is the overall impact on the child or young person's behavioural or emotional state.

Furthermore, exhibiting difficulties in the area of Behavioural, Emotional and Social development does not preclude difficulties in one or more of the rest of the areas mentioned above. In particular, the BESD 2008 Guidance, at paragraph 57, acknowledges the fact that SEBD and learning difficulties interrelate. Students with difficulties in learning may experience feelings of frustration and anxiety and, thus, develop low self-esteem and vice versa; students with disruptive behaviour tend to perform poorly at school and, in some cases, may be excluded from the classroom or, even, the school.

The notion of SEBD, as well as that of SEN, have been viewed under the lens of a political and social "construct" (Paliokosta & Blandford 2010; Travell, 1999), which is defined as a system of believes rather than a system of facts, developed by educators in order to provide an appropriate definition and, thus, intervention for pupils who seem to find difficulties in adjusting themselves in the education system. It is, however, important to note that assigning a pupil the label of SEBD might assume different meanings for the professionals, the parents, the pupil him/herself or the society as a whole. In addition to this, developing a different construct of SEBD has great influence on determining what the causes of SEBD might be and what kind of interventions would be effective.

Queries such as where SEBD result from, who is responsible for a child's behaviour or who is responsible for intervening have been intriguing researchers to attempt to give answers which may lead to a successful identification of the causes of SEBD and, thus, determining and applying appropriate intervention strategies. It is thought that understanding the process of human development might provide us with some insights in understanding SEBD. According to theories of human development, the main sources of influence are:

Genetic information

Child's inner world and emotional development

Cognitive development

Child's social environment including family, school or peers


The causes of SEBD have, therefore, been examined by taking into consideration the factors mentioned above, forming, thus, different theoretical perspectives on SEBD.

The case studies

The discussion in this assignment is based on the case studies of two students, Ronnie, 14 and Vicky, 11, which have been the topics of discussion in Time to Talk sessions. Ronnie is supposed to be a student who clearly exhibits SEBD, since he talks to his peers, plays with objects, such as pens, rulers or his mobile phone, rather than engaging in the lessons. His teachers are unable to manage his difficult behaviour, which has further impact on the learning of the whole class. His disruptive behaviour seems to affect, in turn, his academic performance as he exhibits learning difficulties in terms of literacy and numeracy. Ronnie is registered on the SEN register of the School Action Plus and he is working with the Local Authorities on his behavioural difficulties. Regarding his family, he lives with his mother and sister and there is no information on his father.

As far as Vicky is concerned, she is considered to be a very quiet girl who demonstrates fear crises, school phobia and, recently, has had an epileptic crisis. Despite the fact that her skills, particularly in reading, are above her chronological age, she refuses to do her homework and evidences disturbing behaviour at school. In addition, according to her mother, she sleeps a lot, refuses to go to school and tends to become school phobic. Moreover, she seems to face a difficult situation in her home setting, as her parents have been separated and she lives with her mother and her new partner. Her father, who has been living with a new partner, as well, for the last eight months, has expressed his desire to Vicky to go and live with him permanently.

The focus of the assignment will be the examination of the causes of these students' behaviour, in terms of the theoretical perspectives on identifying and understanding SEBD, and the intervention strategies that could be applied based on what causes these patterns of disruptive behaviour.

The Biological Perspective

One of the roots of SEBD has been attributed to biological factors. This topic of discussion has been prevalent over the last years, bringing genetic information into the limelight as a part of the aetiology of SEBD. Biological factors, however, have been involved in an intertwining relationship with other factors as well, such as environmental and social ones. Two main categories of SEBD are presented in Prior (1996) and Cooper (2005), the externalizing difficulties, patterns of behaviours which are "experienced by others as being disruptive, antisocial and/or confrontational" (Cooper, 2005:107) and the internalizing difficulties, which are experienced by the person him/herself who exhibits the difficulties. Vicky seems to experience such difficulties, which, particularly, fall into the sub-category of anxiety disorders, as she exhibits symptoms of different kinds of phobias, including school phobia, as well.

As far as Vicky's epileptic fit is concerned, disruptions in the brain activity may affect significantly the way a child behaves. Jones & Charlton (1996) state that it is essential for teachers to take into consideration that abnormal brain activity could have a great impact on children's behaviour as well as on their academic performance. Jones & Charlton, also, state that a child's performance and progress in school may be highly influenced by fluctuations in his/her ability to attend and respond to his/her environment. This, in turn, exacerbates Vicky's behavioural disorders.

On the other hand, Ronnie's behaviour could be explained taking into consideration the biological perspective, as well. His disturbing behaviour towards his peers and his teachers could be characterized as oppositional defiance, a sub-category of externalizing difficulties, which describes defiant patterns of behaviour, deliberately disturbing others by showing hostility and challenging behaviour towards peers and adults or refusing to comply with adult rules.

It is, however, of crucial importance to underline the fact that genetic information is highly influenced by the child's environment. The term "biopsychosocial", found in Cooper's article (2005), has been introduced in order to describe the ways in which biological factors interact with emotional, social and cultural ones. This takes us to examining another perspective of human development, the ecological one.

The Ecological Perspective

Based on contemporary views, nature "cannot be disengaged from the influence of nurture or the external influences on development" (Aldgate, 2004:25)

The intertwining relationship between genes and environment is evident in the nature/nurture dichotomy (Aldgate, 2004; Richardson, 1999; Travell, 1999). The nature side of the dichotomy stresses the fact that SEBD stem from heredity and defective genetic information, which prevent children from conforming to what the society has defined as "normal". The nurture side focuses mainly on environmental factors. SEBD seem to be the product of unhealthy social relationships. All settings, which interfere with the child, are taken into consideration so that the appropriate kinds of intervention could be applied (Richardson, 1999). A second dichotomy, according to Travell (1999), similar to the nature/nurture one, is within-child/without-child. The within-child perspective locates the cause of SEBD internally to the child whilst the without-child perspective examines the role of the environment which the child has been reared in.

In Vicky's case, it is obvious that she is experiencing tremendous changes in various aspects of her environment. Her parents have been divorced, she lives in a reconstituted family, as her mother has a new partner, and her father has asked her to live with him and his new partner, which is another reconstituted family. Divorce, cohabitation and new significant others are patterns which seem to have a great impact on children's lives and cause mixed feelings, which they may not manage properly and, thus, result in behavioural disorders. Aldgate (2004) states that family, extended family, neighbourhood, school, social relationships and cultural groups consist the layers of a complex system, which is the ecology of a child's behaviour. Any changes, thus, in her environment, which surrounds her, may cause difficulties in her behaviour. The same applies for Ronnie as he experiences difficult situations, as well, since his father is totally absent in his upbringing, therefore, there is no father-son relationship. In addition to this, his sister may attract his mother attention more, because of her young age, and there is an expectation of Ronnie to do so. As Long (2000) claims, stressful home setting could lead to behavioural difficulties, especially at school.

The Humanistic Perspective

Examining Vicky's and Ronnie's study cases from a humanistic point of view, it could be alleged that the behavioural difficulties they exhibit are results of a negative interaction with others, the learning accumulated from their environment and the way they perceive themselves.

Vicky, as well as Ronnie, seems to have a difficulty in forming successful social relationships with their classmates due to the fact that they lack of the father figure in their family. According to Bowlby (1988), the way that children will socially relate and co-operate with others highly depends on how well a relationship with their "attachment figure" has been established. Developing a relationship of attachment and proximity with their fathers would have a positive influence on both Vicky and Ronnie in terms of forming similar relationships with other individuals, since they would feel confident that their fathers would be available to provide them with any kind of help, in case of any difficulties they may encounter. This pattern of attachment is what Bowlby (1988) has called secure attachment. The more confident a child is, the more adventurous and eager to explore the world around him/her becomes and the more capable to manage brief separations.

Bowlby's attachment theory could be related to Maslow's hierarchy of human needs. The fact that Vicky and Ronnie fail to form healthy social interactions is an outcome of more basic unsatisfied needs. Their family setting does not provide them with the feeling of security and safety, which is essential for a child to develop emotionally. Consequently, this has a tremendous impact on their social interrelationships, in a sense of them being anxious, aggressive or isolated, as well as on their school performance. As Greenhalgh (1994:25) states, "many children who experience emotional difficulties are struggling to establish their sense of basic safety, and to manage the anxiety which ensues from a lack of safety".

The lack of safety and security seems to have further impact on Vicky's and Ronnie's learning and poor performance in school. According to Greenhalgh (1994), developing insecure personal constructs influences learning in a negative way as "[they] will find little meaning in learning and [they] will resist it" (1994:25).

The Cognitive Perspective

Another possible cause of SEBD, especially in Ronnie's case, might be the difficulties in literacy and numeracy that he exhibits. According to Vygotsky (1978), language is considered to be a fundamental feature in children's development and it is used for further development of knowledge and understanding. Any problems occurring during this development may have impact on the child's behaviour. Research in the field shows that there is a link between specific learning difficulties and behavioural problems (Nicholson, 2005; Riddick, 1996). According to Prior (1996), learning difficulties and problems concerning behaviour seem to overlap in a percentage of 40%-50% approximately. It is not, however, clear whether behavioural problems stem from learning difficulties or vice versa. As Nicholson (2005) states, there is a possibility that SEBD and learning difficulties are in a correlated relationship. Ronnie, exhibiting patterns of disruptive behaviour and being unco-operative in class, seems to be more vulnerable to difficulties in learning. In addition to this, neurocognitive deficits may be responsible for both SEBD and learning difficulties in the sense that poor language skills impeding children in thinking about personal relationships and conflicts might have further implications in their school performance, that is difficulties in reading, learning or numeracy tasks (Prior, 1996).


Based on the identification of the roots of the behavioural difficulties which the children in the study case experience, a number of intervention strategies is examined below.

Vicky's epileptic fits could be treated with appropriate medication prescribed by a medical doctor. Although anti-epileptic drugs can cause a sort of disruptive and disorganized behaviour, correct management of them could lead to desirable effects (Besag, 2006).

Another fundamental issue in intervening in behavioural disorders is that of boosting of self-esteem. Self-esteem, " [....] a measure of how far an individual's perceived self (self-image) matches up to their ideal self" (Riddick, 1996:34) is important throughout one's life, as "one must feel good enough about oneself to continue living and being productive" (Zastraw & Kirst-Ashman, 2010:130). It is, also, another need in Maslow's hierarchy which has to be satisfied in order for children to fulfill other needs at higher level.

Self-esteem is often associated with academic performance which, in turn, may result in behavioural difficulties. Children with learning difficulties, such as Ronnie, as well as reading-retarded students tend to have lower self esteem which is reflected on their self-concept and their poor social relationships (Nicholson, 2005; Riddick, 1996). Although it is rather unclear whether self-esteem stems from poor academic performance or vice versa, it seems that there is an interrelationship between those two (Lindsay and Dockrell 2000; Riddick, 1996). Moreover, children with epileptic fits find difficulties in their daily routine, as they are not able to complete any activities, ranging from the simplest ones to more complicated, successfully. This situation may have profound impact on her self-esteem by feeling very low in comparison with her classmates (Besag, 2006).

Further, boosting Ronnie's self-esteem may have remarkable effects on his school work and his behaviour. Family and teachers have a really important role in enhancing his self-esteem. This could be achieved in various ways, such as providing Ronnie with positive feedback and rewards whenever he behaves well whereas using consequences like deprivation of privileges when exhibiting unacceptable behaviour (Prior, 1996; Rogers, 2005). Increasing the self-esteem of children with learning difficulties who manifest SEBD could be achieved through assigning tasks with a high motivation factor as well as reducing lengthy assignments. Ronnie could, therefore, be given tasks which are manageable and this may encourage him to complete tasks with care and enable him to experience additional success.

As both Ronnie and Vicky seem to encounter issues regarding their peer relationships, which apparently affects considerably their behaviour, it is of particular importance to establish good relationships with their classmates. Encouraging Vicky, Ronnie and the whole class to listen to each other to read, participate in discussions concerning their personal problems, being involved in teaching aspects of a curriculum area or, just, being sympathetic to any kind of difficulties they might encounter in adjusting to school demands would contribute in ameliorating Vicky and Ronnie's relationships with their classmates, boosting their self-esteem and increasing the sense of belonging into a peer group. Charlton and Jones (1996) describe such support using the term of peer support, which refers to pupils' involvement in assisting in the improvement of their peers' performance in different aspects, such as cognitive, social, physical or affective. This is achieved through teacher's careful planning and supervision. Thacker (2000) supports that motivating children to work together, not only in academic areas but also in social and emotional ones, is particularly important to effective teaching and promotes learning in different areas of the curriculum.

Furthermore, belonging to a group is of high importance for both children and adolescents. In Vicky's case, epileptic seizures would be the cause of emotional or behavioural disturbance as well as being teased or bullied by her classmates. According to Besag (2006:130), "anything that singles the child out as being different may prove very disturbing for the individual". Teachers and peers should be, therefore, careful with their attitudes towards Vicky, since any fears without rationale about her condition would deteriorate her emotional and behavioural state.

Establishing good relationships with peers is equally important to interacting with teachers through warm relationships with them. According to Hanko (2006), a child's behaviour depends on the teacher's response to it; showing empathy may have positive outcomes whereas a negative response to the child's behaviour may have detrimental effects on their interaction. A study case presented in her article proves how showing understanding, rather than anger, listening thoughtfully as well as providing a student with the feeling that he is worth of being paid attention to, instead of ignoring him, could affect positively students' behaviour. In addition, Hanko underlines the importance of teachers' support by their colleagues, in cases of students with challenging behaviour.

Referring to the ecosystemic approach, children's behavioural difficulties are affected not only by the relations with their peers and teachers but also by the school setting, in general. Intervention strategies, therefore, applied in Vicky's and Ronnie's cases could be focused on other relating areas, as well, such as the rest of the teaching staff or other professionals involved in their education. Vicky's and Ronnie's teachers could discuss their challenging behaviour with other educational staff, such as class teachers or head teachers, who may provide them with valuable assistance in their work. Both Farrell (1994) and Hanko (2006) refer to the importance of sharing information and experiences among teaching staff in order to inspire and motivate teachers who work with children with behavioural difficulties. Furthermore, Farrell (1994) supports that Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCOs) can prove to be helpful as they can offer their guidance and support through discussions with teachers or senior managers. In addition to this, Farrell continues to underline the importance of interacting with other agencies, like the Local Educational Authorities (LEAs), which have services providing with support children with psychological issues as well as behaviour, learning or physical difficulties. Establishing good working relationships among school teaching staff, SENCOs and LEAs is of vital importance in intervening successfully for students with SEBD. Vicky as well as Ronnie would, therefore, benefit from a co-operation with agencies outside their school

setting as they could find psychological support provided by experts, which would result in improving aspects of their behaviour and school performance.

As both Vicky and Ronnie face difficult situations in their families, since Vicky experiences her parents' divorce and the existence of a new partner whereas Ronnie lacks of a father figure, intervening in this setting may have positive outcomes on their behaviour. Family sessions with psychologists, social workers or professionals in psychiatry services with both parents would be a successful intervention strategy in Vicky's case. Group parent training, which involves presentation and discussion of a particular topic each time with other parents encountering similar problems, as well as individual behavioural programmes focusing on the effects of children's negative behaviour and the ways it could be amended, are some strategies found in Elliott & Place which could prove to be helpful for Vicky. On the other hand, Ronnie belongs to a single-parent family and, thus, his mother could be involved in an individual parent training which "permits more tailored intervention to meet the needs of the particular parents" (Elliott & Place, 1998:124). In addition to this, individual behavioural programmes could be useful to Ronnie's case, as well. In any case, particular attention is drawn to the role of the family and the relations among the members, as an important factor in intervention strategies, since, according to Elliott & Place, "where parents (and other key family members) take a full and active part in a structured intervention programme, improvements in the child's behaviour usually occur relatively speedily" (1998:128). Moreover, the teacher's role, as well as that of other childcare professionals, is of particular importance in the sessions which children or parents attend "either by sharing in the delivery of programmes or by offering encouragement and support to parents who are struggling to change their child management behaviours" (Elliott & Place, 1998:115).

Learning difficulties could be the reason why Ronnie exhibits difficulties in behaviour. In this case, assigning tasks that are equivalent to his cognitive level and more of his interest may have positive effects on his behaviour. As far as Vicky is concerned, this strategy would have fruitful results, since her reading ability and her skills in general are above her chronological age. Being involved in tasks of her school level would seem trivial or boring to her. Despite the fact that designing activities related to the students' level and interests may be extremely difficult and, almost, impossible due to class size, the number of students who need extra support, the demands of the national curriculum (Riddick, 1996) or, even, time limitations (Paliokosta & Blandford, 2010), according to Farrell "the more

involved and interested pupils are in their work, the less likelihood there is of behaviour problems occurring" (1994:114). Moreover, Riddick claims that engaging children to tasks appropriate to their level and setting realistic goals would, also, improve their self-esteem, alleviating, thus, anxiety and frustration they possibly feel. Long (2000), also, claims that teachers' focus should be more on developing children's skills rather than the outcome itself or evaluations and rankings. That would be a highly motivational factor for students who demonstrate behavioural disorders.


Social emotional and behavioural difficulties are not a one-dimensional issue. They are rather a multi-dimensional one since their roots are a number of factors ranging from genetic information and challenging situations in family or school settings to social relationships as well as difficulties in the learning process. Intervening, therefore, cannot be one-dimensional either. Identifying successfully the cause or the causes of the problem would contribute in implementing the appropriate intervention strategy.

In the cases of Ronnie and Vicky, establishing good rapport with both teachers and peers would assist them in overcoming difficulties in behaviour. Moreover, attempting to solve issues in the family context would provide them with a sense of stability. Furthermore, assigning them tasks appropriate to their cognitive level and their interests would enhance their self-esteem, make them feel more confident about themselves and alleviate the sense of failure they might feel in comparison with their peers. In addition to this, as far as Vicky's case is concerned, medication could be prescribed for her epileptic crises. Furthermore, good collaborative relationships among a number of professionals who work with children with SEBD, such as teachers, senior managers, head teachers, SENCOs and LEAs, are essential for successful interventions.