Research Paper on Children

Posted on April 30, 2009

In the course of writing this research paper, I have read several articles on research about emotional and behavioural difficulties – many of them say the same thing, which is that it is difficult to give a clear, concise definition for this term. However I feel it is important to further explore children’s emotional and behavioural difficulties in order to gain an understanding of these issues, before applying the concept of resilience in meeting their needs.

The DFE Circular 9/94 states that “emotional and behavioural difficulties lie on the continuum between behaviour which challenges teachers but is within normal, albeit unacceptable, bounds and that which is indicative of serious mental illness”. Fox (2001, p 5) said emotional and behavioural difficulties was a ‘blanket term’, which covered a wide range of conditions. She defined children who had emotional and behavioural difficulties as ‘both troubled and troubling to those who come into contact with them. Ayers & Prytys (2002) refer to the SEN Code of Practice in their definition and also talk about emotional and behavioural difficulties as ‘existing along a continuum, at one end, so called ‘normal’ naughty behaviour, and at the other, psychiatric disorders”.

For the term emotional and behavioural difficulties to apply there needs to be persistent, frequent and severe emotional or behavioural problems occurring within or across particular settings. Children with emotional and behavioural difficulties are classed as having special educational needs, this was recognised by the 1981 Education Act, as ‘no child can learn optimally if they are unsettled or unhappy in school for whatever reason’ (Fox, 2001, p 10)

Behaviour can be evident in a number of different ways; on a personal level, the child can exhibit a low self-image, anxiety, depression, resentment or defiance. On a verbal level they can either be silent or threatening and argumentative. In the non-verbal sense they can be clingy, or truant, be disruptive and aggressive. Last, but not least, on a skills level, they can show an inability or unwillingness to work, a lack of concentration or incompletion of tasks.

All of the above examples of behaviour shown by children with emotional and behavioural difficulties can be described as their barriers to learning. O’Brien (1998) talks of how this constitutes as a learning difficulty for the child, which then affects their own achievement and sometimes that of others. In some cases, it can be that a child’s learning difficulties has actually caused or aggravated their emotional and behavioural difficulties – this is often accompanied by a loss in self-esteem. On the other hand, other children’s emotional and behavioural difficulties may have caused their learning difficulties, by reducing their access to the national curriculum, because of their behaviour.

Causes of emotional and behavioural difficulties

Actually causes of emotional and behavioural difficulties can be single or multiple. Evidence from research conducted has found that causes can be found in the home, school and in the child’s immediate environment. Another factor that can cause emotional and behavioural difficulties is the child’s internal state itself. A well-known fact is that children who have emotional and behavioural difficulties are more than likely to come from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds and families. Cooper (1993) summarized some of the evidence and produced a list of things that children may have experienced, among which were a lack of parental interest in schooling, inconsistent and ineffectual parental discipline, violent displays of temper from parents and overall feelings of hostility or rejection from parents. Physical and/or sexual abuse also increases the likelihood of emotional and behavioural difficulties occurring.

It can be thought that parents are solely to blame for the problems their children experience, however it is important to remember that these parents may have also had problems themselves when they were younger, which were unresolved. In this way, we can see a very real consequence of children who suffer from emotional and behavioural difficulties – having a poor relationship with their own children.

There are several things in a child’s school, which can contribute to, if not cause, emotional and behavioural difficulties. Behaviour problems have been associated with overcrowding, a high student/teacher ratio, an insufficient or an inappropriate curriculum. Weak adult leadership, generally low school attainment levels and low staff morale have also been seen as contributors. Understandably if a child arrives at a school with a negative attitude, then a teacher’s job can be more difficult, and without a good support network, they themselves are at risk of being demoralized.

Community factors that can cause emotional and behavioural difficulties range from a high level of neighbourhood disorganization, drug and gang activity and few adults around to monitor behaviour.

Although the school, home and community all play a significant part in the development of a child’s emotional and behavioural difficulties, there are those children that we’ve met who have come from a supportive family network, go to a ‘good’ school and still suffer emotional and behavioural difficulties. In this case, the cause can be internal or ‘within the child’. It could be because of a genetic factor which makes the child more vulnerable to emotional and behavioural difficulties, a communication difficulty, concentration problems or low self esteem. However even if the cause is within the child, there is more than likely to be an external factor in the child’s environment which will exacerbate the problem.

The causes, along with the definition, of emotional and behavioural difficulties are not simple and clear. We must remember that each child is unique and therefore their problems and the source of which are also unique. This, in turn, will lead to many different answers or strategies for supporting the child to be deployed in meeting their needs and in many cases will be ‘individual’.

What are the needs of children with emotional and behavioural difficulties?

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, children need love, a sense of belonging and high self-esteem. In order for this to occur they need reliable and caring friends, affection, and a successful caring relationship with their parents and carers. To build a healthy level of self-esteem they need a strong inner sense of self, but also approval from others, praise and opportunities to succeed.

Children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, as said earlier, have special educational needs. Laslett (1995) reminded us that pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties don’t just need the national curriculum; he said they ‘need to learn about themselves, about other people, about their feelings and behaviour’.

Fox (2001) said through the different forms of behaviour shown, we can see the various different needs that the child has. Pupils described as being stubborn, can be classed as having low self-esteem and a fear of failure. Their need is to belong and to be seen as successful by the group. Aggressive behaviour is where the child does not have the adequate verbal skills and so gets frustrated, causing him/her to lash out. The need here can be one for social acceptance; the child needs to be in control. Disruptive behaviour and an inability to complete tasks can be seen simply as a need for positive attention. If a child is unpleasant to others in the class, this could be from feelings of rejection from when they were younger; they might not feel as if they are part of the group yet they have a need to belong and to feel included. Inattentive behaviour and poor concentration skills can be indicative of the need for a quiet environment and last, but not least, stealing can be a form of survival. For example, if a child steals food, there is a need for it because they are hungry.

The needs of children with EBDs are similar to the needs of children without. The only difference is that their needs are not met and fulfilled. The differences between these children are quite obvious. Children without EBDs talk quite openly and confidently about accomplishments and personal achievements, children with EBDs rarely do. This is because the feelings of ‘self-worth’ are low in children with EBDs. They need to feel competent and achieve a sense of mastery in the things that they do. Children without EBDs already have this need fulfilled and have high feelings of self-worth. Another difference is that children with EBDs don’t often express a sense of ‘connectedness’ to individuals or a feeling of belonging to groups and institutions. All children have a social need – learning how to make and keep friends, and to be connected to their peers. The difference between children with EBDs and those without is that this need is not met for them. Schools play a major part in meeting this need, by means of school based clubs and events. Not only do they provide sufficient opportunities for children to ‘connect’ with peers and adults, they also allow a chance to learn and practise social skills. Last, but not least, children with EBDs are not so enthusiastic about their future and what it has in store for them, whereas children without EBDs have definite plans and are positive about their future. This has been evident in several group sessions I have run as a learning mentor. Children with a history of problems, family and/or socially orientated, tend to be quite negative about aspirations and hopes, whereas children, who seemingly come from a supportive background, are not. Again, this is linked to low feelings of self-worth and adults in school, especially career advisers, need to ensure that children with EBDs do not create ‘self-fulfilling prophecies’ for themselves, where they think they’re not worth thinking highly for themselves and therefore allow their behaviour to influence their judgements about future choices.

As we know children can face the most stressful of situations, which can mean that they are at risk of failing in school and experiencing emotional and behavioural difficulties. However we do know, perhaps from our own experiences, or our professional experiences, that there are children who survive against all odds and maintain a fighting spirit. They emerge as competent, confident and caring individuals. What is this quality that enables this to be so? It has been termed as resilience.

What is resilience?

There are quite a few definitions that have been given on resilience. Benard (1995, p 5) described resilience as ‘a set of qualities that foster a process of successful adaptation and transformation despite risk and adversity’ – it is an individual’s ability to cope or ‘bounce back’.

As with emotional and behavioural difficulties, there are factors in the child’s home, school and immediate environment that can promote resiliency. Buchanan & Ten Brinke (1998) also said that there are internal factors that can be protective for the child: a good health and development and an internal belief in control, these can all mean that a child can be resilient. The resilient child is able to be proactive, make decisions, know their limitations, have a positive outlook and have successfully developed coping strategies.

Of course, these are further aided by positive influences from home, school and community. At home, it can be as simple as an attachment to one family member who engages with the child, gives them a sense of belonging and values his/her abilities, telling them that he/she will be successful. The community can help by providing after school programs/youth clubs and volunteer activities can also promote resilience.

Resilience is basically the capacity to survive, whether it is viewed as a biological impulse to thrive and grow, or as the skills and processes that allow some children to overcome adverse beginnings and go on to have successful lives. Resilience is about having the power to overcome adversity – psychologically, physically and emotionally.

Every child has the potential to be good and bad, whichever path they choose depends largely on the fulfilment of their needs and the resources that they can draw on – be they internal, external, emotional, physical or personal.

In my role as learning mentor, I have met several children who can be classed as resilient. In particular a young girl, aged 15, who comes from a strict Muslim background, which at many times, stifles her and prevents her from ‘living’ as a normal teenage girl. However this child recognises that to have a successful life outside of these circumstances, she must pull on all resources available to her in school. This is a clear example of how supportive relationships, if not available at home, are important in school, to build resilience in children.

How can schools promote resilience?

Werner & Smith (1989) found that among the most frequently encountered positive role models in the life of a resilient child, outside of the family, was a favourite teacher. This was an adult who didn’t just deliver an education but was a confidante, enabling the child to form a close relationship with them. Teachers who are trustworthy, have a genuine interest in teaching, and give individual attention are most often the determining factor for whether a child decides to learn or not. A study conducted by Richards (1994) found that when students were asked to identify factors that were characteristic of an ‘inclusive’ school, the most significant factor reported is that ‘adult behaviour was supportive, non judgemental and non threatening’. Teachers who praise and give effective feedback to their pupils also enhance resilience.

Wang & Haertel (1995) conducted a study on factors associated with resilience and produced a summary of risk factors, protective factors and resilience enhancing factors. Their research showed that resilience was promoted by the quality and quantity of student interactions, the use of goal setting, techniques to build self esteem, use of co-operative learning techniques. Strong leadership by senior management and the head teacher was also important. A school ethos emphasizing achievements, school clubs and extracurricular activities and the involvements of parents and the community were also considered vital. Research has shown that many ‘resilient’ children were involved in clubs and associations outside of school. Schools should support such clubs in and after school time, as they enable young people to develop skills and competencies that are beyond the range of school subjects.

Schools can also promote resilience by providing a safe learning environment; the school should be somewhere the child WANTS to be. In order to successfully meet the needs of children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, it is important for the school to be seen as a support network – consisting of all staff at the school and external agencies.

Another way of promoting resilience is for schools to actively involve all parents, in every aspect of school life. Parental involvement has been shown to have a direct influence on their children’s achievement. Also schools need to develop their links between themselves and the community, by using health services and volunteers mentoring organizations, this can also work in reverse by getting the children to go out and work in the community.

What is a supportive context and how is it created?

For a child to be resilient, a supportive context is essential. A supportive network of adults is required in the child’s school, home and community. The child needs to have a strong healthy relationship with at least one adult in each and every section of their lives.

Making the school into a successful support network involves teachers, senior management, a pastoral team, effective teaching strategies, a suitable curriculum and external agencies.


Under a good leadership, there needs to a sufficient amount of skilled and committed teachers. An OFSTED report in 1999 observed that teachers who taught pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties had a good grasp of subject matter, lessons were planned well, thorough preparations had been done, explanations, instructions and questions were clear and expectations were high but realistic. These high expectations can provide a structure of the behaviour that is desired. Teachers must also challenge pupils, to show them what they are capable of. Children who have been ‘labelled’ can be helped by teachers who can show them how to ‘grow’ –not to take adversity in their lives personally, ‘to see a positive in every negative situation’, in this way building up resilience in the children. Most importantly as the Mental Health Foundation (1999, p 19) stated, teachers ‘must understand, empathise and respond to individual needs, having a close knowledge and relationship with the child with emotional and behavioural difficulties’.

The OFSTED (1999) report found that good teaching is of central importance for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, it set a climate in which they must learn self control, social relationships and behave well – by letting the children make their own choices, solve problems and work with others.

Teachers are in a unique place in that they can ‘tip the balance’ between risk and resilience. They can meet a child’s basic needs for safety, love, belonging and respect. By listening to a child, showing kindness and compassion, they can provide a sense of loving support. They should be non-judgemental, and most importantly, should not take the child’s behaviour personally. It’s important to know that the child is doing the best that they can, based on the experiences they have had. As Benard (1997) said when teachers care, believe in and embrace the children, they are not only enabling their healthy development and successful learning, ‘but creating an inside-out social change, they are building a creative and compassionate citizenry’.

Farrell (1995) developed a set of guidelines for teachers, he felt that at all times it was important for pupils to remain ‘engaged’ in activities of interest to them. Teachers should like and respect the pupils and they should seek support from fellow colleagues if faced with a difficult situation. They should follow school and LEA policies; negotiate class rules with the pupils and stick to them. Teachers must be calm and consistent. Rewards should be used as Sattin (1999) found in his study of a residential school. He said there was a great emphasis on the celebration of achievements. Small rewards were used to help a pupil become interested in achieving – they also had Success display boards, good work files and ‘Starboards’ – all used to celebrate success.

A school needs to have a broad and balanced curriculum in order to meet the needs of all pupils in the school. In many cases children with emotional and behavioural difficulties have weak literacy and numeracy skills. Improvements in these areas should be seen as a priority. These weaknesses are confounded by the child’s sense of failure and feelings of frustration – therefore there is a need to balance both the academic and pastoral requirements. For these pupils it is important to master these skills for their own sense of self-worth and in order to complete school successfully. The Mental Health Foundation (1999) found that approaches were used in schools to build self-esteem and emotional resilience particularly in less academic pupils, this was done via mentors (both adult and peer), circle time and anger management sessions. A school curriculum that promotes resilience respects the ways in which children learn. Such a curriculum is experiential, challenging, comprehensive and inclusive of all the different perspectives encountered in a school.

Lund (1992) concluded from his observations of children with emotional and behavioural difficulties that it was essential:

  • To organise learning tasks so that children’s success was more probable than failure
  • To provide a variety of stimulating visual material in lesson presentation
  • To organise a variety of learning experiences in cross curricular activities and study
  • To ensure that practical’ hands-on’ learning experiences predominated
  • To understand and accept individual differences in children’s way of working
  • To accept different levels of attainment in children contributing to a learning task

Non-teaching adults

Learning Support Assistants (LSA) are valued members of staff who also help especially when a child experiences an emotional outburst or an incident occurs. As the teacher is responsible for the whole group, the LSA can provide more than adequate support for the child.

Learning Mentors are also extremely useful in schools. Mentoring has been targeted at groups of children experiencing learning difficulties because of problems they are dealing with. Mentors aim to give these individuals support and understanding. When mentoring is successful, both mentor and the mentee find it a positive experience.

All schools have access to an educational psychologist and education welfare officers. There are also many support services for pupils with learning difficulties such as the Special

Educational Needs (SEN) department and departments that support children with behavioural difficulties.
Schools should also have regular support from Social Services and institutions such as CAMHS. However the Mental Health Foundation (1999) found that the percentage of schools that had successful working relationships with Social Services was quite low. Similarly, with CAMHS, it was found that direct support with psychiatrist was very little.

For an inherent supportive environment to exist in a school it is important for the school to have a positive ethos of teamwork. All staff must work well together. Thacker (2000) said there was a necessary need for a whole school behaviour policy, which ‘promotes consistency and a team approach to working with challenging children’. He went on to suggest that the production of such a document be a joint effort between school staff, parents and community members. This is also important when planning on a smaller scale, for example when designing an individual programme for a child, it is important for all who knows the child best to be involved. This means the teacher, the parent, any external agencies involved and of course, the child themselves. This ensures that everyone has a sense of ownership and clear-cut responsibilities.


Research throughout this assignment has shown that the concept of resilience is important to all in order for them to meet and overcome the challenges they face in life. For the child with emotional and behavioural difficulties, resilience is often poorly developed (and understood) and therefore not applied to the difficult situations they encounter. As schools are increasingly expected to work with pupils who face emotional and behavioural difficulties they need to develop strategies that foster resilience within these children, so that their needs are met and so that they are able to flourish both socially and academically.

Addressing the concept of resilience with these children, I believe, is paramount to successful work undertaken in the school situation. Children need to be able to ‘bounce back’ and be able to accept criticism in order to develop educationally. However, as discussed earlier, resilience can only be fostered in a supportive context, and once the child has confidence in their teacher/mentor, their self-esteem is not lowered. This supportive context has to, in my opinion, be built upon positives and rewards that recognise success however small they may be. For a child with emotional and behavioural difficulties, it may be as simple as rewarding them for sitting down once they have entered the room. It is also important that all teachers/mentors that work with identified children adopt the same approach as consistency overcomes confusion for these children and reinforcement ingrains new thinking and behaviour.

It is however important to remember that the concept of resilience must be kept in context in terms of strategies to help children with emotional and behavioural difficulties rise above adversity and learn rather than to use resilience as a tool to accept that they will have setbacks. Or in extreme cases to avoid these children from developing an ‘I don’t care’ attitude to problems they face.

So a child CAN be naturally resilient and manage to overcome life’s adversities and stressful situations – but only up to a certain time. I believe that internal resilience is not enough and a child needs a strong support network from both home and school in order to successfully develop into a confident and competent adult. Initially it is the home environment, which builds as a cocoon around the child- loving parents and siblings, a safe home, praise and encouragement. Then in school, the child requires the same but from teachers and peers. Good quality relationships are needed which develop a sense of security and calmness in the child. A constant positive regard should be displayed for the pupil and a willingness to allow pupils to express their own beliefs and opinions.

Farrell (1995) supports this, he says that the adults that children with EBDs encounter need to be sensitive to their issues and to recognize that they themselves and the way that they interact with the pupil may also be part of the problem.

Resilience is promoted by all the factors mentioned above – the child is then ever more equipped to deal with problems they may encounter in their lives. They realise and understand not to take the negative things they encounter personally.

Resilience is be created within an individual by exposing them to challenging situations under the support and guidance of a trusted adult in school, whether it is a teacher, LSA or mentor, and for the child to see through experience that they can overcome the problem. Success in overcoming the difficulty will build self-confidence within the child and a realisation that if they meet the same problem again, that they will deal with it and hence are resilient.

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