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Talking about behaviour with a young person with communication difficulties

What to do if a child or young person finds it difficult to talk about their behaviour?

A person in a circle, surrounded by hands which say ok, thumb up, thumb down, and question mark

Children and young people with communication difficulties can find it very hard to talk about their behaviour and to talk about or reflect on behaviour incidents.

confused face

This can be because the types of questions we ask when trying to find out what has happened. Behaviour or incidents may need the person to understand complex questions, to ‘read-between-the-lines’, reason and understand complex things. This includes understanding feelings in themselves and others.

lips and speech bubble with line through

Some children and young people may not be able to give their ‘side of the story’ easily because they struggle to understand and to express themselves.

Smiling face with a finger pointing up and a question mark and exclamation mark next to them, showing they have had an idea

We can make these conversations easier and fairer for children and young people with communication difficulties:

How do we make communication difficulties easier for children or young people?

A pencil drawing a shape

Visual support

Drawing the situation as you talk helps to slow the pace of the conversation, simplify questions, show the young person what you are understanding, get the order of events right, explore complicated ideas like ‘feelings’ and problem solve. See ‘Comic Strip Conversations’ for more information.

Simplify questions

Questions that require the young person to summarise and retell can be too hard, for example, asking “Tell me what happened”.

This requires the young person to ‘read-between-the-lines’ and understand what you might be referring to, pick out the important parts of an incident, organise and sequence their ideas, find the words to explain.

  • Breaking the question down into simpler, concrete questions for example:

“who was there?”, “where were you?”, “what did they say or do first?”

  • Saying what happened or what you know and explain how it affected the people involved:

“You threw the pen and it hurt Katie”

“When you felt really cross you slammed the door and the hinges broke. Now the door needs fixing”

  • Saying what happened or what you know and giving choices:

“Did you throw the pen because you were cross? bored? worried?”

  • Saying what happened or what you know and giving clues or cues:

“His picture was ripped and he started to cry. When people cry, this often means they are…?”

  • Scaffolding the answer by saying what happened or what you know and seeing if the child or young person can complete the sentence:

“You threw the pen because…?”

“You hid in the cupboard. People didn’t know where you were, and they might worry you are not safe”

  • Repeating the question and modelling the answer

“Why is it wrong to shout in the corridors? It’s wrong to shout in the corridor because it might stop the other children listening and thinking”


Questions that require the child or young person to reason, justify, predict and reflect can be too hard, for example:

  • “why…?”
  • “how…?”
  • “would, could, should…?”
  • “if…”
  • “why did you do that?”,
  • “why is it wrong to …..?”
  • “what would happen if….”
  • “how did they feel?”
  • “how did you feel?”
  • “what is the problem with what happened (or) what you did?”
  • “what were you thinking at the time?”
  • “what have you thought since?”
  • “if you knew this would happen, what should you have done?”

Contact us

For more information please contact the Speech and Language Therapy Service at Flockton House on 0114 226 2333.

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: SL58

Resource Type: Article

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