Compassionate Approaches to Challenging Behavior

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Compassionate Approaches to challenging behavior

What is compassion?

Compassion has always been at the forefront of SOAR’s approach to therapy and culture as a whole. A big part of providing compassion-focused therapy (CFT) is checking in with ourselves to ensure we know what it means to be compassionate. CFT prioritizes mental and emotional well-being and healing. This approach can drastically reduce challenging behaviors for those with ASD and other developmental disabilities when done thoughtfully.

Understanding Triggers

Instead of trying to shut down challenging behaviors, we must better understand what is causing them. When we come from a place of understanding, we can work through challenging moments and provide learners with the tools to respond to those triggers. For example, if your child has difficulty transitioning at school, consider collaborating with their teacher to create a visual schedule. Openly discuss with your child the emotions they experience when the unexpected happens. Roleplay appropriate ways to respond to the unexpected. Once you understand how your child experiences the world, you can have more compassion and the know-how to help them navigate.

Responding to Triggers

It is commonly understood that when someone tells you to “calm down,” the last thing you will do is calm down. When experiencing an unpleasant emotion, it can feel isolating. For someone that has a limited scope of language skills, it can be incredibly isolating. Even if your child is “non-verbal,” there are plenty of cues to communicate how they are feeling. Narrating and validating how your child appears to be feeling can help diffuse strong emotions that often result in challenging behaviors. Providing various coping skills is essential but can be difficult to implement once a child is already escalated. Practicing mindfulness and breathing exercises with your child at home will help them recall the skills when they need them.

prioritize h.r.e.

HRE stands for “happy, relaxed, and engaged.” This is the sweet spot where one can operate at their full potential. If your child is not in HRE, they are not performing at their best. Part of being compassionate is picking up on body language and subtle cues that indicate whether or not an individual is in HRE. For example, you are providing instruction, and the child’s eyebrows are furrowed, and their body is turned away. Instead of becoming frustrated because they appear to be ignoring you, try responding by first acknowledging the emotion they are evoking. Provide alternative options or take a mindful moment before returning to the task. Meeting your child where they are at shows compassion and validation. These subtle changes can make all the difference in avoiding challenging behaviors.

never stop learning

Fortunately, CFT is becoming the standard for treatment. Research shows that this approach reduces challenging behaviors while also providing the learner with the necessary tools to address strong emotions. The links below provide a comprehensive look at how we can take a compassionate approach.

 For Teachers

For Parents

For Therapists

Want to learn more about managing stress when confronted with challenging behaviors? While written for college students, this article provides lots of great tips for all ages!

For more blog posts by SOAR Behavior Services, visit

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