Why Relationships Matter for Effective Behaviour Support

Published On: 7 July 2023

There’s nothing more important when creating a positive culture and effective behaviour support than strong relationships. Everyone thrives when they feel like somebody understands and values them as an individual—that’s true for us as professional teams and for the individuals we support.

When we prioritise relationships, it keeps the individuals in our care at the centre of our decision making. We can face difficult situations together with a positive approach that seeks to understand, and support, where things are ‘done with’ rather than ‘done to’ people.

Having a strong relationship built on mutual trust does not mean that we need, or should want to be, a ‘best friend’ to those we support. We can make connections, be empathetic, and be fun to be around without losing our professionalism.

4 ways to build strong relationships for behaviour support

Relationships reflect the core values of an organisation. We should expect that everyone will be treated in the same way we would want one of our loved ones to be treated; respectfully, equitably, and with kindness and compassion. When we model the behaviours that reflect these core values, we steadily build the trust of those we support.

So how can we achieve this?

1: Be Patient

We can’t assume that building trust and a strong relationship is a quick process or will happen automatically. We need to be patient and show the individual we’re there in their best interest, and it may take a long time for them to believe that to be true.

These relationships can start by being interested in the likes and hobbies the individual enjoys. We can create conversations where the only intention is to find out more about them and find common interests between us to build a meaningful connection.

2: Positive Body Language

Our body language communicates so much of what we think and feel. Positive body language reflects the care we have for the individual and shows we want to be with them. When we stand with our arms crossed, directly facing an individual without acknowledging personal space, we’re communicating an angry, aggressive stance. Standing at arm’s length, positioned slightly sideways with arms relaxed by our sides, projects a feeling of calm. A neutral face, limited eye contact, and nodding and using vocables like “mmm” show we’re actively listening and encourages communication.

3: Knowledge is everything

We can get to know the individuals we’re supporting and take a genuine interest in them. Sometimes during a busy day, it’s hard to stop and actively listen to those we support, but those small conversations can make all the difference. Taking the time to listen shows we value their thoughts and feelings, and the relationship is a partnership based on respect and care for one another.

When we invest the time to listen and observe the individual we’re supporting, we can develop an understanding of what’s driving the behaviours and the function it serves, and spot patterns and trends in behaviours. Experiences drive feelings that then drive the behaviour we’re seeing. Our role is as a detective, piecing together clues and information to gain a better understanding. When we have information and understanding, we can work together to develop the best strategies for effective behaviour support.

4: Individual Behaviour Support Plans

Are we making the individual a part of their individual behaviour support plans? As these plans are about them and their needs; the more ownership they have, the more they will understand why actions are taken. It’s important that plans are visually accessible, such as using pictures cues or flow charts to sequence. We can reflect on these plans, not just after an incident, but also when the individual is regulated to remind them of the strategies that work for them. Also, we must remember to share the content of behaviour support plans with our colleagues. The knowledge we share can make all the difference when support is needed and we’re not there.

What about when things go wrong?

Relationships with those in our care are not always easy. When we become close to those we support, we may become the person who they’re most likely to hurt physically or emotionally. Relationships can breakdown and can make us feel angry, upset, or resentful of the time we’ve spent building up the relationship. The most important thing is not to take it personally. There will be setbacks, but with a partnership based on core values and respect, we can build strong relationships back up again.

Avoid rushing into the restorative process. We often need time to process and reflect. When the time feels right to come together, we can make sure it’s a positive experience and an opportunity to move forward.

Relationships are at the heart of effective behaviour support

Effective behaviour support relies on the building and nurturing of strong relationships. We work in busy and time-pressured settings and that can easily lead to communication becoming functional, despite our best intentions.

The more emphasis we can put on building relationships and prioritising our time to connect with the individuals in our care, the stronger and more effective the partnership will be.