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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

No such thing as evil

“There is no such thing as evil. Youth behaviour that challenges the common expectations and values of society is not the result of inherent wickedness, but is a multifaceted problem emerging from a complex network of factors.” (Leaman 2005 p1)

I don’t think there is anything I want to add to that… I just thought it was a great, thought-provoking statement. It draws attention to what is not always in the forefront of our minds when we are dealing with the most difficult behaviour: that behaviour is very complex and there are many factors both seen and unseen that influence that behaviour.

But, like Leaman, I also want to make that point that this is not excusing behaviour. Rather, it is an attempt to understand it so we can effectively change it.

Leaman also talks about three hidden contributors to aggressive or other disruptive or difficult behaviours.

Low self-esteem

There are many reasons for low self-esteem, but one that children with differing abilities may face more frequently than others is failure. Failure in the classroom. Failure in social relationships. Failure in achieving their potential in other areas.

A child who experiences what they see as failure can be at risk of spiralling into disempowerment and/or depression. For some children this can be seen in bullying behaviour as the child tries to empower themselves. For others it can be seen in both passive and active defiance, or refusals to complete tasks.

For example, it is recognised that children diagnosed with Oppositional Defiance Disorder often have low self-esteem (Better health Channel, 2007). Their refusals to obey rules, swearing, blaming or needling others can be linked to (though they are not exclusively a product of) low self-esteem and the need for power and control. Refusals to obey rules and swearing or bullying others swing the balance of power back in their favour. Blaming others for their mistakes or errors, or simply refusing to attempt tasks, can be a protection mechanism to avoid being seen as weak or having failed in a task. By doing these things they are controlling their environment through intimidation or defiance.


Acting impulsively or acting without first considering the effect of their actions on others can also be a contributor to aggressive behaviour. For more on this see the previous posts on executive function and the development of empathy.

Internalised anger

Children with Down Syndrome can also be seen as stubborn or defiant. However, the issue is more that, due to their intellectual disability/developmental delay, it is more likely that they do not understand what is required of them (Feeley & Jones, 2006). The difficulty is that they may find it very hard to put into words as their developmental delay and physical difficulties can influence their ability to communicate complex, abstract concepts like emotions. This may be exacerbated by low self-esteem from experiences of “failure”, and thus increase the risk of the child acting aggressively or defiantly in order to express their feelings or protect themselves from embarrassment.

It is important, in this case, to recognise that children with Down Syndrome have been shown to be at increased risk of depression and other anxiety disorders (Pollack, 2009). So responding to the needs of the child rather than focusing on the behaviour is important.

Leaman has some great suggestions of strategies to deal with difficult and aggressive behaviour. If you can get your hands on this book, whether you are a teacher or a parent dealing with challenging behaviour, I am sure you will find it very helpful.


Better Health Channel/Victorian Government. (2007). Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Retrieved 26th August 2009 from

Feeley, K. and Jones, E. (2006). Strategies to Address Challenging Behaviour in Young Children with Down Syndrome. Retrieved 26th August 2009 from

Leaman, L. (2005) Managing Very Challenging Behaviour. London: Continuum

Pollack, S.D. (2009) Waisman Center. Retrieved 26th August 2009 from


Lora September 1, 2009 at 12:29 AM  

Great post! Thanks for making it so clear, what I have always believed about behaviors. Excellent info. as usual.

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