4 min read/Published On: January 18, 2022/816 words/

Positive Behaviour Support Through Meaningful, Purposeful Activity

By. Richard Mills

Have you ever been bored? There are very few people who can honestly answer no to that question. Our own experiences reveal to us what boredom feels like and that sometimes we resort to less than healthy solutions. Have you ever eaten something to relieve your boredom – even though you know that it is not really the answer? Feeling bored can lead us to seek activities to distract us because boredom is really quite an unhealthy and unpleasant state of mind. We are designed to be purposeful, and we thrive on having a purpose in our days.

The need for purpose is vital for people who live in social care environments just as much as it is elsewhere – perhaps even more so. There is a somewhat stereotypical view of social care where elderly people spend their days sitting, gazing at the ever-present TV with yet another cup of tea by their sides… waiting for God. Happily, with activities programmes and teams of staff focused on providing more productive things to do, this is not always a true reflection of life in social care.

The need for purpose is vital for people who live in social care environments just as much as it is elsewhere…

When purpose is absent, people will usually seek to find a way to occupy or entertain themselves – this can sometimes result in behaviours that are not always welcomed by others, behaviours that might be labelled as challenging or concerning. If we are astute and seek to understand the reason for such behaviours it is possible to realise that the behaviour itself can be read as a form of communication, with behaviour becoming a language in itself. Responding to communication has a very different purpose than simply trying to prevent a behaviour. When behaviours are prevented without an understanding of the communication behind them, the individual will likely find another way to get their message across and in some cases, this can be even more challenging than the original behaviour. Where behaviours are communicating the need for a greater purpose, the importance of meaningful activity becomes apparent. Equal to our innate need for purpose is our desire for meaning. Where purpose and meaning are present, there is a far greater chance of being and feeling fulfilled – something that is important to us all.

Meaningful Activity

What then is meaningful activity? This will surely differ from person to person, and it is true to the ‘person-centred’ ethos to recognise this and ask, what is meaningful for the individual? Meaningful activity has a purpose, and that purpose can be varied. It is meaningful to relax, sleep, socialise, work, tend to personal care, perform self-care, learn, express, have fun, and meet and be with others. Meaningful activity is much more than simply occupying time. To support well-being, it needs to have a focus on purpose too. Is it purposeful to do, or just to be involved in doing the laundry, the shopping, the cooking, or the housework? Well, yes. These things all have an all-important purpose for every one of us.

Whatever our age or ability level, quality of life is absolutely central to our well-being. The active inclusion of individuals in social care in their own lives, engaging them in meaningful activities to whatever degree is possible, is a key element in promoting quality of life. An interesting thing to consider is that when we are involved in promoting the quality of life for others, there is often a knock-on effect in our own lives. Working in a way that focuses on quality of life, whilst it can be hard work, can enrich our own work and life experience. It is certainly a more enjoyable way of working than reacting to challenging behaviours and trying to contain or control them.

Positive Behaviour Support

The Positive Behaviour Support or PBS approach to working with these challenges calls this ‘Primary Prevention Strategies’. When working with Primary Prevention Strategies, there is often little to no awareness that a behavioural approach is being used because it works proactively to meet an individual’s needs in advance. That means there is no need for the communication (i.e., for the behaviour to be utilised). It feels very natural to work this way and is certainly preferable for the person receiving support. Anything that can be done to reduce the prevalence of challenging behaviours in social care environments has to be a good thing. Learning the language of behaviour and working proactively to improve the quality of life helps enrich the lives of those receiving support and those supporting them. It is a great thing to enjoy our work and this approach can make the difference between dreading coming to work and looking forward to it.

To learn more about the principles of Positive Behaviour Support and how it works, take our e-learning course.


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