What exactly are social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD)? Many definitions exist and even the overarching term is interchanged with others. You may hear the same difficulties referred to as emotional & behavioural difficulties (EBD). You could potentially hear the term behavioural emotional and social development (BESD). The most recent term that also pops up is social, emotional and mental health (SEMH).
All of the four terms above can be defined in similar ways. The definition that I prefer encapsulates how many children could fall under the umbrella of SEBD:
“difficulties which a young person is experiencing which act as a barrier to their personal, social, cognitive and emotional development. These difficulties may be communicated through internalising and/or externalising behaviours. Relationships with self, others and community may be affected and the difficulties may interfere with the pupil’s own personal and educational development or that of others. The contexts within which difficulties occur must always be considered and may include the classroom, school, family, community and cultural settings.”
I chose this definition because it encompasses the wide variety of difficulties that children may face. It avoids falling into the pitfall of just defining the most severe and shocking elements of SEBD that usually gain the most attention.
It highlights how a social, emotional or behavioural difficulty can impact relationships. Perhaps their relationship with themselves and their self-esteem is severely damaged? Maybe, they can’t build positive relationships with their peers or family because they have trouble regulating their own emotions. They could even be isolated in the community as they explicitly or implicitly can’t access local clubs and amenities because they are seen as different, challenging or strange.
Externalised behaviours get a lot of attention as they are very hard to ignore in a classroom. You may also hear these behaviours referred to as “acting out behaviours”. These include behaviour like defiance, aggression, vandalism, bullying, swearing, shouting and running away.
Internalised behaviours can get less attention. These behaviours are easier to ignore or miss altogether. They can also be called “acting in behaviours”. Internalised behaviour may present as withdrawal, depression, passivity, anxiety or even self-harm.
I also like how this definition highlights the importance of context. It is worth observing where these difficulties occur. Are they just in school and not at home? Vice versa? Perhaps these difficulties manifest in certain places and not in others.
So if someone says that a child is dealing with SEBD, EBD, BESD or SEMH, you will need to ask them to be more specific. Are their difficulties being communicated through externalised behaviour or internalised behaviour? In what contexts are these difficulties occurring? Which relationships are being impacted? Avoid the trap of thinking that a child who has an emotional or behavioural difficulty must automatically be presenting a certain way. Remain curious and dig deeper.
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