AIM: This paper draws on theory and evidence to develop a conceptual staff training model for the management of 'challenging behaviour'. BACKGROUND: Staff working with clients who are experienced as challenging commonly report negative feelings such as anxiety, anger, guilt, fear, self-blame and powerlessness, as well as dissatisfaction with their jobs. Current training programmes in challenging behaviour offer a 'smorgasbord' of content, without a clearly defined conceptual framework. DATA SOURCES: Medline and PsychInfo were searched for papers in English from 1998 to 2008, linking 'nurs*' to 'challenging behavio*' and its related terms. Additional hand-searching identified informative papers from disciplines outside nursing older than the search period. DISCUSSION: We developed an applied model for training educators in respect of challenging behaviours. The model directs educators to consider: the influence of the nurse, including their values, emotional processes and behavioural skills; features of the client; and features of the situation in which the behaviour occurs, including its culture and working practices and physical environment. IMPLICATIONS FOR NURSING: The most striking implication of the model is that it explicitly recognizes the importance of domains of learning other than skill. This enables educators to find educationally appropriate responses to resource limitations that inevitably constrain training. CONCLUSION: Challenging behaviour should be considered as a product of several intertwined factors: the actors involved - nurses, clients and others - and the situation in which the behaviour occurs, including its culture and working practices and physical environment.