4 ways to support challenging behavior in kids, from a Speech Language Pathologist


Motherly Collective

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life—trying to get through morning routines, getting the kids to bed on time (does that even exist?)—we all want the same thing: We want our kids to feel loved and to have a strong relationship with them. We don’t want to yell or get mad; we just want a day without constant chaos.

If your child struggles to control their emotions and you’re constantly walking on eggshells, you get what I mean by just wanting one day where everything doesn’t hit the fan.

I remember one morning vividly. It was one of those chaotic mornings where everything seemed to be going wrong. My son was having a meltdown over his socks. Yes, socks! No matter what I said or did, his emotions spiraled out of control, and before I knew it, we were both in tears. It was a moment of frustration and helplessness that I wouldn’t wish on any parent.

But here’s the thing: Emotional regulation is more than just a parenting challenge—it’s a fundamental life skill, part of what we call “executive functions.” These skills help our children (and us) manage thoughts, emotions, and actions, paving the way for success in life, school, relationships and beyond.

4 solutions for challenging behavior

As a speech language pathologist with years of experience working with families, I’ve seen firsthand how crucial it is to empower parents with practical strategies to support their children’s development of these skills. That’s why I’ve developed a simple four-step process to help parents foster emotional regulation and executive function in their children. 

Step 1: Strengthen the relationship

Children who struggle with emotional regulation often hear more negative comments than positive ones. It’s not because we don’t love them or appreciate their efforts; it’s because we’re human and we react to the chaos around us. But meaningful praise can make all the difference.

When your child manages to keep their cool, even for a moment, let them know you’re proud. Acknowledge their efforts, no matter how small, and watch their confidence grow.

Step 2: Language tweaks for building skills

Next, let’s talk about language tweaks. Instead of telling your child step-by-step what to do, try using declarative language. For instance, rather than saying, “Get dressed,” say, “I notice you’re still in your pajamas.” This acknowledges their current state and prompts them to take action.

Step 3: Promote independence with visual cues

Now, let’s talk about promoting independence. Children with lagging working memory, a common issue among those who struggle with emotional regulation, often benefit from visual cues. Working memory is like the brain’s sticky note,  temporarily holding and manipulating information. Create a schedule outlining their morning routine, complete with pictures of them doing each task. This helps them remember what needs to be done and gives them a sense of ownership over their actions.

Step 4: Nurture social skills and awareness

But what about social skills? Children who struggle to control their emotions and impulses often find themselves losing friends by second grade. It’s not because they’re bad kids; it’s because they haven’t yet developed the self-awareness and perspective-taking skills needed to navigate social situations.

Instead of shaming our children for their behavior, let’s focus on improving their self-awareness. Saying ”Why would you say that to them” isn’t effective in improving future interactions because it doesn’t help build their executive function skills.

Encourage your child to recognize and name their emotions, helping them understand why they feel the way they do. From there, we can work on perspective-taking, helping them understand how their actions affect others and how they can make better choices.

Remember, we’re all in this together. With patience, understanding and a little creativity, we can help our children develop the skills they need to thrive in an ever-changing world. As parents, we hold the key to helping our children build these essential life skills and foster their success.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother’s journey is unique. By amplifying each mother’s experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you’re interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.





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