019: Helping our Kids Rewire Difficult Behaviors // Chrissy Austin, Speech Language Pathologist

Are you struggling with childhood behavior problems in your home?

All of our kids get stuck in behaviors that are difficult for us and others to deal with–perhaps it’s whining, interrupting, fighting with siblings, or defiance.

Childhood behavior problems are so hard and they’re also really normal. According to Chrissy Austin, a speech language pathologist with 17 years of experience teaching children social skills and communication, these neurological “loops” can be rewired. She does it every day in her private practice, and, in this week’s episode, she teaches us how to do it! We can follow this simple three-step process with our kids, in our homes:


1) Identify the specific troublesome behavior, and then ask yourself, “What SKILL does my child need to learn in order to change this behavior?”

2) Sit down with the child and make a GOAL to learn the new skill. Have him or her make it visual by writing it down and/or drawing a picture. Consider adding a hand cue.

3) Offer positive reinforcement through verbal praise whenever the child is working on their goal, and consider adding additional reinforcement through earning privileges, if needed.


Chrissy offers so many fantastic tips and interesting bits of research throughout the interview. You won’t want to miss it, especially if you sometimes struggle with knowing how to help your children change.

Show Notes

-Michelle Garcia Winter: https://www.socialthinking.com/

-“Kids Beyond Limits” by Anat Baniel

-“Finally Focused” by James Greenblatt





7 thoughts on “019: Helping our Kids Rewire Difficult Behaviors // Chrissy Austin, Speech Language Pathologist”

    1. Actually, I could use some help with this. My son really explodes in anger whenever his older brother and sister push his buttons (which they are so great at doing). So what would the skill be that he needs to stop this? I would say anger-management, but what does that look like to teach? Maybe “patience” would be a better skill to focus on? What would you say is the skill I should focus on?

      1. Rachel Nielson

        I will ask Chrissy!! Check back in the comments in a day or two! Thank you so much for taking the time to listen and comment. This is a great question, not just for your son, but for many many children.


      2. Rachel Nielson

        I asked Chrissy about this, but she never responded. (She is a busy lady!) I would say impulse control is probably the skill. Because he wants to lash out (maybe deservedly so), but he needs to learn how to control that impulse. That’s a little hard for a child to wrap their mind around, but maybe you could connect it to other times in life when we want to do something but we don’t. And teach him methods (and practice them) to stay calm when his siblings bug him, like taking deep breaths, or walking away, or coming to get you, or even saying something really silly instead of really mean. Just brainstorming here! Sorry it took me so long!

      3. This comes up often. Here are some ideas.

        1. Sit down as a family and talk about “pushing buttons,” define it with pictures or words and make it visual. Pushing Buttons is always a 2 way street.
        2. Make a visual of what to do when my “buttons are being pushed.”
        – walk away
        -do something on my list of ideas of what I like to do by myself (read, listen to music, take a bath, play legos, have a snack, etc.)
        -use my calm words to tell how I feel
        -I listen when others tell me to stop
        3. When your child responds differently when their buttons are being pushed, REINFORCE it! “That was great when you went and played in your room when your brother was driving you nuts.”
        4. Kids need a quiet space and siblings need to give them that space! Make door knob signs that kids can put on the door that indicate that need alone time, NO ONE CAN INTRUDE.

        Then in the moment remind them of their new tools and goals! “I can see that your brother is pushing your buttons, remember, you are going to do something different to calm down and feel better,”

  1. SO timely. I had the worst blowout I think I’ve ever had with my oldest daughter. She is explosive, angry, defiant. Very smart, sensitive, honest. And I want to do things positively and salvage what we have. The emotional bank account went bankrupt before bed so we’re going to have a bright, new day and start with a family meeting. Thank you so much!

    1. Rachel Nielson

      Oh mama, I have been there! She sounds very much like my son, actually. Yes, tomorrow is a new day! And family meetings are powerful–as are apologies. I had to apologize to my son tonight when I flipped out on him for flipping out on his sister. (Ha!) We can do this!

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