What is emotional control?

The executive functioning skill of emotional control refers to the ability to effectively manage emotions, so that they do not negatively impact behavior, prevent task completion, or hinder attaining goals. A student who has developed this skill will be able to reflect on their feelings so that they don’t act on impulsive behaviors.

What kinds of challenges are present in not having this skill?

The most obvious sign that a student doesn’t have this executive functioning skill is that they will be highly emotional. The positive side to this is that their contagious happiness and excitement can uplift others. However, experiencing intense emotions also means they can quickly become frustrated, angry, or upset over things that would not impact their peers so significantly. After becoming upset, it can take a considerable effort to be able to calm them down. Their mood can change rapidly, often leading to arguments and misunderstandings with their peers and adults. Offering constructive criticism can result in the student having a strong emotional reaction.

How to help students develop their emotional control

Following these steps will ease the child into making changes to their behavior that will benefit them long-term:

  1. Help them identify their personal triggers that typically cause problematic behaviour.
  2. Make a list of alternative behaviors they could adopt instead that would have a positive
  3. Roleplay scenarios so the child can practice their replacement behaviour response.
  4. Encourage them to start applying the replacement behaviours in minor real life situations.
  5. As their confidence grows, encourage them to adopt their replacement behaviours in situations
    that previously triggered more intense reactions.
  6. When the replacement behaviour is successfully adopted, use two levels of reward. Give a small
    reward when the child successfully uses one of their planned replacement behaviours. A larger
    reward can be given if they manage to handle a situation that would have previously triggered
    them without even needing to use a replacement behaviour.

If you need more ideas on how to help support students with Emotional Control difficulties, click the button below to get a free handout.


Branstetter, R. (2014). The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children with Executive Functioning Disorder. F+W Media, Inc.
Dawson, P. & Guare, R. (2009). Smart But Scattered. The Guilford Publications Inc. 
Dawson, P. & Guare, R. (2018). Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents: A Practical Guide to Assessment and
Intervention (3rd ed.). The Guilford Publications Inc.