Disciplining a 5-year-old requires a combination of skill and creative art. By the age of 5, a child’s personality will begin to shine as he develops a greater understanding of himself, his relationships and the world around him. New skills and talents often begin to develop and it can be a year filled with many wonderful developmental gains.
A 5 year olds budding development, however, can present unique parenting challenges in terms of behavior and discipline needs. Most 5 year olds strive to be more independent than they’re capable of being and they often enjoy experimenting with new behaviors to test their caregiver’s reactions.
Typical 5-Year-Old Behavior
Most 5-year-old children have developed an understanding of right from wrong. They can follow simple rules and often aim to please adults. They don’t understand adult logic however, so they tend to make poor choices.
Kindergarten children develop interests in forming relationships with their peers and usually begin to prefer same-sex peers. They often want to fit in with other kids and might be prone to teasing children who don’t conform. They can also be bossy at this age and it can be an especially difficult time for sensitive children.
Although they should be developing improved impulse control, they’ll still need a lot of work in this area. They might yell, say mean things or exhibit outbursts. They often test rules and limits but should have a good understanding of how their behaviors result in consequences.
Best Discipline Strategies
Set Clear Limits – Establish clear household rules and set consistent limits to discourage your child from constantly testing those limits. Prevent behavior problems by keeping your discipline consistent and follow through with positive and negative consequences to avoid power struggles.
Offer Choices – Kindergarten-age children need help learning how to make good decisions. Offering choices is a great way to begin teaching them problem-solving skills. For example, ask your child, “Would you rather clean your room before dinner or after dinner?” Either choice is a good answer as long as it gets done and giving a choice begins teaching self-discipline.
Give Clear Directions – Before you give instructions, gain your child’s attention. Most 5-year-old children get really involved in imaginative play or watching TV and have difficulty paying attention to instructions unless you have their undivided attention. Place a hand on your child’s shoulder or gain eye contact before you attempt to give directions. Ask your child to repeat back what you’ve said to ensure that he understands.
Praise – Provide lots of praise and encouragement to promote good behavior. It can be helpful to children of all ages, but for 5 year olds, it really gives them the confidence that they’re on the right track.
Teach Alternatives- When you’re child misbehaves, teach him alternative ways to get his needs met. For example, if he chooses to throw a toy when he’s angry, help him learn other ways he could have handled the situation.
Time Out - When you’ve said “No,” and you’re child isn’t responding, a time out can be an effective consequence. Place 5 year olds in time out for 5 minutes. By this age, most children can tolerate serving a time out in a chair or other quiet area.
Natural Consequences – Natural consequences can be effective as children can really start to grasp that their behavior is directly linked to the consequence. If you’ve got a 5-year-old who insists on doing something his own way, if it’s safe, give him the chance and allow him to face the natural consequences if he makes a mistakes.
Informal Rewards– Most kindergarten-age children love opportunities to earn rewards. Instead of threatening consequences, try spinning it as an opportunity to earn a reward. For example, instead of saying, “You can’t play outside until you’ve cleaned up your toys,” say, “As soon as you clean up your toys, you can go outside to play!” Sometimes this simple change in the way you phrase things can really motivate kids.
Formal Reward Systems - Create a formal reward system if your child is struggling with specific behaviors. Sticker charts or token economy systems can be effective ways to target specific behavior problems.