How to Deal With a Misbehaving 5-Year-Old

By Freddie Silver
Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Getty Images

Five-year-olds might be mature enough to understand rules and obey them some of the time, but, like children of all ages, they will test the limits. Although they've left behind the tantrums of the "terrible twos," they can still have meltdowns, which might include hitting and using bad language. Some 5-year-olds behave angelically in kindergarten and save their periods of misbehavior for mom and dad, while others might only act out only when overtired or hungry. Good parenting means being prepared to respond appropriately when your child misbehaves, so, regardless of the reason for the misbehavior, if your 5-year-old isn't behaving properly, you need to deal with it.

Step 1

Encourage your child to see the consequences of her actions. Tell your child how her behavior makes others feel. Explain that hitting hurts. Five-year-olds are developing empathy and will be able to relate. Remind her how she felt when hurt by someone else.

Step 2

Read storybooks to your child that show children misbehaving and the consequences that follow. Discuss the stories. Your 5-year-old will be able to understand the concept behind "what if" questions that explore different story lines that might have happened if the characters behaved more appropriately.

Step 3

Impose a reward and consequence system. Use stars or smiley faces and sad faces on a calendar or whiteboard to track good and inappropriate behaviors. Explain to your child that a certain number of good behaviors will result in a special treat, while misbehavior results in a negative consequence -- such as no TV for the evening.

Step 4

Be consistent and fair. For example, if your child has started using curse words, you need to react each and every time she utters one. If you ignore her some of the time, it will be more difficult for her to learn your limits. Model good behavior and avoid using bad language.

Step 5

Build a nurturing, trusting relationship with your child. Take the time to explain the reasons behind your demands and show your child you understand and care about her feelings. Ask Dr. Sears advises that children behave better and show respect to loving parents who have clear expectations about their behavior without being overly strict disciplinarians.

Step 6

Avoid yelling at your 5-year-old, even when she's screaming at you. Try whispering into her ear when she's crying; most kids will stop so they can hear what you are saying.

Step 7

Use time-out as a consequence for misbehavior, but use it judiciously. Five-year-olds probably don't need more than a 5-minute period on the time-out chair to understand your disapproval of their actions.

Step 8

Pay attention to the language you use with your child. Five-year-olds respond better to instructions that are worded positively. For example, instead of saying "Don't leave the table," try "Sit down, please, and finish eating."

About the Author

Freddie Silver started writing newsletters for the Toronto District School Board in 1997. Her areas of expertise include staff management and professional development. She holds a master's degree in psychology from the University of Toronto and is currently pursuing her PhD at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, focusing on emotions and professional relationships.