Six-year-old children are experiencing increased independence and flexing newfound skills and abilities. At the same time, they are still young children who are capable of becoming easily frustrated and upset by setbacks and disappointments.
These back-and-forth steps to being a big kid can lead to behavior problems that are common for this age. Typical 6-year-old behavior problems can include talking back, defiance, and whining. Children who have siblings may engage in sibling fighting as they jockey for parents’ attention and affection.
The good news is that 6-year-old behavior problems can be handled with the right mix of understanding, firmness, and good communication. Try these ideas for how to handle behavior problems in 6-year-old children.
Common Causes of Behavior Problems in 6-Year-Old Children
Consciously or not, many 6-year-olds are testing boundaries as they become more interested in making decisions for themselves, doing more things on their own, and generally moving toward having more control over things in their life. As they develop their own personalities and form their unique likes and dislikes, they may express defiance when asked to do something they don’t want to do. They may talk back and make declarations such as, "You are not the boss of me!"
Children this age are also going through a great deal of changes and processing new experiences such as the start of first grade. Many may exhibit behaviors more common among younger children such as whining, clinginess and even tantrums. Other common 6-year-old behavior problems can include refusal to go to school or school anxiety.
While such behaviors may be frustrating and upsetting, it’s important for parents to keep in mind that these attempts at asserting their independence is a perfectly normal part of child development.
How to Discipline 6-Year-Old Children
As children get older, parents may need to make adjustments in how they handle discipline and consequences. Managing behavior problems in 6-year-old children is often a matter of establishing firm guidance and boundaries and then giving your child the opportunity to make the right choices. You may find that discipline strategies that worked well when your child was younger -- such as time-outs -- are less effective now that your child is older.
However you choose to handle behavior problems in your 6-year-old, it’s important to keep in mind that children this age are feeling out their newfound sense of independence and testing their limits in all areas of their lives, including behavior. Stay patient and try the following strategies for disciplining a 6-year-old child.
- Be clear and consistent about rules.
Now that your child is a first-grader, he will be expected to follow certain rules at school such as listening when the teacher talks or sharing with others. A home, you can talk to your child about behavior you expect to see in him, just as his teacher may explain what she wants to see from your child when he is in school. Your 6-year-old may even be able to contribute to making some rules of the house (such as agreeing to try speaking to his sibling nicely, even if she drives him crazy, for instance).
For instance, you may expect your child to finish all of his homework before he turns on the TV or plays a videogame. Or, now that your child is older, he may be able to take on more responsibilities around the house, and you may expect him to complete his chores before he can play. Whatever the rules, talk to your child to make sure he understands them -- as well as the consequences for not obeying the rules.
- Listen -- but do not engage in debate.
The flip side of being able to communicate with an older child is the back talk or arguing that can ensue when your child disagrees with you. While you want your child to feel like her opinions and thoughts matter, and that she is being listened to when she expresses herself, it is also crucial that you do not enter into long debates about the rules of the house.
- Reconsider the consequences.
Many parents of 6-year-olds find that discipline strategies that worked when the kids were younger such as time-outs are not as effective. For one thing, older kids are generally less affected by being put in their rooms or by being asked to sit somewhere else by themselves because they are better able to understand that the punishment won’t last long and are less bothered by being alone.
If that’s the case, you may want to consider other punishments such as taking away privileges or toys, or not allowing play dates with friends or videogames. Whatever the consequence you decide should be for the misbehavior, be sure to stay consistent when enforcing the rules.
- Give warnings -- but do not waver.
You’ve given your child one warning and then another in your attempt to curb a bad behavior. If your child continues to do something you asked her not to do (or vice versa), follow through with the punishment.
- Take the long view.
Remember that conflicts will arise in all phases of your child’s development. But when parents establish firm boundaries and clear expectations, children will be less likely to test their limits, and behavior problems will be less likely to arise.