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How behavior changes, ages 5-6

As children grow, they show many changes in their abilities and behavior. Here is what you can expect during the transition to school, ages 5 to 6.5 years.

What's new

  • Language — At this age, children have a good grasp of language. They understand what you are telling them and they can communicate thoughts, feelings, and desires.
  • Friendships — This is a time of friendships, when they enjoy being with other children.
  • Consequences — Children this age understand the results of their actions and behavior, but still view the world with themselves at the center. They may take things that don't belong to them, act defiant or rude and not admit that they did something wrong.

How to handle challenging behavior

Parents with school-age children need to remember not to criticize, because it often makes the behavior worse. When your child refuses to do something or acts defiant, give him another chance. For example, say, "I asked you to get your shoes on. Maybe you didn’t hear me. Let’s see how fast you can do it."

Try to avoid direct commands. Instead, give your child a challenge, such as completing a task before you count to ten.

It may be necessary to re-examine rules. If you seem to have conflict over and over about an issue, ask yourself if the rule is still reasonable. If it doesn’t make a big difference anymore, let go of the rule.

Discipline methods

Listed below are some discipline methods that work for younger school-age children.

  • Natural and Logical Consequences — If a child insists on wearing a winter coat in the middle of the summer, let him experience getting hot. If she refuses to pick up her toys, warn her they will be taken away for a day and then follow through.
  • Loss of Privilege and Restitution — If your child behaves badly at a friend's house, don't allow him to play with that friend for a certain period of time. Expect your child to make restitution. If he breaks a friend's toy, he must fix it or replace it and be accountable for his behavior.
  • Time Out — Time out also works at this age if used only in a few circumstances. Tell the child she will be put on a time out if she continues to do something she shouldn't be doing. Use time out as a way to calm down. When the time out is over, talk about what she was doing that made you put her on a time out.

You are your child's most important teacher. Your child needs you to set limits and most importantly, let her know when she behaves well.

Related resources

Starting SchoolAmerican Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry — Learn about what parents can do to help their child transition to school, and steps to take if the transition does not go smoothly.

Rose Allen, University of Minnesota Extension educator emeritus in family resource management

Revised by Kathleen A. Olson, Program Director with partnering for school success

Reviewed in 2018

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