What to expect
Starting big school is a challenge for you and your child. You have a new morning routine and the clock is ticking. You might be trying to find a rhythm that will get you out the door on time, especially if you also need to get ready for work. The best way to deal with this stressful new ritual is to have a plan – and stick to it.
At this age, children are still trying to learn the everyday things that we take for granted, like how we talk to each other. You might think your child isn’t listening to you, but she might be just trying to figure out what someone said five minutes ago.
School-age children are trying to understand the world around them, so we have to forgive them for being a bit distracted.
A good rule is to always allow an extra 30 minutes when doing things with your school-age child.
Tips for school-age behaviour
Here are some extra things to keep in mind in relation to your child’s behaviour:
Let your child try. Your child can manage his feelings with some independence. If upset, he might go to another room to calm down, or he might try negotiating to resolve a conflict. Try to avoid jumping in to solve your child’s problem every time – give him the chance to solve it first.
Solve problems together. Your child is now at an age where you can try to resolve conflicts together. So instead of automatically saying, ‘Go to your room!’, you can discuss what behaviour you both want. You might be able to come up with a win-win solution, and your child will probably buy into the solution because she helped work it out. For example, you might say, ‘When we eat dinner, I want you to sit in your chair for 15 minutes so we can talk. What do you want to do?’ She might want to leave the table and play instead. You can decide together that she can sit for 15 minutes then go to play. Once you come up with an agreement, stick to it.
Show your child how you feel
. If you can tell him honestly how his behaviour affects you, he’ll recognise his own emotions in yours, like a mirror. Then he’ll be able to feel for you. For example, you might say, ‘When there’s so much noise, I can’t talk on the phone’. When you start the sentence with ‘I’, it gives your child the chance to change things for your sake.
Develop her listening
skills. It still helps to get down to speak on your child’s level if you’re saying something really important. To check whether she’s listening, ask her to repeat what you said.
Agree in advance on consequences
. Your child can help set consequences for undesirable behaviour or, at least, agree to what you set. It’s amazing how much easier it is when children know what to expect because they’ve already agreed on it. Sometimes you won’t have to set a consequence at all. Let your child experience the natural consequences of his own behaviour, like feeling a bit cold for refusing to put on his coat. This will help him begin to develop responsibility.
- School-age children might experiment with behaviour like swearing. If swearing isn’t OK in your family, speak to your child about his choice of words, rather than ignoring her behaviour. Your child might or might not fully understand a swear word’s meaning. But school-age children do understand that words can hurt or offend others.
Lying is part of a school-age child’s development – but so is telling the truth. Be positive, and emphasise the importance of honesty in your family.
Pestering can drive you crazy, so it helps to have a plan for when your child pesters. You can start by letting your child know you won’t consider what he’s asking for until you hear some good manners.
How things go at home in the morning can set the tone for the day. Children who arrive at school calm, relaxed, fed and ready can make the most of the first few hours of the day (this is also the best learning time for children).
- Try getting up 15–30 minutes earlier – this might help things run more smoothly.
- Mornings are easier if your child can do things for herself. Prepare a list of things she can do to help (this can be in pictures if she can’t read yet). She might be slow and make mistakes at first, but she’ll get the hang of it all with practice.
- TV can distract your child from getting ready, and make it harder for him to hear you. Consider leaving it off in the mornings.
Solving school problems
Talk to your child’s teacher if you want to know anything at all about your child’s school day. Seek the teacher out and talk about any concerns, or organise a meeting to discuss issues in more detail.
Sometimes school-age children cheat on their schoolwork or sport. Occasional cheating is usually harmless, and isn’t much of a concern in the early years. But if children cheat because they feel pressured to win or succeed, or if cheating becomes a pattern as they get older, you might need to step in. Talking about rules and fairness is often a good place to start with school-age children.
The most important message you can send your child about bullying is ‘You don’t have to deal with bullying alone’. It’s important that your child knows that speaking out against bullies and getting help isn’t dobbing – it’s an act of bravery.
You can help your child deal with bullying by getting the school involved in
sorting it out as soon as possible. Your child’s teacher is a good
starting point. Giving your child lots of love and support at home is important too.
Sibling rivalry and fighting
Some conflict and fighting is normal between children in families. The good news is that fighting will decrease as your children grow and develop better social skills.
Arguing fairly and without hurting each other helps children learn
how to sort out issues themselves. You might need to step in when
tempers are frayed, things are getting out of control, or someone’s
The word discipline means ‘to teach’ – not necessarily ‘to punish’. The true goal of discipline is to teach children the rules of behaviour so they can use them. Children learn self-discipline by growing up in a loving family, with fair and predictable rules and expectations. Punishment might even interfere with their development of self-discipline.
For more tips on guiding your child’s behaviour, see Practical advice about discipline. If you have concerns about your child’s behaviour, seek professional help.
Lots of children have habits. Most childhood habits go away by themselves. But if your child’s habit
is interfering with everyday activities, has become embarrassing, or is
even causing harm, you might want to take action.
Anxiety is a normal part of children’s development. If your child shows signs of anxiety, you can show support in several ways:
- Acknowledge your child’s fear – don’t dismiss or ignore it.
- Gently encourage your child to do things she’s anxious about – but don’t push her to face situations she doesn’t want to face.
- Wait until your child actually gets anxious before you step in to help.
- Praise your child for doing something she’s anxious about, rather than criticising her for being afraid.
- Avoid labelling your child as ‘shy’ or ‘anxious’.