Children’s behaviour in the school years
School-age children often love to be independent, but they still need your love, attention and approval. Your child also needs limits that guide her as she grows and explores. These limits help your child feel both secure and ready for the new rules, routines and responsibilities that come with starting school.
At this stage, children are developing and practising skills and abilities that help them meet new people and make friends. This includes self-regulation and the ability to see other people’s points of view. These skills are great for getting along with others at school.
School-age children can also pay attention for longer, might have more patience, and might even be open to reasoning with you. You might have fewer disagreements with your child, although he’ll still need help with expressing emotions and managing behaviour, especially when he’s tired or in challenging social situations.
And your child’s growing understanding of the world around might lead to some fears – for example, some children might be afraid of criticism, tests, failure, physical harm or threat, and supernatural things like ghosts.
Going to school
Starting school is a big step, and children can feel a bit anxious as well as excited. If you’re enthusiastic about your child starting school, this sends your child the positive message that school is exciting and that she’ll cope and have fun.
School days can be long and tiring for children. This can lead to some grumpy behaviour when your child gets home. Planning ahead for these times of day can help.
Sometimes children don’t want to talk about school when they get home. This might be because it’s hard for your child to sum up a big school day in words. But it’s important to let your child know you’re there when he’s ready to talk about school. You can also talk with your child’s teacher to find out what’s happening in your child’s school day.
Child behaviour concerns in the school years
Anxiety is a normal part of children’s development. Your school-age child might feel anxious about things like answering questions in class. You can support her by acknowledging her feelings, gently encouraging her to do things she’s anxious about and praising her when she does. If anxiety is affecting your child’s life at home or school, see your GP for advice.
You need to step in to help if your child is being bullied at school. 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.
Sometimes school-age children cheat on schoolwork or sport because they don’t know how to cope with the disappointment of losing. Or they cheat because a task is too hard for them. Occasional cheating is usually harmless, but if cheating becomes a pattern, you might need to step in. Talking about rules and fairness is often a good way to start with school-age children.
Disagreements and fights among children are very common. When you handle fighting constructively and help children learn to work out their differences, it can be a great chance for them to practise the social skills they’ll need as adults.
Your child will meet lots of new children when he starts school, and you can support new friendships. If your child finds it easy to make friends, try arranging playdates by talking to other parents. If your child finds it harder to make friends, you could look for extracurricular activities so he can meet children with similar interests.
Lots of children have habits – for example, biting their nails. Your child’s habits might bother you, but usually it’s nothing to worry about. Most habits go away by themselves.
Lying is part of a school-age child’s development. Children aged 4-6 years usually lie a bit more than children of other ages. It’s often better to teach children the value of honesty and telling the truth than to punish them for small lies.
Your school-age child doesn’t understand time in the same way as an adult. This can make school mornings stressful. A good school morning routine can help everyone get out the door ready to face the day in a positive way.
School-age children might try swearing. If swearing isn’t OK in your family, speak to your child about her choice of words, rather than ignoring her behaviour. School-age children do understand that words can hurt or offend others.
If you have concerns about your school-age child’s behaviour or you don’t know what to do about it, there are many people who can help you. Your child’s teacher or the school counsellor are great places to start.
School-age discipline and guiding child behaviour
Discipline is helping your child learn how to behave – as well as how not to behave.
Discipline works best when you have a warm and loving relationship with your child and encourage good behaviour – for example, by giving lots of praise for behaving well, using routines, and giving clear instructions.
Family rules are an important aspect of discipline for children of all ages. They guide children’s behaviour in a positive way by stating exactly what behaviour you expect. And following rules at home is good practice for following new rules at school. Children in the early school years will probably still need some help to remember rules.
Consequences make it clear to children what not to do, so they’re a handy way to guide children’s behaviour too. You can tailor consequences to different situations, but consequences are always best when combined with a focus on good behaviour.
For those times that you find yourself in a conflict with school-age children, you can try a problem-solving approach. You might be able to sort things out by talking about the behaviour you both want, and coming up with a win-win solution. Your child is more likely to buy into a solution that he has helped to work out.
Physical punishment like smacking doesn’t teach children how to behave and can hurt children. It can also make children scared of you, so it’s harder to teach them how to behave well.
Your school-age child’s behaviour and your feelings
When your child’s behaviour is challenging, you might feel angry or stressed. Looking after yourself by eating well, getting enough sleep and doing some physical activity can help. It can also help to talk about your feelings with someone you trust, like your partner, a friend or your GP. Or you could call a parenting helpline in your state or territory.