16 answers

5 Yr Old Not Listening & Talking Back to Authority

My ordinarily sweet and agreeable son is now talking back to teachers and other adults, or just plain old not listening and I would love some advice on how to handle it. We spent the last w/e without ANY of his normal earned privileges (no tv, video games, or treats) and I thought it helped, but here it is Friday & he's making trouble @ school again. I would take away all privileges again, but he has gone w his father for the w/e & it's sure to be a w/e of fun& games as they will be attending 2 bday parties, hockey & soccer...and that's just tomorrow! Any advice on what to do when he talks back would be greatly appreciated.

What can I do next?

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I would first be a little leery that maybe these weekends are where he's picking up an attitude.
In any case, I will again offer the idea of a martial arts class. If you're in the Brighton, Milford, South Lyon, Ypsi, or Northville areas, let me know. Wonderful taekwondo program and I'm a 16 year karate mom with 3 black belt sons, second degree. And one of the lessons is that disruptiveness, disrespectfulness comes with push ups. The class teaches self discipline, puts the responsibility on the child to learn stuff. And I've seen some extremely disrespectful stuff go through the class and either straighten up or disappear because they refuse to conform. I gave my kids push ups at home after starting this, and although they aren't model citizens, they are respectful of people.

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Negative attention is still attention. The best thing to do is ignore it and only respond or reward him when he is being respectful. That being said, I know how hard it is to be berated by a five-year-old and how tempting it is to just give in and temporarily stop the maddness.
There could be a bazzillion different reasons - video games, other kids at school, over-tired, resentful or confused about the divorce or just testing boundaries. It's hard to know. If you are truly concerned or aren't sure you can keep your cool and not play into it, you might want to look onto counseling. It's a great opportunity for kids to open up to a neutral party and learn to express themselves in a more appropriate way.

Also - just a thought from my experience....
Our kids are typically extremely well behaved, polite and respectful. They are, however, kids and go through phases. When I step back and take a look at the whole picture, even at their worst, they are angelic compared to many. I think we are more sensitive to out of character behavior when it is such a significant change from what we have come to expect. When one of our kids is spiraling toward a tantrum we just scoop them up and give them a huge squeeze (Hug your way happy, as my husband calls it). It gives everyone involved a chance to regroup and lightens the atmosphere enough that we can talk through it in a positive, civil way.

Whatever is going on, I'm sure you will find a way to reach out and work through it. Good luck to you!

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I would first be a little leery that maybe these weekends are where he's picking up an attitude.
In any case, I will again offer the idea of a martial arts class. If you're in the Brighton, Milford, South Lyon, Ypsi, or Northville areas, let me know. Wonderful taekwondo program and I'm a 16 year karate mom with 3 black belt sons, second degree. And one of the lessons is that disruptiveness, disrespectfulness comes with push ups. The class teaches self discipline, puts the responsibility on the child to learn stuff. And I've seen some extremely disrespectful stuff go through the class and either straighten up or disappear because they refuse to conform. I gave my kids push ups at home after starting this, and although they aren't model citizens, they are respectful of people.

1 mom found this helpful

My ordinarily sweet and agreeable granddaughter is doing the same thing. She was even sent home from school one day because of her bahavior. I don't know what the answer is but I have been putting her in a bedroom and telling her that she can't come out until the bad behavior stops. It usually takes 5-10 minutes but it does stop. I am hoping that eventually she gets the picture. Being consistent is the key and like yours, she goes to her dad's for fun and game weekends and comes back to her mom and it's hard getting her into the routine again. I am going to try and find a website for Nanny 911 and see what they say to do.

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I've read an excellent book called How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, and How to Listen so Kids will Talk - Faber/Mazlich that might help you get him to talk about his feelings. If you express it to him that its a problem (ask if he can see why its a problem and explain why you think its a problem) and ask him to help come up with some solutions, he can get some of that control he needs and wants. With my sons rewards go further than deprivation. If he isn't already limited on tv and video time, its a great item to use as reward! The hard thing is not taking it personal. Your a good mom and you show that by asking for advise. Definitely discuss it with his dad if you trust him to work with you and not react.

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Hi E.,
Just some thoughts for you. I am a mom of 4 children and this is what came to mind when I read your situation. It is so tough on a child when their parents are divorced. It is like they have been ripped in half. I know because my parents were divorced. Sometimes they don't know how to express their anger properly and could quite possibly be very angry at mom and dad for splitting up and this is how they are dealing with it, by being angry at other adults. This could possibly be his way of getting some extra attention if maybe he is not being fulfilled in some areas of his life. You are a divorced mom and that can't be easy on you either. Our response is to just try to deal with the distasteful behavior and punish them instead of going a little deeper. I've been there before many times. Maybe you need to just sit down with him and talk about his feelings he may be having. One more thing that came to mind is what kind of video games is he playing? I know that when my two boys have played fighting and violent games too much they become much more aggressive and talk back. Too much time playing on these video games is really unhealthy emotionally and physically.
I am just sharing all my thoughts with you whether they fit your situation or not. Here is just one more thing to consider. How do you respond to him when you get angry? Do you yell, speak harsh, say anything that might hurt his self-esteem? I have learned so much over the years with my 4 children. It sure wasn't easy, but I learned that my children ususally act out what they have learned from me and it was a BIG eyeopener for me to really examine my behavior. Just keep loving this little precious son of yours. Dad and mom in two different places is so hard for a child. One more thought..........Don't overstimulate your child's central nervous system by caffeinated drinks and sugar. This also causes so many problems in kids today. I sure hope some of this has helped. One best thing I have learned to do in all these years being a mom is to...Take it to the Lord in prayer. He will help you and your son if you ask.
Blessings E. and I hope it all turns out well for the both of you. R.

How long have you been divorced? It could be one reason he is acting up. He doesn't know how to express his confusion or his anger and is taking it out on the teachers.

Teachers see so much because they have them for such a long period of the "awake" time of the day. If he isn't sleeping well, it could also be effecting things.

Take a note pad and for 2 weeks, write down what time he went to bed, what did he eat, did he go with dad, did he act up in school and see if there is a pattern. Once you figure out what the pattern is, you might be able to target the problem and come up with a solution.

Also, look at people in school or on the bus. I know my niece was only in 1st grade last year and HATED her teacher. She was very nasty to all the kids and so my niece started to wet the bed. It lasted off and on for the school year. Once school was out, the wetting stopped and hasn't happened since.

She was crying out and didn't know how .. they are very sensitive at that age. Good you are acting on it and not allowing it to happen.

I hope you find the solution quickly.

Hi E.! I am a single mother of 3 and one of them is 5 and goes to her Dad's for the fun and games on the weekends too. I know this makes it hard on us as full time parents because our children see our home as work, chores, and rules. If you and Dad have a good relationship, maybe suggest to him that on his weekends, he tone down the fun and spend quality time with his son doing things around the house. Because the other parent doesn't have the child as much as we do, they are able to get there tasks done without delay and put aside time to spend with the kids, we on the other hand cannot, we live normally and don't have the down time they do.
Acting up? Did it really just start or are you noticing more now? My 5 year old has been sassy for quite some time but I am noticing more now because she has worked her way up to being really sassy. She has gotten away with it for so long that she has over time worked her way up. I have made some changes as of Fri and plan to see if the changes I made help.

There's probably 2 things going on. First, he's trying to assert some independence, and going about it by talking back, and 2, he's dealing with the fact that his parents are divorced. The main thing you and your ex need to do, if at all possible is communicate, and be on the same page with discipline and punishment, whether he is with you for the weekend, or dad. When theres one set of rules for a child to deal with on weekends, then another set at home, and yet another at school, he can easily get confused and act out. I've seen both sides of parents working together with the kids, my ex and his wife carried out punishments I gave to our kids and vice versa, while my husbands ex let their kids off for things if it happened at dads house, and let time at dads house be 'free time' His girls got into more trouble than mine, and his youngest still has authority issues at 21. It's hard for dads to have their kids for a weekend and have them be under punishment, but if your boy is acting out like this, he needs dad to step up also and let him know it's not ok. You just need to be on the same basic page, even if dad doesn't carry out punishment, he needs to let him know the behavior is not acceptable, wherever your son is. Also, ask the school to test him using the conner scale, which is ADHD, ADD, and ODD, (oppositional defiance disorder), just to make sure theres nothing going on there. Good luck!

Hi E.!

Boy, can I sympathize. My 5 1/2 year old did that last year in preschool. Thankfully it was mostly to us and not as much to teachers, but he did do it at school for awhile. I believe that my taking Love & Logic helped me handle it as well as I could. For starters, explain BRIEFLY without lecturing, that his current behavior is unexceptable and you won't tolorate it. While it is a concern for you is it your problem or HIS when he acts as he does? He needs to learn that there are consequences to his actions and sometimes they need to be immediate and sometimes just saying that you are going to have to think about it and for him "Not to worry about what is going to happen" is better. Most people when told not to worry about something, that is the very thing they do. Also, I learned that the teachers need to deal with his actions at school and not rely on you to handle it. You don't ask them to handle him on the weekends with homework or whatever, they shouldn't be asking you to deal with a situation that you are not present for. It may be time to sit with the teachers and let them know that you are divorced (when that happened) especially if it was recently, and that you are working with him at home.

As for daddy, you two need to talk about this. If it is a problem now it is only going to multiply as he gets older if he gets away with it now. If your husband will agree to help by not taking him to one of his birthday parties or whatever is planned for the next visit it will show your son that both of you are on the same page and that his behavior won't get him anywhere. It's hard to do that if Daddy is part-time, but it is very important. It can be done even if Daddy won't help when he is there, but maybe you can work something out where Daddy gets him when he's been good and if he isn't good Daddy will have to wait an extra week or something. That too would have to be worked out with you and your ex.

Back to the Love & Logic thing. I learned to say things like, "I hear a noise but I can't figure out what it is." or I don't hear little boys that talk back or are mean. Use statements stating what you WILL do more than what he shouldn't do. After all, he is a child & a boy and we all know how trying that combo can be. I have a 5.5 year old, a 4 year old & a one year old and Love & Logic will not leave my house!!!

Hi E.! Wow sounds like your son might have some struggling issues of seperation- divorce. I also am a single mom but my son was 10 when we left his dad. Seeing he is only 5 he, i think u should go with him to some counsling. Have u sat him down and asked him why he is acting this way at school?Ask him if anyone at school has said or done anything to hurt his feelings or him. Let him know u are there for him and u love him no matter what. When i left my ex i made it a piont to keep open communication with my son, like every coupl weeks i would ask him " how are we doing, do u have any questions u want to ask me or problems" i did that faithfully for over time it has paid off because he knows he can come to me about anything and on a few occasions he has! I think its very important the child needs to know they can turn to us when they are sad or happy. My son is 14 now and we are very close, i will share one heartfelt time my son came to me. It was about4-5months after we left his dad and one evening he came to me and said " mom u said i could ask u anything right? and i replied yes whats up buddy? Well mom what took u so long to leave dad?" My ex was abusive for many yrs, i right then realized how much my son was exposed to alot of it! So E. keep communication with your son and rember his age and he doesnt need to know everything at his young age!
Hope u have alot of happy filled yrs to come with your son as i have!!

Hi E.,

I have 3 children 19, 18 and 3 months. I can say that with my 2 and talking to others. That children at some point in their lives will test their boundaries in different ways at different times. It's hard when you’re the only parent trying to enforce that. But it is so necessary for their growth. Also my children’s father and I were not together either. Their are alot of struggle in life. Teaching children earlier to handle their confusion, anger, or sadness will benefit them later. But in my experience this is normal 5 year old behavior. Like testing their independence. I would be firm but very loving to balance those two.

Dr. James Dobson's books : " The Strong Willed Child " or " Bringing up Boys " are excellent reads. Here is the link:


You may also be able to get them in the library. I did.
Hope this helps

E., Part of what your son is going thru is normal, at 2 he learned a temper tantrum might get what he wants, NOW he knows real words, probably some anger and hurt over the divorce, You must work out a deal with your ex, punishments have to be the same, no matter who's home he is in. First try CALMLY saying you don't like the way your son is acting, to think about it while you walk away, If that doesn't work, try repeating what he just said, in the same manner, show him what he looks like.
Our threat which usually works after 1 try, 2 drops of tabasco sauce on a spoon, it is hot, and a food product, (better than soap!) it will stop the nasty mouth, he also needs an outlet for his anger, a boppy bag to hit and yell at when he is angry. Talk to him when he is in a good mood, find out what he is mad about. I have 5 grown kids, went thru a divorce, day care provider for 30 years, been thru many. Good luck honey, talk, give him outlets for his anger, work a deal out with his dad. BE strong and patient! K.

Dear E.,
First, let me say how unfortunate it is that you and the daddy are not co-parenting this little guy. When it is "good parent, bad parent" the kid picks up on this very quickly. If you and your ex can get with some kind of counseling to work through this issue, you will be much further ahead. Somehow, he needs to understand that his permissiveness and resistance to consistentcy in parenting will definitely create a little holy terror in your son.
Next, I have recently learned of a program called Total Transformation, a parenting program that gives the authority back to the parents and the kids actually like it! Go online and look into it. It was formed by a man who was one of those kids who talked back and got into trouble.....really broke his parents' hearts. I am not saying your precious boy is there yet, but you are starting to see the beginning. Our social norms wink at this, and other kids kind of look up to kids with the courage to give the teachers "what for".
The guy is James Lehman, MSW, and the website is as follows: thetotaltransformation.com. Anyway, he has testimonials from many grateful parents who have gotten their kids back.
The real key will be for your ex husband to get on board with this for the sake of your boy.
Best of luck, E.,

The first thing that comes to mind when I read about your son is that he may be over stimulated with so many activities, media, and sweets. An overly busy schedule and little down time can lead to negative behaviors. Television, videos and games for little ones generally lead to sensory overload. It is not his responsibility to monitor these things, its the adults in his life. Make changes in this area something positive, not a punishment.
Outdoor play is essential for kids, even in the cold weather. Bundle up and build a snow fort or take a winter picnic out to the woods or watch the changes at the river as we go from Winter to Spring...Many kids these days are suffering from "Nature Deficit Disorder" as the author of the book Last Child in the Woods puts it. This is a great read. Good luck and enjoy your boy!

E., this can be so frustrating. My grandson started Kindergarten in the fall and had just turned five. He's always been very independent and always spoke his mind. My daughter was having the same problem with him in school and at home talking back. All of us had tried talking to him about his behavior. My daughter also did the routine of taking away his games, tv etc.
My daughter had the teacher put him on daily report and he is able to get 5 smiley faces for being good during the day. At first he was only getting 1 or 2 but now he is getting 4 almost daily and sometimes 5 smiley faces. His reward is a trip to the video store or a small toy. He is so proud to call his grampa daily to tell him his result.
At home she now tells him if he's sassy etc that she will only say something once. If she has to ask him more than that he knows he goes to the corner.
He also knows that if he goes to his dads or our house we back his mother up on taking away something he's lost. Maybe this might work. Good luck

Does he have time with any male figure? I am reading a book about a mom's influence on her son called, "That's My Son." By Rick Johnson. He says that by age 5 boys naturally start pulling away from their moms. It happens again at 11 and then again at 18. This book was very helpful in understanding boys. I would recomend you read it or ones like it. I got it at christianbook.com and typed in mothers raisind sons/boy or understanding boys. I ordered about 5 books. They are very helpful.

These books might help you more than I could.

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