29 answers

Need Advice on 5 Year Old's Behavior

My 5 year old son has been acting up lately. Whenever things don't go his way he cries loudly or screams. And it is often little things that set him off, like he spilled a drop of water on himself at school the other day. And he reacts really defiantly when he gets reprimanded (he usually gets timeouts) for something he wasn't supposed to do, like hitting his brother or something. I first thought it is just a phase, but it has been going on for a while and it is difficult to handle sometimes, especially when he screams in public. It is kind of embarrassing sometimes and I am at a loss what to do and how to handle him in those tantrums. He is very bright, he builds LEGO starships that are meant for much older kids, he is very strong-willed and a "drama queen". He is the oldest at home and in his preschool class, and he will start Kindergarten in fall. Do you have any advice?

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Thanks everybody for your great advice. Sometimes I get in a rut and forget to ask for help. Mamasource is a good resource.

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I have one exactly like you and I would love to see what people say. I have no fix it solution, but I am trying to reward the good behavior and not make too much of the bad. it is extremely hard. They know, at this age, that they are behaving inappropriately, so just to remind them of that helps them recognise it when it is happening. I am giving my son "special mommy time" without any siblings (it usually means lunch somewhere and an icecream!) so that he gets my full attention for a while (I always thought he had enough of my attention since he is such an attention seeker, but it doesn't seem so to him - so special time is clearly HIS time). I am also using a star in the jar prop - when he does something good, does something without complaining, manages to go with the flow if plans change etc etc, he gets to put one star in the jar. When the jar is full we go for a treat outing. We use this for the whole family - even the little ones can earn stars, so it is a team effort to fill the jar. It's a good way of remembering to praise the good behavior. Stars and jars can be found at Michael's. Otherwise the only thing I know and find hard is to be absolutely consistent with rules and threats. Looking forward to hearing more from others!

Go to Hand in Hand Parenting (www.handinhandparenting.org) and get their materials on tantrums. They sell lots of different little booklets on different parenting topics which are simple, short, and very helpful. I've been to one of their "Tantrum Training" classes here in the S.F. Bay Area, and it's remarkable what parents report when they use Hand in Hand's techniques. The techniques are easy to use, but they are all based on research in child development so they are grounded and proven. I recommend them highly!

You may not like what I have to say, but I spanked my son. I did not spare the rod. It was the only thing that worked.

Time out only worked for my daughter who is 20 months older than him.

More Answers

Hi, B.;
I noticed you mentioned "whenever things don't go his way." Has his loud complaining been getting him things he wants? With my kids I had a way of dealing with it at home: When she would wind up for a tantrum, I would say loudly so I know she heard, "Oh, no! I wanted to (have a treat, put in our favorite movie, go for a ride, do some artwork, read a book"--just fill in the blank--"with you, but we can't do that if you decide to cry instead! Tell you what: You go outside and finish crying, and hurry up, cause I want to have fun with you!" and all the time be ushering the offended out the door and say happily, "See you pretty soon!" On outings, of course, it is different. But I believe that these power struggles are like a tug of war game. So you just drop your end of the rope, however you can. Don't let him make you pick it up. In other words, calmly decide you are done shopping, done taking him somewhere, and leave with a disinterested attitude, or if you're NOT done with what you are doing, calmly keep pushing the cart down the isle, or whatever. I hope this helps. J.

1 mom found this helpful

I don't actually have any advice for you because I am going through the same thing with my 5 year old son. It's like the terrible 2's all over again! Let me know if you get any good advice and if anything works. I'm in the same boat that you are except that I work full time. So I come home after working an 8 hour stressfull day and have to deal with my 5 year old screaming and kicking and crying and my 11 year old daughter egging him on. *sigh* Someone help please!

Hi B.,
The first thing I would look at is make sure he was eating properly (cut out the sugar and fast foods). And some kids need a schedule to feel secure including scheduling time with just you and him and if he is really bright he needs to be creatively or physically challenged in his activities. I found that my daughter really needed a schedule - to know in advance what the day was going to look like. Flexibility was not in her vocabulary when she was young and it made her irritable when I would throw things in the day that she didn't know about. You and your husband should formulate a plan together and be consistant about your responses to his behavior. There's a book called "Bringing Up Boy's" by Dr. Dobson that might be of some help to you. I am a 52 yr. old mother of 3 girls 26, 23 and 14.

hard to tell, but sounds like he needs some good attention, loving focused and without distractions. Perhaps some art therapy would help him to get in touch with his feelings too, and then you can figure out what is going on.
Negative attention is a way of getting attention.

Hi B.,

I am 33, married, have a 7 yr old daughter and 5 yr old son, and can relate to everything you are saying. =)

It is possible that part of your son's "acting out" is because his younger brother might be "babied" a little more so this is his way of trying to get the attention back or maybe express his frustration when he is told he needs to be a certain way because he is the "older one." I thought of this especially when you mentioned that he gets in trouble for hitting his younger brother. The 3 year old probably gets into his "stuff" and is not as aware of how to share, interact with his sibling, so your 5 year old is trying to deal with this. I hope that the 3 year old is also reprimanded if he hits his older brother. He probably acts defiantly a lot because he might see that when his younger brother throws a fit, he is given some more leeway. So he thinks if he is defiant enough, he can get his way too.

I've learned that it seems phases are going on "too long" and then we begin wondering if it's more serious than just a "phase." I don't think you should feel any "embarrassment" when he screams in public. Sure, it makes everyone stare and you feel like a terrible mom or disciplinarian, but who cares what others think? The important thing is you, your children, and your relationship with them. Try not to let him feel he is embarrassing you...just deal with what is happening. Set some ground rules like: In our family, we do not scream in a store and have a tantrum like this. If you do, we will leave. (and you must stick to this). If kids throw screaming fits in a store, you just ignore the screaming, finish the shopping, and have a discussion about it at home. Another rule to set: In our family, hitting is not allowed. No one is allowed to hit anyone, no matter what. Even though it will happen anyway sometimes, if it's a family rule, they will be taught that it is never acceptable to hit each other.

I would also be careful about "labeling" your children because of self-fulfilling prophecies. If he is told he is "strong-willed" and a "drama queen," he will surely believe this about himself...after all if his mom thinks so, then he must be, right?

Being a stay at home mom can be tough, where you have to have buckets of patience and you have your kids with you almost all the time. I've found that forcing myself to be more patient, talking to my kids like adults and reasoning with them the same way, and always getting on my knees to be at their eye level when I talk to them, and treating them with respect...it works much better than having a constant battle going on.

I hope this information is helpful. Good luck.
=)

* PS I saw some responses that say to get him tested for ADHD, etc. PLEASE keep in mind he is a child and children are not perfect and neither are adults. Perhaps he could be diagnosed in the future with something but then us adults could go get some Valium and be "mellow" all the time. There is a huge problem in this society of going overboard with diagnosing children with mental disorders when it's simply them being children.

B.:
The book "Temperament Tools" by Helen Neville has some good suggestions for recognizing what sort of personality your child has and how to gear your responses so that they'll be more effective (I know I have to try hard to restrain myself from being sarcastic or loud with my "drama queen" - who, like your son, is very bright but has difficulty expressing her feelings appropriately - because it ends up getting her *more* upset instead of helping her calm down)
Has your son been sensitive to "little things" like the water for a while or is that a totally new thing? If it's something that's been a problem before but just seems a bit more out of scale lately, you may want to look into whether he has some sensory integration issues. Just a thought (and if this is something you think you'd like to pursue further and you're in the East Bay, the folks at the Cornerstone program at the Ann Martin Center in Piedmont can be a helpful resource http://www.annmartin.org/cornerstone.html )

That's hard to deal with. When a child is throwing a tantrum (which sounds like what your son is doing) you might try removing him from the whole situation. If you are in a store - leave. Put him in his car seat and tell him he will be alone in the car until he is done screaming. Then stand outside the car. Don't worry about what other people think - you'll probably never see those people again! When the tantrum is over ask your son why he was angry or upset in a calm way and suggest better ways to communicate his anger. Nothing works the first time. It has to be a repeated in order for a child to learn. Hope this helps.

It is a phase. I have two jars. One is filled with big rocks and one is empty.
The rules: You get a rock for things. We call them listening rocks, big brother rocks, helping rocks (to promote kindness towards others), sharing rocks, recently silent rocks (for mommy needs a timeout) yes you can have time outs as well.
Everytime his behavior exhibits a habit you want to enforce you give him a rock. When he fills it up then he get to pick a toy from the $1 store. Learned from the Nannie!!! You will be very surprised about how good it works.
Also, I have found (opposite of most TV) that when my child watches this show he is embarrassed by the children's behavior and I find that he self reflects. It is very odd but we noticed it when we were watching that he will point out the behavior and say that the behavior is embarrassing.

4 kids, busy life

Get the book " Your Out of Synch Child" - it could really help - our children's nervous system's are so overstimulated in today's world and the most sensitive of them are realy suffering - take a few steps back and really observe in the most unreactive way you can.

We don't feel all the stimulous as much - for us it is the frog in the boiling water phenomenon - you know - the one where the heat gets turned up so gradually the frog is 'unaware'. . .

We have to protect these kids they just got here & the're our canaries. Compare what their facing compared to our childhood - look at the total picture.

Try getting the soft surgical brushes and learn about brushing the skin and sensory integration.

Goleman's book Social Intelligence as well different but connected. Search out books that connect the dots on sensitive kids.

Good Luck,

R.

B.,
I've been dealing with the same thing with my son. I decided I would first deal with it at home. When my son had an outburst I began making him go in his room or the bathroom until he was ready to be "fun" and enjoyable in my presence. It did mean putting him back in there over and over at first. This way he had no audience for his drama. He also knows that I'm firm with my "No's" and his fit won't change things. This worked for me but i know that every child is different, so I hope this helps.

Hi B.,

I can so relate to your situation since I am Mom to an extrememly strong-willed (I like to say "independant thinker") four 1/2 year old girl. This is your son's temperament and it may in addition just be a particularly rough phase he is going through. I know that my daughter has learned to manage her strong emotions thanks to clear, consistent guidelines to help her to manage her strong connection to her ideas and emotions (and yes, she has in the past, screamed and thrown major melt-downs in public - oh, so fun - but there is no need to be embarrassed for what is a pure emotional response from a child who is just beginning to understand the power of their emotions and how it affects others and their environment). Recently, I have implemented some clearer guidelines that I came to from reading, "Setting Limits with your Strong Willed Child." This author/ psychologist gave me some great additional tools that have helped us to teach and channel what is actually a gift that strong-willed kids have because they are so able to focus and complete tasks on their own. Email me if you'd like, I'd love to continue this conversation.

Hello B.,

I am a teacher and the first thing I thought about was if you have ever considered having your son tested for "giftedness." The condition of being considered "gifted" is widley misunderstood. It sounds like he could be one of these children.

I agree that there are probably other things going on too like with "just growing up." My son is only 2 1/2, but he already has shown some of signs of stress just about getting older and more independent.

When my son gets really upset about not getting his way and he is crying really hard, I hug him and ask him to tell me why he is mad. This greatly helps diffuse his anger and has helped over all with tantrums. I also do time outs for behavior that does or could hurt people, but after that I hug him and remind him that I love him no matter what and I tell him it is okay to cry and to be mad. I have heard that this is the best way to help children get in control of their emotions because they feel validated and heard. That is something all of us want.

It is important to remember that we do not understand what it is like to be them and if we don't ask and genuinely "hear" them, then how can we help them feel confident and secure with their world?

I know that my perspective is quite different than what most moms would do or say, but I have over 15 years of experince working with children of ages 0-12 and I have never found a child that does not respond to love and respect.

Good luck to you!

Hi B. - I've got 3 children, 2 are boys. My second son sounds like he's similar to your son.

I realized that he was very sensitive to stimulation, and would have trouble verbalizing how he was feeling which frustrated the heck out of my very bright child.

Boys express things physically, it's just natural for them to do so. Encourage kind behavior.

I bought a children's book that showed children's facial expression and discriptive words below - we read that together frequently until he began to internalize how he was feeling.

I tried to connect the moment with the feelings we were reading about - the important thing was connecting in the moment and asking HIM what he was experiencing. Often times I'd ask him to point too one of the pictures to help me understand how he was feeling if he didn't know the word.

REWARD, REWARD, REWARD his efforts; SLOW HIM DOWN if he seems frustrated and ENCOURAGE the use of his words.

Finally - you & your husband are ROLE MODELS of behavior to your children. Remember to use your (kind) words, too!!! =)

I have one exactly like you and I would love to see what people say. I have no fix it solution, but I am trying to reward the good behavior and not make too much of the bad. it is extremely hard. They know, at this age, that they are behaving inappropriately, so just to remind them of that helps them recognise it when it is happening. I am giving my son "special mommy time" without any siblings (it usually means lunch somewhere and an icecream!) so that he gets my full attention for a while (I always thought he had enough of my attention since he is such an attention seeker, but it doesn't seem so to him - so special time is clearly HIS time). I am also using a star in the jar prop - when he does something good, does something without complaining, manages to go with the flow if plans change etc etc, he gets to put one star in the jar. When the jar is full we go for a treat outing. We use this for the whole family - even the little ones can earn stars, so it is a team effort to fill the jar. It's a good way of remembering to praise the good behavior. Stars and jars can be found at Michael's. Otherwise the only thing I know and find hard is to be absolutely consistent with rules and threats. Looking forward to hearing more from others!

Hi B.!

I have a 5 yr old who is starting the same behavior. I thought it was because of other influences,like his never-ending teasing older brother :o)

The other day, we walked in the house after school, I asked him how his day was, and BOOM....face down on the carpet crying! Just like he was 3 again!

Recently, I have noticed that he is acting VERY tired like he needs regular naps again, but he hasn't had a nap in a year, or so. Unless it was by accident :o)

After being very sensitive to him, I started just watching him closer this past week or so, I believe it's something to do with normal "growing up". In my experience, I think because my son "knows more" (he started Kindergarten this year) that he can finally feel "right" about some things in his life. So, he feels as though he has alot to prove. And boy.... if we don't "hear the things he's trying to say correctly", then it's very frustrating for him. Even to the point of hitting his older brother....who is also shocked at his little brother's new behavior.

I've been trying to get him to lay on the couch without realizing he's resting. He watches a favorite program I recorded 2 times....enough to try to keep him down for a little while to rest his growing body. I think this really is helping!

I think it will pass, but hitting is NOT ok at any time, regardless of what stage! So, I'm trying to "stay close" and "snuff out" that temper before it boils over again. So far, it's been 4 days without a MAJOR blowup :0)

Good luck! Hope this helps make you feel better anyway.

:o) N.

I have a daughter who is five who can also get upset easily with very dramatic reactions. Do you feel as if your son is spirited or spunkier than other children? There is a great book, Raising Your Spirited Child, that I found very helpful. It has also helped a lot to talk with my daughter, once she calms down about using words to express her emotions and about techiniques that she can use to calm herself down. She is very specific about how things need to be done. When she screams and yells that it has to be "this way" I am remaining calm and asking her to explain to me WHY she feels it needs to be that way. "Use your big girl words and tell me why." When she an do that, it actually makes sense to me and I'm happy to comprimise so that she feels okay with everything. I know that sounds very vague, but try that book, stay calm, try not to argue with him, set consequences and follow through with the EVERY TIME!! It really helps if you can see the warning signs of a tantrum and find ways to stop it befoe it starts. This book will help you recognize that a melt down is coming and show you how to avoid it. I read it when my duaghter was 3 and between what I learned and her getting older, things have really improved. She also has some mild sensory disorders with touch and taste. For example, she will have a fight or flight reaction to certain clothing textures, food tastes, etc. This is actualy a nueroligical disorder that is just starting to be recognized in the medical feild. If any of that sounds familiar to you, then I also recommend the book, The Out of Sync Child. I hope this helps. Good luck!

Hi B.! Hugs. I totally echo what Nicole is saying. It sounds like your son is gowing through a "growth spurt" and having a tough time with it. I think when they are younger, it's easier to deal with the growth spurts because you can physically see it, but the older they get, it's more of a developmental spurt, you know? I would remind yourself that his emotions and reactions are not a mirror of you and how you parent- they are his feelings and very real to him, esp when out and about. He needs you to be the calm anchor for him when his emotions start to unravel, try to not be embarressed, remember that all mother's have dealt with this.
I am not one for corporeal punishment, or punishment at ALL, but I am one for disciplining (teaching) my child before hand. As in, if we go out and about I explain what is ok to do where we are going, what is not ok, why we need to go there, what we will do afterwards, etc. She does much better on errands and such if she is in a well-rested mood (ie after nap or first thing in the am). I have a wonderful "go to" book for things that have stumped me, and it really revolutionized my ideas of parenting:
http://www.alfiekohn.org/index.html
Good luck momma, this too shall pass. (((hug)))
xxx-
sydney

Hello B.,

You might want to consider getting him tested...he sounds a lot like my 5-year-old step-son. He was originally diagnosed with ADHD and we took measures to help him with that. Then we noticed that certain traits were NOT being helped...namely the defiance...so we talked to more doctors and did more tests...he now has also been diagnosed with ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder). We are now working with him and his kindergarten teacher and honestly...he is doing SO much better. These kind of tests and diagnoses are not all about just putting a child on medication...there is more to it...and the benefits for the child can be enormous (and the benefits for the family's harmony are an extra bonus).

Good luck!
~M.

B., I have passed this knowledge on to a lot of mothers. If you have any time at all please pick up the book called Love and Logic{I think it is adolesence to six years} by Jim Faye and his son Charles Faye. It teaches you how to handle those "embarrassing moments" in public and gives you parenting skills that are amazing and they work if you are consistent. I also have 2 sons 6yrs. and 2yrs., I just finished the book about two months ago and I am alot more confident in my parenting and most of the time I am not at a loss when the little "angels" catch me off guard. Good Luck!

I see my own situation in your post! I am a 40 year old mom too with a five year old who acts exactly as you describe. Little things that go wrong can be like a huge calamity to him. He has always been a more spirited, intense child and is very persistent and wants to lead, not follow.

With our son, we are trying a few different things.

Preparation - talking about stuff and even simple role modeling (even if he won't actually participate, you can do multiple roles)seems to help him remember our expectations when he's in the moment. Repetition of our values, followed by reminder of what IS allowed in that situation.

Identifying feelings- help him put words to his feelings and let him know the feelings are ok to have, but instead of hitting we do ___________.

More frequent snacks with protein & fat - he can't get by with grain or sugar-based snacks til mealtime, he needs something that keeps his blood sugar stable. It's hard for him to control his behavior when his blood sugar is crashing.

Rewards for positive behavior - stickers, trips to the park, a hug, whatever you can manage. Catch him being good and reward on the spot.

Loss of priveleges - i.e. if he fights with his older brother while playing in older brother's room, tomorrow he won't get to play in there. We try to keep the consequence directly related to the offense, otherwise it makes no sense to him.

When he does lose it and screams and kicks and hits, I remove him from the situation. At home he has to take a break in his room to calm down, at school he goes to another room or if we are out, we have to be willing to walk away from our shopping and immediately take him out to the car. Once he is calm we go in and I talk to him for a moment. Then we "try again".

I sympathize with you, I know how hard it is when we have a five year old and we know how great they can act but still they throw tantrums!! I have gotten some good ideas from the book "Raising Your Spirited Child", too.

We had this when my oldest turned 4 years old. They say that kids have the terrible 2's...but I think it is the 4-5's. My guess (and that is all this is...but it worked for us) is that they are entering a stage of being able to do so much on their own (like you said with the lego's) and they like this independence. But they still need a lot of help and they get easily frustrated because they have not mastered everything. So they act out in the only ways they know how when they are mad/frustrated/disappointed/embarrassed. What we did was immediate and abrupt stopping of the tantrum. For us that was a firm verbal acknowledgement that the behavior needed to stop right away and sent him to his room with a egg timer (2 minutes). Before he got to leave his room, we talked to him about why he was in there. And that it is okay to get mad/sad/frustrated but it was not okay to act they way he did. Talking through the situation and other ways to handle it after he had a chance to calm down in his room was the best thing. He could talk to us about what made him so mad and how he could respond in the future. The most important thing was what my husband called “zero tolerance”. Every time it happened, our response was exactly the same and immediate. Consistency was key to make this work. Hope this helps.

Hello B.! He's probably testing how far he can get. My 6 year old son has done the same by yelling in public, what i did was leave from were i was and once we got in the car i spanked him and made it clear to him to never ever yell at me ever again and he wssent able to whatch TV for a couple of days. I hate spanking my son but sometimes enough is enough and thats when you need to put your hand down and show then who's the boss. We as parents cant let our children think they can run us

Go to Hand in Hand Parenting (www.handinhandparenting.org) and get their materials on tantrums. They sell lots of different little booklets on different parenting topics which are simple, short, and very helpful. I've been to one of their "Tantrum Training" classes here in the S.F. Bay Area, and it's remarkable what parents report when they use Hand in Hand's techniques. The techniques are easy to use, but they are all based on research in child development so they are grounded and proven. I recommend them highly!

It probably is a phase, but if it's not, early intervention is always best, so keep your eyes open. Is he exhibiting the same behavior in school? If no, then you're fine and he's saving his acting out just for you. In that case, firm, calm boundaries with very consistent consequences are best. Spanking for out-of-control behavior is so destructive -- he needs to know how to calm himself down, and to see you responding calmly and firmly. I am very close to a little boy with similar characteristics; things that helped: give him lots of healthy snacks to keep his blood sugar, really reduce the sugar/simple carbohydrate intake, catch his moods early and have him go engage in a quiet activity that he enjoys at the first signs of his getting wound up (ie, not a punishment time out, just a tool to help him manage his strong emotions). And -- again -- be firm and calm when he misbehaves. Try holding him close when he goes into a tantrum, not in a mean way. Say reassuring things like, "Mom's going to help you calm yourself down." I know it's scary and hard.
Does he have a problem looking people in the eye? Does he play well with his peers? Can he catch a ball and skip and is he generally well coordinated? If there are issues in those areas then he might have something developmental going on (which can quickly become No Big Deal if he gets some help early on). The Children's Health Council in Palo Alto (or might be Menlo Park, it's across Sand Hill from the Stanford Mall) can be a helpful resource.

hi, is your 5 yrs old anoyed cause you spend more time with his lil brother? or give him more attention? he might just be trying to get your attention, i'll suggest to have a good boy chart, each one of your boys will get a sticker for every day they behave every weeekend you get together as a family and count the stickers who ever has "x" or more stickers gets something special, like a toy, a treat, or even maybe some mommy & me alone time.
u should not ignore his behavior, whenever ur out & about & he starts yelling get down to his level(eye to eye) & tell him that you can't understand anything he says when he yells or cries so he needs to take a deep breath & tell you what's up, do not move or leave(unless ur in a hurry) until he talks to you calmly, that way he know he has your full attention.
sometimes at that age they just feel like they want to be the baby again.
hope this helps
L.

Are there stressful events surrounding him right now? Is he aware of your desire to return to work? Or are there family problems? Kids are very astute and pick up on these things and then act out, rather than talking about them. I'd carefully assess his surroundings, and check to see if he's dealing with any sort of stress (big changes, a bully at school, sibling jealousy, etc), and then address that issue first.

Some parents I know who have highly dramatic children tell them that they can take a time-out in a special chair or in their room where they're allowed to act out all they want to - they can scream, jump, cry, etc. And then when they're ready to calm down, they can re-join the fun. Maybe that will work for him. Best of luck.

You may want to consider waiting until the transition to Kinder is going well before attempting to go back to work. I suggest you take your son to a child psychologist or psychiatrist now. Don't wait until things get worse. It does not mean he is "crazy" but there could be some anger issues that a professional could help with. Also, kids that are very bright sometimes have problems because they are years ahead intellectually but not socially. This can cause problems. Although it really is great to have a very intelligent child, it's not easy. Good luck!

My 5 year old did the same thing. I was at my wit's end and took him to see a Pediatric Neurologist. I thought it might be Asperger's Syndrome. They did all of the tests and just told me he is really bright. I knew I needed to do something about the behavior and got him referred to a child therapist (a play therapist). He only went three times and is just fine now. Apparently, he needed to work out some issues. Play therapy is an interesting field, but it DOES work.

You may not like what I have to say, but I spanked my son. I did not spare the rod. It was the only thing that worked.

Time out only worked for my daughter who is 20 months older than him.

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