How to Deal with a 5 Year Old

Updated on November 17, 2011
M.H. asks from Lima, OH
7 answers

I normally do NOT like to ask anyone for help/advice on my children because I like to think I know what to do, but lately, I really don't. I have a 5 year old, 4 year old, & I'm pregnant with my 3rd. My 4 year old of course can be challenging at times, but my husband & I can't really ever recall a time where we just couldn't handle him if you will. Our 5 year old on the other hand, I feel like he's gotten out of control, but since he's my oldest I don't know if there needs to be more discipline or if this is a how a 5 year old is. He will talk back to the EXTREME, he KNOWS when to stop talking back to his dad & even when he knows my husband is about to punish him, he will always throw in one last word just to get under skin I guess. If I tell him he's going to pick up his toys that he took out himself, he will reply with "no, I'm not" and if you tell him something he doesn't like it's always "you meany head" or "you're mean to me" ALL DAY LONG. I feel like from getting up in the morning until going to bed at night, it's a constant battle with him & it has honestly been this way since he was REALLY young. He's always be defiant & I just don't understand. Temper tantrums are EXTREMELY outrageous & he throws them VERY loud for VERY long sometimes for the silliest things especially when he hears the word "no." Is that normal? Because I've been told they shouldn't be this bad at this age. Like I said, we've NEVER had that issue with our 4 year old and sometimes I wish I could just sent my 5 year old off to my moms JUST so I can catch a break, but I never do because I feel that that isn't going to solve the problem. Does anyone have any advice?

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answers from Portland on

Just a question: what would happen if you just flat-out ignored him when he talked back? I would treat that part as a self-indulgent behavior; if no one responds by telling him not to talk back or getting upset, there's no one to argue with. That generally takes the wind out of their sails sometimes.

Namecalling-- he goes to spend time in his room until he's "ready to be around other people". When no one is upset, define for him what that is--kind words, no calling names, a 'regular voice'. The same with tantrums. "You can be mad in your room." Let him blow off his steam with little attention or concern. When he comes out, move on. Don't let the outburst be a topic of conversation or you only reinforce that this is something worth doing because he gets attention for it. If you need to address his blow-ups, use a very calm voice and tell him "I will be ready to listen when you can talk to me in a voice like this."

I wonder (not an excuse for the behavior) if he's upset that you are expecting a new baby. Did he also start kindergarten this year? That would be a lot of big transitions for him.

I agree with the idea of some time each day exclusively for him. This worked really well for several people I know who had kids who were acting out.

I also believe that you can give good choices and consequences for not following directions. For example, after you've asked him to pick up his toys and he refuses, you can give him a choice: "you may put your toys away or I will need to put them in the garage until you can take care of them".

If it's any consolation, when my sister and I were 7 and 5, we made life pretty tough for my pregnant M.. She was exhausted and didn't feel we needed step-by-step direction, so she introduced the Saturday Box. Each night, we had thirty minutes to get ourselves in pajamas and pick up our room. When the timer went off, she would go through our room and EVERY toy that wasn't put away went into the Saturday Box. It only took a couple weeks before we had our room spotless.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Salt Lake City on

I know this may sound really crazy-but the answer to this is IGNORE the bad behaviors because that is what you don't want to keep growing or re-occuring.
Absolutely reinforce and praise everytime he does something good-no matter what it is. Example, "You got dressed and ready for school in a lightning flash just like a Superhero. That's great!" That might be extreme but you get the idea hopefully.
Kids need positive reinforcement. As parents, I think most of us tend to give our attention to the tantrums, when they are screaming, being naughty. We NEED to give our attention to the positive behaviours because that is what we want to continue to grow.
I learned this in a parenting class last year and I'm telling you, it has worked wonders for our household. We also laid down certain rules of behavior and went over these with the kids when they weren't "in trouble"and let them know exaclty what would happen.
I use timeouts for not minding, being mean to their siblings, talking back to M. or Dad. They get to go in the 'boring" bathroom for at least 5 min or if they resist, I add on one minute until they do their time. If it gets up to 10 min, they not only get a time out but a priviledge or toy taken away. Just remember, the punishment should fit the crime.
These methods have truly kept me sane-I noticed I was being grouchy, yelling at them a lot and paying ALOT of attention to bad behavior and only noticing that instead of the positives. It has helped my mental attitude just as much as theirs.
Try it-it works. I do wish you all the Best-Being a Mama is hard sometimes but definitely worth it and I hope this provides some helpful tips.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Hi. I am not a parenting expert but from my own experience with a "difficult" first born I can say that it was not unusual for our 5 year old to act out. I obviously don't know the details of your family life but what I realized over the years was that much of my daughter's misbehavior was a cry for attention. My daughter was seeking attention and she was willing to get it any way she could.
The only thing that reduced talking back and tantrums for us was for me to spend 30 minutes of quality time with my daughter everyday in which she was in charge of the game and I was fully engaged by her. Let me tell you, it was hard! I kept thinking about other things like dinner, or my to do list but over time I got better at it. I even put away the phones refusing to answer them! i wanted her to know that she was more important than all of that.
This worked for us, I hope you find out what will work for your son.
I do have one question though. Does he do the same at school?

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answers from Charlotte on

I'm so sorry to hear this, especially with you being pregnant.

No, this isn't normal 5 year old behavior. You really do need some help with him.

Do you or your husband yell back when he is on your last nerve? What is your husband's punishment that your son knows is coming, that makes him quit talking back? If he says he won't pick up his toys, what happens next? Do YOU pick them up, or do you finally make him do it?

What do you do with him when he has a tantrum?

Have you ever watched Supernanny? It might be hard, but maybe her approach would work. Separately, I would have a timeout box for his toys, and everytime he says he won't pick them up, put the toys in the timeout box and put it up until he has no more toys to play with. When he starts losing his toys, he'll start picking them up.

I'd put him in his room for tantrums and not let him come out until he is done, and then you two talk about his tantrum afterwards, but don't stay outside of his room. If he has you as an "audience", he has no reason to stop crying. And with the talking back, putting him in his room for that is appropriate too.

If you can spend one-on-one time with him when he is being a good boy, that will help. Positive attention for good behavior is very important.

Talk to your ped about this problem. His behavior has been bad for a long time, from your description - it will take a long time to make it better, but you must figure out with help how to go about helping him.

Good luck, Mama!!


4 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

I sort of just skimmed through the responses but a lot of what they all say kind of aligns with the Love & Logic parenting method. I started using it with my two year old son and 13-year-old niece and LOVE it! My niece actually said, "How do you get me so well?" I told her I was using Love & Logic on her and her response was "Please make my M. read those books!!"

The method is really easy and so, well, logical. I won't try to explain it all here but I honestly adore it and have never seen a method work so well. I highly suggest you check it out. This book would probably be the perfect start for you because of the age-range of your children:

Also, here is a link to some of their tips about how to deal with certain behaviors:

Good luck!

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answers from Portland on

I suggest that the way you word things could be creating his talking back. I recommend that you read How To Talk so Your Kids Will Listen and Listen So Your Kids Will Talk by Mazlish and Ferber.

"You will put your toys away!" feel like fighting words to me. How about saying, "let's put your toys away" and then help him get started. Or, "Once your toys are put away, we'll have dinner. We're having such and such" and start a conversation.

You've developed a routine now and it will take time to change it. He expects you to boss him in a negative way and he's learned to respond in a negative way.

I suggest ignoring a lot of what he says will be helpful. Ignore the "meany head" sort of words. He says they to get your attention. So don't give him any attention.

Focus on giving him more positive attention. Sounds like you're trapped in negativity. Look for things to praise him for. Set him up for success so that you can praise him. Spend time with him, playing, reading, talking.

I suggest that you're not having difficulty with the 4 yo because his temperament matches yours. The child who doesn't quite fit takes more work.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Marda has suggested my favorite parenting book of all time, How to Talk. I've used this approach with my grandson for the past 3 years (he's now going on 6). We work as a very smooth team, not in opposition. I've also suggested this book to a few other young families, and have watched "problem" children go from defiant and whiny to (mostly) cheerful and cooperative. It starts with a change of tone in the parent. And the book teaches how to coach your child to become a problem-solver.

Even defiant kids are just trying to get their emotional needs met, which include love and connection. If you can learn to recognize those needs, and help him meet them in other ways, he may be surprised to discover he's grateful to go along with you.

One of the best things you can do is to stop challenging every little thing he does that you don't like, and start looking for positive comments you can give him. "Danny, that was so helpful of you to __________." "I like the way you figured out that __________." "Look this great play space you've arranged – did you really do this yourself?" "Thank you for helping me carry the _________ in from the car." "Wow, how did you guess I needed your help with that?" "I like the clothes you picked out to wear today."

Just a few tiny positives, and you may need to look for them at first, can wake up a craving in your son for more. Many kids will knock themselves out for recognition of what's good in them. Many others have given up on getting noticed for anything good, so they resort to power games to get the only kind of notice they think they'll reliably get.

I agree with Marda about choosing the right words. It may take some practice, especially when you're feeking tired or impatient yourself. If your son needs to get under your skin with one more comment, that suggests that you've already gotten under his skin. Kids get annoyed and impatient, too (some more than others), but they are not often permitted the respect to just express those feelings. When they need understanding or sympathy and haven't learned how to ask for it in a parent-approved way, they resort to classic childish behaviors, whining, stubbornness, and tantrums.

2 moms found this helpful
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