School Age : Behaviours
Updated: Feb 5
School Age Behaviours – What to Expect
At this age children are still learning everyday behaviours such as how to treat others, how to act and react to things, and much more. Between the age of 5- and 6-years children usually enter ‘big School’ and whilst developing their own traits and behaviours, will suddenly be exposed to many other personalities which will affect and influence their own behaviours to varying degrees.
Sibling arguments are quite common – they start because a child may think something is unfair, that their view is right, or they might see a situation in a different way. Other times siblings may be fighting to get parental attention or approval.
Siblings will naturally argue, and some siblings may fight when their disagreements are not solved. Some children fight more than others, and this is affected by many factors including their temperament - parts of their personality which makes them behave in a certain way without thinking.
Siblings close in age and of the same gender tend to fight the most often. Human beings generally have the capacity for aggression, some more than others, and fighting can be a normal, although unpleasant expression of this. It is difficult for adults at times to resolve disputes, and even more difficult for children who are not in full control of their communication or reaction skills.
Modelling conflict resolution is the best way to get children to see how best to resolve disagreements. You can model behaviours which they will watch and copy in their own environment. If you react calmly and appropriately when you are angry, remain subjective and listen to the other person’s point of view, then children will learn the best ways to sort out their differences.
Fighting amongst siblings can be an effective way for school-age children to develop their social behaviours needed for adulthood. But sibling rivalry can be a cause of great stress on families. If you feel you are struggling with your children’s fighting do not hesitate to seek professional advice.
Starting school is a challenge for children and parents alike. If your child is well rested, well fed, and your morning preparation is as calm and as cheerful as possible, they will be as prepared as possible for their day of play and learning.
You may need to establish a new morning routine which will take you all some time to adjust to. This new (and long term) system is generally best met with a solid routine and plan, and ensuring you stick to it. How the family approaches a new day will set the tone for your child’s day at school.
Children do not grasp the importance of ‘time’ as well as adults do, leading to stress in the morning as you battle time pressures and other responsibilities. The following tips may help your mornings run more smoothly:
Prepare the night before for anything such as packing sports uniforms.
Have you child bathe in the evenings so they do not need to in the mornings.
Find out about any work due, and read any letters, notes or newsletters the night (or earlier) before so as not to be unexpectedly delayed.
Prepare lunches or set the table for breakfast the night before.
Rising 15 minutes earlier may be all it takes to make the morning routine calmer (and many children benefit from having their own Alarm Clocks).
Turn off distractions i.e. TV, Game Consoles etc. You may consider allowing TV time once your child has gotten themselves ready for school, as a special reward.
Remind them what they are meant to be doing, in a friendly way. Using a checklist with pictures if they are still learning how to read, could be helpful and a fun way for them to learn.
Be Positive. Moods are contagious, good or bad.
Remember your child will take on more of their own responsibilities as they grow older. Once your child can dress and feed and bathe themselves it will get easier.
Talking About School
Talking to your children about school can sometimes be an ordeal. So often parents are met with single word responses to your questions i.e. “How was school?” “Fine.” There are several reasons some children do not divulge their daily activities to you. It could be because so much happened during their day it is too much to summarise it all.
Other children are more reserved and private and so keep more things about their days to themselves. Either way, letting them know you are interested and available to talk whenever they feel like it is so important. Asking and showing interest in your child’s day will assist with their sense of self and instils the value of school and shows how much you care about it, which helps them value it too.
Talking to your child about school helps you understand what is happening at school, what is expected of your child, and whether there are any problems which need addressing. If you are concerned at all about your child at school, you can always contact the school and discuss any issues with their teacher.
Your child no doubt returns home school from hungry and tired, with their minds full of new things they learnt that day. Easing your child into home-life once they return from school can help encourage your child to share things about their day. Children appreciate little gestures such as simple as telling your child you are happy to see them or helping them unpack their school bag. Topics such as Homework can always wait until they wind down.
Remember that every day will be different, and sometimes your child will want to talk and other times they will not. You can encourage them to share any news by putting down what you are doing and giving them your full undivided attention or approaching it at an informal time such as when you are cooking together. Respecting their privacy but showing them, you are always available when they want to talk will go a long way in terms of trust and open communication.
Most children will cheat at some point in these early school age years. Children cheat in many situations and for many different reasons. It is a shock when you discover your child is/has been cheating, but it is a natural testing behaviour and most children will grow out of it, with your help and encouragement.
Some children cheat because they feel they cannot meet high expectations – either set by themselves or by others, and they believe they cannot complete the task without cheating. They may just want to win and don’t want to feel the disappointment of losing (which is a behaviour they will be developing too), or they may simply find a task too difficult and feel cheating is the only way they will succeed.
Very young children may change or break the rules because they do not understand them properly. But if your school age child is cheating and they clearly understand what is expected of them, you may need to become involved to help your child curb this behaviour. If you find they are cheating because they cannot cope, or they feel immense pressure to succeed you may wish to talk to their teachers or a doctor/psychologist for advice.
Bullying can be physically and emotional damaging for children and intense bullying can be a terrifying experience. There is a difference between teasing and bullying. Some examples of bullying behaviours include:
If a child is teased repeatedly
Using extremely hurtful or aggressive language or behaviour is used
Intentionally excluding or leaving other children out
Spreading nasty stories about another child
Hitting or pushing children
Taking other children’s possessions
It is common for young girls to be more passive aggressive than boys, and their bullying behaviour can be difficult to notice. Boys tend to be more obvious and physical than girls.
If your child is hesitant to talk about the fact they may be being bullied at school, there are certain things you can look out for such as:
Changes in your child’s attitude towards school – such as not wanting to attend school at all.
Difficulty or withdrawal in class, poor grades, staying close to the teacher during breaks or sitting alone.
Physical signs such as cuts or bruises or torn or damaged clothing.
Sudden unexplained requests for money.
Emotional signs such as distress, anxiety, nervousness, depression or crying, mood swings, quick temper or becoming excessively unhappy at the end of weekends or holidays.
Always talk to your child if you suspect they are being bullied. Many children tend to keep bullying a secret, so you may need to approach your questions with care. Prompting, open ended and informal questions generally work best – such as asking what they enjoyed and what did not they like about their day, who did they play with, are they looking forward to schooling tomorrow etc.
Children should not ever be left to handle bullying on their own. Grownups need to intervene to stop bullying behaviour before it can seriously damage a child’s confidence and state of mind.
What If your Child is the Bully?
As is the case with all bullying behaviour, sadly one child is the bully and one is the victim, and you may discover your child is the one doing the bullying. This can come as a shock to you and can be difficult to comprehend. Immediate intervention is needed to ensure your child learns the errors of their ways.
If your child is bullying then you are less likely to hear it from your child and you may be made aware of it by teachers, parents or other children. You may also be able to see some signs directly from your child. If they talk about other children or teachers in a negative or aggressive way, or you notice they have money or possessions which do not belong to them, you may need to investigate further. These things do not always mean your child is a bully so if you have any suspicions or concerns and your child has denied any such behaviour you may like to speak with their teachers or a professional for advice.
Asking for Things
All children ask for things, all the time. The way in which you respond to these requests will shape their communication, teaching them about compromise and manners.
Responding to Requests
Basing your response around the way your child asks for things sends the message that you will pay attention and respond politely when they use good manners. Praising your child when they ask for things nicely is the simplest way to reinforce this behaviour.
Praise is the most effective way to encourage and reinforce good behaviour. Remember that old saying – “You catch more bees with honey than you do with vinegar”
Really listening to what your child is asking for is important. Take a moment to think about what they are asking for and whether you can say yes to it, or perhaps negotiate the outcome with your child (more on Negotiating in School Age > Development). Fair and consistent responses from you will help teach your child the more effective and positive way to ask for things.
Often you will have to say No, which can be difficult. You want to make your child happy, but you know they cannot have everything they want. Reducing the need to say No is ideal – keeping ‘No’ for decisions which really matter may help them take the response more seriously.
Try these tips for making ‘No’ more positive:
Stand your ground. If you say No and then give in to their requests, children will start to think that your answers are not final and that arguing helps them get what they want
If possible, show your child respect by giving them a reason. This helps your child understand your decision-making. This will not always help as they may be too disappointed by the ‘No’ to be interested in the reason
Offer an alternative. You may not want them to have a chocolate bar – but offering them a piece of fruit which they can select will seem fairer and give them a sense of being able to choose
Praise your child when they accept No for an answer. Children all must learn how to cope with being told No, it is a valuable social and emotional skill. Children also learn the best ways they themselves should say No by the way you model this behaviour and is an important lesson on how to be assertive and deal with conflict.
School age children tend to make a habit of ‘pestering’ their parents/carers for things. There is a difference between children asking for things and pestering. When your child repeatedly asks for something they generally cannot or know they cannot have, that is Pestering.
Pestering is a common testing behaviour, and how you respond can make a big difference to how long your child persists with this behaviour. Your child may be too young to know whether what they are asking for is acceptable or appropriate, and they will pester less as they grow older as they get better at asking for things that they can have.
How to Minimise and Handle Pestering
Some tips on handling or avoiding pestering behaviours are:
Clearly laying ground rules before taking your school age child somewhere you now they may pester you for something i.e. shopping centres. Talking about the behaviour you expect from them can help
Catch your child behaving well and praise their good behaviour, by clearly explaining you are very happy that they are not asking for things they know they cannot have, or offer a healthy reward i.e. a fresh fruit juice, or a play in the park on the way home etc
Keep your child’s exposure to advertising material to a minimum if possible. Children see products and think that they want them, so limiting their exposure to these products could help avoid pestering for things they cannot have
Remind your child you will not consider their request until you hear them use good manners
If you say No, stick to it. If you say no and then give in to their pestering behaviour, children will start to think that whining and pestering works
Pestering can be incredibly embarrassing if your Child throws a tantrum in a public place after being told No. Stand your ground and do not give in, even when there are people watching. More than likely most witnesses are filled with empathy for you - as every parent has experienced a tantrum at some unfortunate time!
The greatest misconception about discipline is that it is a form of punishment. Discipline is about teaching and learning appropriate behaviours, not about fear, harm, or a loss of control. School age children generally benefit from discipline as they have more of a sense of understanding or consequence than younger children.
There are certain controversial methods of corporal punishment such as spanking which is considered to be a prime example of short-term compliance – fear or pain may cause your child to ‘behave’ in the way you wish them to, but which may cause long-term negative effects compared to a more respectful, consistent approach which models positive behaviours.
If you school age child insists on misbehaving even after you have given them chances to correct their behaviour, this will have consequences, and it is important to remember there should always be a distinction between punishment and discipline. By now your child will realise there are very real consequences to their behaviour, and by modelling this good behaviour yourself, your child will soon learn being naughty does not pay off. Many parents believe a healthy balance between both positive reinforcement and consequence is the most effective way to teach and discipline their child.
Ensuring the consequence is relevant to the severity of the crime is also particularly important, as is responding immediately so your child knows exactly what you are/were expecting of them. As your child grows older it won’t be as necessary to react instantaneously and you may be able to wait until later, but reacting calmly, at soon after the offence will quickly indicate to your child that you expected of them, or what they did that was unacceptable.
Choose your battles wisely – if they have been cheeky and you can clearly see they are testing their behaviours and the consequences are not overly severe, sometimes you may let it go. This is not a display of weakness; it may just require a lighter response. Children love being silly, they love to laugh and play – so sometimes if you cannot beat them its far more fun to join them!
During these first school age years, your child will be tackling major milestones which will no doubt be incredibly challenging for all of you as a family. But remember there are so many wonderful traits being developed every day too. As your child grows, they will connect with you over more and more things – they will laugh, communicate, play and learn from you. They will be shown how to treat people, how to react to things and how to cope. With these lessons comes natural frustration but just being there for them will help them through these first crucial years at school and will help model their behaviours throughout the rest of their lives.
raisingchildren.net.au. (2019, October 31). School-age behavior: what to expect. Retrieved from https://raisingchildren.net.au/school-age/behaviour/understanding-behaviour/school-age-behaviour
raisingchildren.net.au. (2019, June 6). Pestering: what to do about it. Retrieved from https://raisingchildren.net.au/school-age/behaviour/common-concerns/pester-power
raisingchildren.net.au. (2019, June 11). When children ask for things: how to respond constructively. Retrieved from https://raisingchildren.net.au/school-age/behaviour/common-concerns/when-children-ask-for-things