It’s the million dollar question: How do you discipline a 5-year-old who doesn’t listen?

Bella Heim

Bella Heim

Bella is a mummy of three, writer, and photographer. She's not afraid to admit that she relies on a little red wine to keep the chaos of motherhood at bay. When she's not dodging toys and dirty diapers, you'll find her documenting the wild and wonderful ride of parenthood, and adding a splash of inspiration, creativity, and a healthy dose of mum humour along the way.
Updated on Jan 23, 2024 · 7 mins read
It’s the million dollar question: How do you discipline a 5-year-old who doesn’t listen?

Let’s have a chat about something we all love to talk about: the behaviour of our little angels *insert sarcastic eye roll here*.

What I really mean is let’s get into the nitty-gritty of when we should be concerned about our 5-year-old’s behaviour. I mean, parenting a 5-year-old is like riding a rollercoaster except there’s no fairy floss at the end. Sigh.

If you’re the parent of a child this age, you are probably already quite brave – so put that game face on and let’s traverse the “minefield” of their behaviour and when you should be concerned about their seemingly erratic actions.

Typical behaviour of 5-year-olds

Before we get into the concerning stuff, let’s talk about what’s considered “normal” for 5-year-olds. Please keep in mind that kids at this age are growing more independent, testing boundaries, and trying to make sense of the world around them. Please also remember that every kid is different.

So, don’t freak out just because they are still having random tantrums.

Here’s what you can typically expect:

Mood swings: One moment they’re laughing, the next they’re crying. It’s like living with a pint-sized teenager.

Bossiness: Five-year-olds love to be in charge, so don’t be surprised when they start bossing around their siblings, friends, or even you!

Imagination: Whether it’s battling dragons or setting up elaborate tea parties, 5-year-olds have wild imaginations that can sometimes blur the lines between fantasy and reality.

Impulsivity: Five-year-olds aren’t known for their restraint. They’re likely to act first and think later, often leading to some messy situations (literally and figuratively).

Now, you might be wondering just what might be causing those less-than-angelic moments.

What causes bad behaviour in 5-year-olds?

Every little one is special and unique in their own ways, so there’s really no one-size-fits-all answer here, but some common factors that can contribute to bad behaviour in 5-year-olds include:

Testing boundaries: As I’ve mentioned earlier, your little ones are like tiny mad scientists, constantly experimenting with what they can get away with. It’s their way of figuring out the world around them, and boy, do they love to test us!

Hunger: You know what they say, “hangry” isn’t just for me and you. A hungry 5-year-old is the perfect recipe for an absolute disaster. So, keep those snacks handy, folks!

Tiredness: Okay, we’re all cranky when we’re tired, and kids are no exception. If your child is suddenly acting like they’re uncontrollable, like crying non-stop,  it might actually just mean it’s time for a nap.

Emotions: Kids feel all the feels, but they’re still learning how to express them ( And poor things, it must be so difficult!). Sometimes, bad behaviour is just their way of saying, “I’m sad, and I don’t know what to do about it.”

What are red flag behaviours in children?

Now that we know why our 5-year-olds act like adorable little monsters, let’s talk about when we should actually be concerned.

I like to call these the “red flag behaviours.” You know, the stuff that makes you go, “Hmm, maybe I should call a professional, or a superhero…”

Aggression: A little roughhousing is normal, but if your child is consistently hurting others or themselves, it’s time to seek help and find out what is causing these behaviours.

Extreme tantrums: Look, as tough as it is, we all know tantrums are part of the parenting package, but if they’re lasting for hours or happening multiple times a day, it might be time to call in the big guns (aka a therapist).

Significant changes in mood, appetite, or sleep: If your usually happy-go-lucky kiddo is suddenly moping around like Eeyore, it’s worth investigating. A sudden significant change in behaviour can be because of some underlying conditions.

Social withdrawal: Sure, kids can be shy, but if your child is consistently avoiding social situations, there could be something more going on.

How to foster independence, empathy, and kindness in your little one

So, now that we have the concerning stuff out of the way, let’s talk about how to encourage those traits we all want our little lovelies to have: independence, empathy, and kindness.

Model the behaviour: Kids are like sponges, soaking up everything they see and hear. So, if you want them to be empathetic and kind, show them what that looks like through your own actions.

Encourage problem-solving: Help your child develop independence by giving them opportunities to solve problems on their own. You can start small, like letting them choose their own outfit or decide what to have for breakfast.

Teach empathy: Talk about feelings and emotions with your child. Ask them how they think a friend might feel in a certain situation, and discuss ways they can help when someone is feeling sad or upset.

Praise kindness: When your child demonstrates kindness or empathy, make a big deal out of it. Positive reinforcement goes a long way in encouraging repeat behaviour.

How do you discipline a 5-year-old who doesn’t listen?

So, you’ve tried everything—talking, time-outs, bribery (no judgement)—but your 5-year-old still isn’t listening. What’s a parent to do? Before you pack your bags and head for the hills, try these tips:

Stay calm: I know, I know, easier said than done. But trust me, losing your cool is like pouring gasoline on a fire. Take a deep breath, count to ten, and channel your inner Zen master. You can do it!

Use clear, concise language: Five-year-olds are not known for their attention spans, so keep it short and sweet. Instead of saying, “Please pick up your toys, then wash your hands, and come to the table for dinner,” try breaking it down into smaller steps.

Offer choices: Here’s a secret weapon: give your child the illusion of control by offering choices. For example, “Do you want to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt today?” It makes them feel like they’re in charge, and you still get what you want. Win-win!

Positive reinforcement: Don’t forget to celebrate the good stuff! When your child listens and follows instructions, shower them with praise (and be dramatic about it!). They’ll be more likely to repeat the behaviour if they know it makes you happy.

Consistency is key: You’ve got to stick to your guns, my friend. If you give in to bad behaviour, your little one will learn that persistence pays off. Stay strong and united with your parenting partner (if you have one), because divide and conquer is a favorite strategy of 5-year-olds (They are actually pretty smart!)

Yes, little humans are difficult. They can drive you nuts and make you wonder why you got yourself into this sometimes. But hey, let’s not forget the flip side of this parenting coin. You know, those moments that make our hearts melt like a popsicle on a hot summer day.

Amidst the tornado of tantrums and the never-ending mess, there are those heartwarming gems that make it all worth it. Like those snuggly bedtime stories, the “I love you more than chocolate” declarations, and the pure joy in their eyes when they nail their first cartwheel (even though it looks more like a funky interpretive dance move).

Here’s to embracing the messy, the ups and downs, and the heartwarming moments that make parenting a 5-year-old a wild journey that we wouldn’t trade for anything else in the world.


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