our everyday life

How to Deal With Defiance in a Five-Year-Old

by Kristen Moutria

Despite your best intentions and well-defined rules and regulations, your 5-year-old is still likely testing your limits by disobeying and rebelling against you. In fact, according to Susanne Ayers Denham, a psychology professor from George Mason University, quoted in an article on Babycenter, children of this age are looking for a way to assert themselves and defiance is often the result. Before losing your patience, remember that it's developmentally normal, if unpleasant, as they figure out what their boundaries really are.

Change Your Perspective

Try to understand your 5-year-old's perspective when you ask him to stop watching his favorite show and start his homework. Instead of scolding him for being rebellious, let him know that you understand it is hard to leave what he is doing when he's having fun, but that it must be done. It can also be helpful to give your child time reminders before transitioning to a new activity so your child knows the activity is almost over and what will be happening next. By doing this, you are showing him that you understand he is enjoying himself, but are also demonstrating firmness about what he needs to get done.

Use Positive Reinforcement

When your child responds to your instruction in a favorable way, be sure to point out what about her response was appropriate and why you are proud of her for having a good attitude. Dr. Ira J. Chasnoff reports in "Psychology Today" that positive reinforcement is the only effective type of discipline because complimenting your child or thanking her for being well-behaved will help you to avoid confrontation on the first place. He points out that positive reinforcement encourages children to repeat the good behavior more frequently, which naturally decreases unwanted behavior.

Keep a Routine

A predictable schedule is both necessary and desirable to 5-year-olds, who thrive on routine and order. Dr. Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist, reports that routine gives children "a sense of security and helps them develop self-discipline." Dr. Markham points out that by keeping a consistent routine, power struggles between parents and children are eliminated and defiance is greatly reduced because the parents aren't against the kids -- each expectation or activity is just part of the daily routine. Furthermore, kids understand their parents' expectations much more clearly if there is consistency in their day-to-day lives. For example, if your daily routine involves eating dinner, then having bath time before brushing teeth and reading a story, your 5-year-old will know what comes next, and can even take charge of some of the steps, which can lead to less defiance because she will feel more in control of her environment.

Call a Time-Out

When your 5-year-old is testing you with his defiant behavior, call a time-out-- not only for him, but for yourself, as well. Taking time to breathe and allowing yourselves a moment to rest will help put your frustrations into perspective. Instead of using time-out as a scary and undesirable punishment, look at it as an opportunity for your child to calm down and regain composure. BabyCenter reports that allowing your 5-year-old to designate a "calm-down place" for himself may further reinforce the idea that a time-out is a positive place to be when he's feeling frustrated or defiant because he's been given a choice and a little bit of control over what happens.

About the Author

Kristen Moutria has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Evangel University. She is currently pursuing her Master of Arts in education from the University of Nebraska.

Photo Credits

  • Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images