Misbehaving… Or Typical 5 Year-Old?

I don’t often address specific parenting questions because everyone has different parenting styles and all children are different. I do however get lots of questions about kids and behavior from readers and friends. If my advice doesn’t work for you that’s okay. You know your child best and are the best parent for your child.

From Alicia:

I have a four almost five year old little boy. He’s always been very needy and demanding for attention and I feel awful for always seeming to push him away. He now has a one year old little sister and I’ll play and snuggle with her, and then he will come running in and cause too much havoc.

I know this is an attention seeking thing, so I do that thing where I set aside some time each day just for him and I. But it never seems to be enough for him. He is acting up and not following rules and demanding and demanding and demanding. I’m tired of being frustrated with him, and I’m tired of yelling at him, but I need to be consistent with the rules.

I don’t stay at home and my husband and I have opposite schedules. He has different rules than I do and know there’s a consistency problem
with that, too. I also believe in giving my son some space to play by himself, and my husband doesn’t do that. So now I’m the mean mom that
doesn’t play with her son. Eeek!

…I didn’t know if you could provide me with some helpful suggestions or simply put me at ease with the fact that this will someday pass?

Thanks so much for your question, but I think if you’ve actually answered your own questions in your email. Sometimes it helps to have an outside perspective, so although I’m not a parenting or marriage expert I’ll share my opinion.

Get on the same page as your husband.

In my opinion this is the biggest issue. Children need consistency from both parents. If a child knows they can “get away” with something with one parent, the child will start manipulating the parents and cause even more conflict.

Have you discussed these issues with your husband? I would make a list of all the concerns you have about your son and then set up a conference with your husband. Get a babysitter or wait until the kids go to bed but you want to make sure you have time for uninterrupted conversation.

See if you and your husband can come to agreement on ways to help your son behave better when he is with you.

Create boundaries and stick with them.

If you are unable to come to an agreement with your husband, create some boundaries for your son when he is with you. It is important that you share the expectations with your son from the beginning.

For example: Tell your son you are going to have 30 minutes of playtime with him, then it will be his time to play by himself for 30 minutes. Let him know the consequences for not obeying. If he does not obey you must follow through!

Let your son know he is a priority.

It sounds like your son is acting out because he feels displaced by his little sister. His havoc creating behavior is a way to get attention and become your priority. If you make him your priority in a positive way this might decrease his acting out.

You mentioned that you set aside time to spend with your son, but maybe it isn’t enough time. I know when I had two little kids they were with me all of the time. I wasn’t playing with them 12 hours a day, but they would clean along side me, make meals, or work in the yard. We definitely had time for fun activities too, but I involved them in my every day projects.

I used their nap time (or quiet time) to catch up on my projects.


I have never met anyone who feels they benefitted from being yelled at as a child. Yelling just doesn’t work. It might get a temporary obedience, but it isn’t something that sticks. Most children I know do not react well to being yelled at and often block out yelling because it is so ineffective.

Instead of yelling, set consequences and stick to them. You don’t need to raise your voice to impose a consequence. If the child breaks a rule quietly remind them they are going to have such and such consequence if they continue. If the behavior does not change, follow through.

Reward positive behavior.

If your child is behaving in an appropriate way make sure you praise him. This child craves attention, so give him lots of positive reinforcement. Not only should you praise the child to his face, allow him to overhear you talking about his good behavior to others.

Many times this positive attention is enough to help curb the negative attention seeking behaviors.

Remember he’s five.

Five year old boys are…. well havoc creating kids! All three of my boys were little tornados. Remember some of this behavior is just being a boy. Let the boyish enthusiasm stay and the get rid of the misbehavior.

If you reread the email you sent I think you’ll find the answers to your questions within your message. You know what you need to do to modify your son’s behavior, it’s up to you to do it!

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  1. I agree! The first would be to get the parents on the same page and then have your children as a priority (as well as hubby,of course). I also have a four year old (almost 5 in less than two weeks) and he is a pill! ~ But he is also my loveable, huggable, sweet child. Double edge sword that one. 🙂 I think it’s because 1.) He’s a boy. 2.) He’s four 3.) His dad is deployed. And I would also like to mention—pray for your children. I have four boys that I constantly and DAILY pray for guidance, patience, and wisdom to raise them for Christ. It’s no easy task!!!

  2. it is possible that a child who seems “ill behaved” or “out of control” may have a sensory processing problem.

    These issues fall on both ends of extremes (when we finally notice them). There are some children who are hyper sensitive to (light, sound, touch, texture). these are kids who hate getting dirty, cant’ wear certain clothes because of tags, seams, etc. My son is hypersensitive to noise; to him, it’s like everything is stuck on SUPERDUPERLOUD. esp the fire drill bell at school, the kids in the cafeteria, and the bus ride home.

    Other children almost can’t FEEL. They need SO much input to feel anything. These are the kids who are always jumping off things, almost hurting themselves to feel.

    When my son was in preschool, (my OTHER son), he was so timid because he was so afraid to hurt himself. There was another boy who had also been tested for sensory processing, who was always playing superman!

    I guess, in short, I’m trying to say that, it may not hurt to talk to the pediatrician if sensory processing issues sound familiar.

    • TheHappyHousewife says:

      Good idea Diane! It definitely wouldn’t hurt to ask the family doctor for advice!

      • I just have to second what Diane mentioned. My nearly-5y/o son has a sensory processing disorder that I’ve recognized since he was a year old but only recently did his doctor finally agree that he has a problem & refer him to therapy. The therapists agree that he would likely not be as bad off had his docs referred him years ago when I started fighting for him (I was told he’s just a boy & that I worry too much!). So if your gut is telling you that there’s something wrong, listen to it & get a second opinion if your child’s doctor doesn’t take you seriously. Unfortunately, doctors don’t always know best.

        • Oh JC that is so true. MY excuse was, he’s the baby. He’s spoiled. It’s easier not to hear his tantrums.

          my son did NOT like preschool when he was 3, so I took him out. He LOVED preK4. Kindergarten was a MESS. he was so excited the first day to get on the bus & go. When he got home, he was like, what? I have to go AGAIN tomorrow???

          Every monday was hard to separate from me. heck, every day was hard. some days, I put him on the bus with him sobbing. His teacher was wonderful and had a great class, but the kids were sick of him by the spring, when the clouds got really bad, and his phobia got out of control.

          Turns out, most of his “tantrums” aren’t him being a BABY; they can be managed, but it takes time and patience. Yelling in the car to STOP SINGING! was because to him, it was like nails on the chalk board. same goes for not being able to sit still in church–the organ and choir were TOO much (bc we sat right in front of them).

          Now, we are trying to maneuver our way thru PDD/NOS (which is part of the autism spectrum), tourette’s, and the sensory processing.

  3. My three year old boy can tear some stuff up pretty quick. Not sure about the attention thing. My 4 yr old daughter is the same.

  4. No matter how exhausted or frustrated you are, you have to consistently enforce rules… whether your husband does this with him or not. This will pay off later when he accepts that if he breaks a rule, there WILL be a consequence that he won’t like… and he tests you less often… and you have to dole out consequences less often.

    Don’t fall into the trap of believing that boys are uncontrollable. They can learn to be considerate, non manipulative, obedient children just as well as girls, if taught… All children have their moments, but their bad moments don’t have to dominate just because they are of a particular sex. (I’ve raised three boys.)

    Yelling just makes a child shut you out…. I’ve had much better luck by physically getting down on their level and looking them in the eye as I speak… or softly putting a hand on a shoulder as I speak.

    Be sure to get some time away doing something relaxing to you…. You can trade babysitting with another mom if you can’t afford to pay for one on a weekly basis. This will give you a breather and you will feel more at ease with clingy behavior… 🙂 (But manipulative behavior needs to be nipped in the bud as Barney would say…. )

    Good luck…. and remember…. they won’t be this little long…. and the frustration and exhaustion you have to deal with by being consistent when they’re little will pay BIG rewards in the future when they are teens!

  5. I agree with everything above. We have an only child that we deal with neediness – even though he gets ample one on one time. One of the things we have done is give him fifteen minutes of “play time” in his room or in the back yard when he gets needy. The rule is that he needs to stay in either place for that time without calling for us. It is amazing that after the fifteen minutes he will usually be playing on his own and forget that his time is up. It has surprised us how much his independance has improved.

  6. umm i dont rem writing that email… lol…
    WORD FOR WORD my 5 yr old son is the same… and my 1 yr old son is starting too be a monkey! i stay at home and we are consistant w/ them but it seems that 5 is a tuff age all around.. Gta luv boys… my 5 yr old told me i wasnt awesome because i made him turn the tv off for being mean to brother….. oh well cant be awesome all the time!!!

    GL to everyone! may we all be awesome =}

  7. One thing that helps a lot with my VERY active and VERY attention hungry 5 year old is avoiding food coloring. As an already hyper active child we found that food coloring and juice (I’m talking 100% fruit juice – not sugar loaded punch or kool aid) make him worse. Almost seems like he has corks in his ears and can’t control himself. Don’t get me wrong – he can have small amounts of these things (one juice box a week is my limit!!!) and still be OK, but I also have to prepare myself knowing “The boy had a piece of licorice from a friend – I must exercise more patience with him, he can’t control himself right now.” I encourage this mom to try eliminating food coloring from her son’s diet for a week and notice the difference (assuming he eats food with food coloring). Now, some things like vitamins and toothpaste don’t make that big of a difference, but even a simple bag of fruit snacks can set my son off. We’ve been dealing with this for 2 years and it’s the 1st thing I mention to many parents who have behavioral issues with their kids.

    • I am definitely going to try that! My son just turned six today and he is an only child. I am waiting for this “cool down” age that everyone keeps promising me, because my son is very, very active! he makes alot of mistakes(spills, falls, and weird outbursts), due to his lack of control! i allow him to play freely and be a kid. But when his behavior becomes a problem in school, then it becomes a problem all across the board! I am trying different approaches, and diet change is the first one! He has small chores to give him a sense of responsibility so that he feels vital in the functioning of the household. But he looses focus on things fairly quickly and patience has become vital, more now than ever! on the flip side, he is highly intelligent! MyMyMy…..

  8. Jrmiss86 says:

    Not sure how easy this would be for her to do, but we saw a dramatic difference with my son’s behavior when we cut out all the artificial junk and preservatives from his food. And on days when he does have those kind of things I can defenitely see the difference in his behavior.

    He is still a boy and still has what my husband refers to as a nuclear battery 😉 but he is much better able to control his impulses and as a result his overall behavior is better.

    Since she mentioned that she worked, what kind of childcare does she have? Make sure that he is getting plenty of running around outside ir in a gym type setting while he is in childcare. Many schools these days don’t realize how much time boys need to just be boys and run around. It might be something as simple as stopping at a local park on your way home a few days a week and letting him run around so that when you get home he is ready to settle down and relax a little.

  9. Christy in N.D. says:

    So much good advice in this post! We have 9 children, and I just want to encourage that everything you’re seeing Alicia is totally normal. Your son used to be the only child, and now he’s learning to understand his new and very special role in the family. He’s still your precious son of course, and now he’s a big brother!

    Hearty amen to these: get on same page as Dad, work out compromises on parenting techniques, and be unified as much as you can. Children thrive on order, and consistency. Pray pray pray for each other, and your children. God gives wisdom that will work best for you and your family.

    Things that work for me:

    1.If toddler is craving attention when it’s baby’s turn-promise to have some time with him in about 10 minutes. Follow through. This makes our toddlers feel secure, the time is short enough to wait, and they feel good just reading a book, having a snack, drawing with Mom.

    2. Encourage big brother when he’s being kind and gentle to baby. I saw my toddler gently rubbing her new baby brother’s head this morning. I told her “oh, what a good big sister you are! So gentle!” Her little face just lit up, and she puffed out her chest a bit-so sweet! Being an older brother/sister is it’s own special role. There’s much less feeling of competition with baby.

    We are still learning everyday. I hope these things can help. And don’t worry, things do get a bit easier as the children get older. Enjoy your sweet little ones.

  10. I highly recommend the book “Raising Godly Tomatoes”. It has really helped me with my consistency issues.

  11. I would suggest including him in the snuggle time you have with your other child. Instead of making it a “this child vs that child” make it family time. It will help with him accepting his sister instead of seeing her as his replacement.

  12. I have two boys, ages 5 and 8 now. The older is a firecracker – he’s off and running almost non-stop. Literally! We held him back a year when he started school just because he couldn’t sit still well enough. (Now, brains he’s got – just no capacity to stay in a chair.) It is SO hard to decide, “Is this normal behavior or do we need to talk to the doctor?” about so many things in boys’ lives. As someone said, they can learn to behave better – but I really truly think boys are differently wired than girls, and they just have to move more.

    In our life, my DH and I both work and I know he has totally different rules/rituals with the kids than I do. If getting on the same page isn’t possible, or he won’t give up something, just let your son know that “That’s the way Daddy does it and Mommy has different rules”. He should be able to accept that; after all, teachers expect one thing in school/church, mom & dad expect another behavior at home, grandma expects him not to touch at her house, etc. We all need to realize fast that people are different, and what they expect us to do is different as well! 🙂 So I don’t really find that to be a problem, just personally.

    Best of luck to you, and congratulations on two wonderful, active children! 🙂

  13. I have taught preschool for 14 years and have found one of the easiest ways to stop some of the negotiating and harping is to eliminate the word “okay” from your vocabulary. We often find ourselves giving a directive “Pick up your toys” then turning it into an option by making it a request. We add the word Okay, When given a choice, most kids will not joyfully work. Leave off the ability to say no. Another thing most children this age enjoy is helping. Instead of putting him off with sister time, ask him to make faces at her to make her smile, sing to her with you, pick out her outfit or PJ’s for after bath, gather her diaper and wipes at changing time. Make him the important big brother who is helping out his baby, not the one who gets set aside while you do for the new kid in town that is invading HIS space and family. Also, if it is possible, take him out of the home for some time once a week he knows won’t get interrupted by baby sis. Even if it’s just taking a walk around the neighborhood or going to the library for story time. Try to make sure when you go, he has your full attention. You could also occasionally hire a teenager to take him to the park, to play soccer, etc to burn off some of his extra energy and give him someone else to focus on sometimes.

  14. Play up the big brother thing. It’s his job to look out for his little sister. As they get older, the rule is that siblings are always on the team, they always play.
    Tell him how much you need him and his help and let him do things for you. If we want our kids to be each others best friend, we have to raise them that way. It worked for my parents and it works for me.

  15. Cathlene says:

    Another quick tip for dealing with siblings…make sure you tell the baby from time to time that she has to wait. Obviously, a baby’s needs must be met on demand, but if there is a time when she’s not super fussy, make sure you son hears you say “hold on a minute, Baby Girl, Big Brother needs me to do this for him”. He probably hears the opposite most of the time, because babies are very demanding of their mamas, but knowing that you’re putting him first every once in a while might smooth things over. Good luck!!

    • This is great advice! To put the occasional, “hold on baby, big brother/sissy needs mommy first” is great advice. I have learned that babies can often wait allowing the older sibling to be priority making them feel important also. Gotta admit, they really do hear this on the opposite end more often then not, and will also help younger child to learn they can not always be first priority all the time either.

  16. My ex-wife and I divorced when the girls were very young. We developed our parenting styles independent of one another and are very different. It was impossible for me to enforce a punishment for a crime committed outside of my jurisdiction, when that offense may not have been a crime at all, or at least may not have carried the same weight. My girls quickly learned that some things are okay in one place and not the other. No two parents are the same and to require a consistent voice from two different individuals isn’t natural. Be yourself, let your husband be himself. With patience and love, it will be okay.

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