Our youngest of 2 sons is 5 years old and demonstrating really bad behaviour. This has been on going for 2 years. He has just started primary one and is a march birthday, so one of the oldest in his class. Before he started school we put some of it down to boredom at nursery and may be over ready for school.

At home, he will not take a telling, will not do anything he is asked to do, when being told off or doesn't get his way has a terrible temper tantrum.

His behaviour is not consistent as he doesn't do this at the clubs or school or with other family members if on his own. He will act up in public and company if we are there. He doesn't do any of this at nursery and now not at school. In fact, the school has said he is a role model, a fantastic all rounder in the curriculum, extremely well behaved and that he is generally a lovely boy. He has even picked up his reading and writing extremely quickly.

When he has a good day, he is the sweetest and most loving boy we could hope for. Unfortunately the not good days outweigh the bad. We have already tried not letting him do what he likes, keeping treats for weekends, supporting him with everything and always telling him we love him even when he is naughty. We have tried confiscating toys, grounding, talking to him, giving no reaction, star charts and magic 123 but just can't get round him. He is incredibly strong minded.

We are concerned because he has started saying things like he is the wrong boy and he wants to leave. Of course, we reassure him because we want him feeling secure. We even reassure him when reprimanding him. Besides, the behavior is not only wearing us down but it is exhausting him too.

He has been brought up in a loving family, has good friends and goes to clubs such as football, swimming and athletics to get rid some of his energy.

  • Our son is similar. He's 8yo. However, we are getting better at managing his emotions. One thing we've done is to wake up every morning at 7am and bring him outside to play pole-tennis, hand ball, a swim, a bike ride, or any other physical activity. I posted an answer to something similar in here, and I have to say children in the mornings need to "gyrate" their energy and not store it (as in getting showered, dressed and breakfast only). We get our son out every morning and this has helped dissipitate excess energy? I don't know, but it's working.
    – Fandango68
    Mar 17, 2017 at 2:16

2 Answers 2


It sounds like you are really engaged in a power struggle. Recent research has shown that for many kids rewards AND punishments are not really the motivators many parents believe them to be.

After teaching for ten years, I've concluded that some kids are only intrinsically motivated. These kids also like to be in control of their own destinies (don't you like to be in control of yourself?) Especially kids that are smart tend to want to learn for themselves, they actually want to be allowed to make mistakes sometimes.

For kids like this the things you are doing (taking away priveleges etc) actualy can make things worse because it develops resentment.

Instead, I recommend taking on the role of listener and guide with your kindergartner. The fact that he is only exhibiting this behavior with you is probably a message to you that he needs something more from you. Perhaps you've given in to his temper tantrums in the past and just given him what he wants and so it works for him. If this is the case, stop giving in.

At the same time, he might also be asking for more freedom. Obviously, as parent there will be times when you will need to just make decisions for him, but why not ask him what he thinks about certain rules or decisions in his own life? For example, maybe instead of reserving sweets for the weekend, he'd like to be allowed five sweets over the course of an entire week. If he eats all five on Monday, that was his choice and he'll have to wait until the following Monday for more - remember HE made the choice, and you can remind him of that. If he spreads it out, then he spreads it out.

In either case, the really important thing for you to do is to be a listener and support system. Love him even when you don't like the choices he is making and do your best to stay away from punishment. The goal is to work away from needing punishments or rewards at all and to work toward a relationship of mutual respect and trust that puts you in the role of guide. Along the way you may need to occasionally use a "logical consequence," but even this should be used with care.

Perhaps offering up an allowance he can spend however he wishes (but then you don't buy him toys except at Christmas and Birthday) will mean HE makes the choice of what he buys and what he doesn't when you are out. If he can't afford something, he can't afford it and it is a true-to life lesson.

For other things, natural and/or logical consequences are much more likely to help better. For example, if he isn't willing to help get dinner ready, start with a lesson about it together like reading, "The Little Red Hen."
Then, if he continues to make the same choice, he shouldn't get any of the stuff you cooked. You can give him a few things that require little prep so he doesn't go hungry while you express how sad you are that he won't be joining the rest of you.

Same thing with cleaning. If he doesn't put away his toys and you have to clean them up. The toys are no longer available - not because you have taken them, but because in real life, leaving stuff out and around results in those things being broken or lost and the room unusable. Since other family members have to use the room you are just putting the toys away where they are out of the way of the other family members (then tell him how he can earn the toys back. The method should be related somehow to demonstrating his willingness and ability to take better care of his things).

The thing that is super important with this method is that you ALWAYS REMAIN VIRTUALLY EMOTION FREE. Except when expressing empathy.

If he makes a poor choice, feel badly with him about it, but don't budge. For example - lets use the sweets idea. He eats all five sweets on Monday and on Tuesday he wants more. You say something like (and with genuine empathy) "Yeah, honey, I know it is so sad that you can't have a treat today. You must be really bummed about it. However, you made the decision to eat all of your sweets yesterday. What a bummer."

I also suggest reading, "The Seven Habits of Highly effectiv e Families" by Franklin Covey and "Parenting with Love and Logic." I am not familiar with it yet, but Christine Gordon often recommends an approach called, "positive discipline" that sounds like it compliments this style or is at least VERY SIMILAR. I'll ask her to weigh in so she can confirm or deny that.

You might check out this related question about a five year old and tantrums AND this related question also about a five year old and tantrums

  • 1
    "ALWAYS REMAIN VIRTUALLY EMOTION FREE. Except when expressing empathy." I am not sure this is possible. Empathy is emotion and should be expressed for it is how children learn it themselves. I think you are wary of people getting angry/frustrated/etc? That's different though. Nov 14, 2012 at 1:04
  • @ Christine, Yes, as I said, EXCEPT when expressing empathy - meaning exactly what you suggest - avoid strongly showing anger or frustration at the child instead of empathy (and occasionally disappointment when they are a little older). Nov 14, 2012 at 1:06
  • Yeah, I know what you meant - I just envisioned 'robot' parents :) Nov 14, 2012 at 1:11
  • Okay, that is a super funny picture in my head now. Nov 14, 2012 at 1:13
  • See?! I told you! :) Nov 14, 2012 at 1:15

Thanks for the shout-out, balanced mama, I will try to weigh in here!

Our approaches are similar, but with some important distinctions. I'm not sure how much detail to go into here, but I'll do what I can.

The first is that PD teaches you how to teach your child social-emotional skills needed for life. Take any PD class and you'll walk away with actual tools and activities to use so that your child develops these skills. I've used these activities in my classroom and they are a godsend. It is not just a philosophy or theory - it is practical!

I agree with balanced mama's advice to give the child a sense of personal power, and to express genuine empathy when he experiences natural consequences (unless he is in any real danger then you rescue him!). To rescue a child from his feelings is to enable him. To not express empathy is to isolate and confuse him (and worse).

But, I disagree that not allowing him your cooking because he didn't help with pre-dinner chores is a natural consequence. A natural consequence is being cold when you don't bring your jacket (ie mother nature). Instead, this is a parent-designed and enforced logical consequence. And I do not advocate for logical consequences. Instead, I teach a child how to be a responsible, productive member of a group, family, classroom, community, etc using his intrinsic motivation of finding belonging and significance.

This is the general philosophy behind it:

I use Positive Discipline which advocates mutually respectful relationships that are both kind and firm, at the same time! This approach is grounded in the work of Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs, and designed by Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott as a program for families, schools and communities to “teach young people to become responsible, respectful and resourceful members of their communities…in a manner that is deeply respectful and encouraging for both children and adults” (PD Website).

Positive Discipline believes, as did Dreikurs, that children are hard-wired from birth to connect and that children who feel a sense of connection are less likely to misbehave. Unlike his peer, Sigmund Freud, Adler believed that behavior is not driven by events in the past, but instead, an individual’s behavior moves them toward a goal of belonging and significance that is influenced by each individual’s decisions about themselves, others, and the world. Dreikurs, born 27 years after Adler in 1897, further developed Adler’s concepts on the individual psyche into a pragmatic approach to understanding children’s misbehavior and cultivating “Gemeinschaftsgefühl” (Adler’s term for ‘social interest/community feeling’) in the classroom and the home. He recognized that children misbehave when they lack a sense of belonging and significance in their social environments – and, conversely, building this sense of belonging and significance in a child by developing mutually respectful relationships with the child would encourage the child to contribute and cooperate precisely because he is acknowledged and valued as such, without the need for rewards, punishments, threats, bribes, etc.

When children cannot find a sense of belonging or connection, they start to misbehave in attempt to find it through other means. Using Positive Discipline effectively requires shifting our focus from problem behavior to instead seeing challenging behavior as a child’s subconscious solution to unmet needs (ie they can’t find a sense of belonging and significance). In other words, misbehavior is based on a child’s (subconscious) mistaken understanding of how to find belonging and significance. Rudolf Dreikurs called these mistaken ideas mistaken goals. With this new Positive Discipline framework that focuses on solutions and a child’s strengths, we can help develop kids’ academic and social-emotional well-being.

Positive Discipline is grounded in brain research and capitalizes on the child’s natural development to best enhance learning and growth. In particular, new research is demonstrating the power of "mirror neurons" that allow children to learn self-regulatory behaviors *in the presence of self-regulated adults". ie monkey see, monkey do!

This is what all that actually means:

Self-discipline must be taught and that discipline teaches. It is not simply a matter of stating expectations and punishing infractions, but instead discipline is patiently and thoroughly taking the time to teach necessary skills to ensure that children are equipped with the tools they need for success. You teach behavior/social skills with the same care, patience and practice as you would teach them to read!

Positive Discipline tools:

  • Mutual respect. Adults model firmness by respecting themselves and the needs of the situation, and kindness by respecting the needs of the child.

  • Identifying the belief behind the behavior. Effective discipline recognizes the reasons kids do what they do and works to change those beliefs, rather than merely attempting to change behavior.

  • Effective communication and problem solving skills (practice and applied in class meetings)

  • Discipline that teaches (and is neither permissive nor punitive).

  • Focusing on solutions instead of punishment.

  • Encouragement (instead of praise). Encouragement notices effort and improvement, not just success, and builds long-term self-esteem and empowerment.

In PD, solutions are: Respectful Related Reasonable and Helpful

I think that helpful, and sometimes respectful, is the piece logical consequences are missing. Instead, PD is solutions-focused not consequence-focused. That means genuinely brainstorming to find a solution to the real problem, not making a kid pay. Things like brainstorming with the child for solutions, giving him more responsibilities, noticing and helping him to reflect on his own successes.

"Whoops - you made a mistake. How can you make a repair?"

"I know you are in a hurry, and what was our agreement?" ('and' comes from kind/connected and firm)

"You seem really frustrated, honey. Would your cool down routine help?"

"I notice that you have a lot of energy. I could really use that energy in the garden today! Could you help me?"

"I notice you like organizing things. I wonder if you could help me with our grocery budget?"

"I noticed you forgot to take your homework to school this morning. What did it feel like when the teacher asked you for it and you didn't have it?" (don't judge, let him do the reflecting)

There's even an app for PD tool flashcards to help you remember options in the moment! Things like routines, making agreements, trusting the process, encouragement, etc.

The biggest piece is structured family (or classroom for that matter) meetings where kids can put problems they are having on the agenda and everyone works to solve them together. Yes, it is messy, unpredictably and never a 'quick' fix. But think of the life-skills you are empowering them with when you help children, even little ones, practice listening, communicating, seeing things from another perspective, holding multiple viewpoints, trusting, respecting, waiting, thinking critically, having patience, etc.

It is not lenient, granola, wishy-washy. I can assure you. It holds kids accountable - but not because you are bigger and in charge, but because you are both human and in this together.

I work with kids that everyone else has thrown away. There is nothing I could do to these kids that hasn't already been done to them. Believe me. But what I offer is doing something with them. Ahh, now that is different!

Off my soap box now, but to be fair, I was asked directly! If you want more (this goes for anyone), email me and I would be glad to connect you with resources in your area.

Edited because I forgot to add: one way to think of kind and firm that I like is that kindness is connection, not niceness.

And, here are my favorite blogs for what this looks like in families, complete with all the challenges, frustrations, etc!

Can We Hug It Out
Parenting From Scratch
Single Dad Brad

  • Thanks for the clarifications. AND for the distinction between logical consequence and natural consequence. For me the logical consequences help in the transition period while you build a better relationship and the reason the logical consequence works is that it is closely related to the natural consequence that no one wants to work with some one that doesn't pitch in and do their fair share. BUT it does seem we are closer to agreement than we are apart on most aspects of how discipline should work. Nov 14, 2012 at 1:12
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    Yes, logical consequences are better than illogical consequences I suppose. But for me, everything is about the relationship. Yes, kids will be kids, but a strong bond and respectful relationship sure goes a long way to preventing all of this. Plus, when you make human-to-human connections with your child through shared interests, quality time, private jokes, etc, it is much easier to break the cycle of power struggles. Nov 14, 2012 at 1:18

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