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Understanding school age behaviour

School age is an exciting time for children. It's a time when your child makes new friends, meets new people and becomes more independent. They also come across new rules, routines and experiences - so do you! But sometimes this new world takes getting used to. Worrying about this can affect your child's behaviour and wellbeing.

If your child, and you, are finding these changes difficult, that's OK. There is plenty of help, advice and guidance to support you and your child through this time.

How starting school can change your child's behaviour

Read time: 1 minute

Starting school is a big change for your child! It can cause a lot of strong feelings, like excitement and stress. The school routine can also be tiring. These are all emotions that school age children can find it difficult to process. Where they cannot express their feelings, they instead behave in unusual ways.

It can be confusing to see your child behaving in unexpected ways or getting angry for no obvious reason. But just remember, your child is probably as confused as you are. Trying to talk to them about how they feel is always useful. It can help encourage more positive reactions in future. See if you can notice what is causing bouts of unwanted behaviour. This can also help you understand what's going on.

But there is more to managing your child's behaviour than this. To guide your child's behaviour, you need to apply positive discipline. Such as setting clear rules and limits.

Most of all, give your child the love and attention that they need. A happy child is – more often than not - a well-behaved child! The tips below should help you find the right balance.

Top tips to help you manage your child's behaviour

Read time: 4 minutes

Encouraging good behaviour

We all want our children to behave well. But we need to encourage that in a way that they understand and respond to. Here are a few tips to help you do exactly that:

  • Set an example. Show your child the behaviour you expect from them.
  • Tell them what you want, not what you don't want. For example, a child is more likely to respond to "Please can you sit down?" than "Stop running around."
  • Give them choices. Even small choices help remind children they have power over their lives and actions. For example, you might ask them which book they would like to read.
  • Acknowledge good behaviour. What better way to encourage more positive behaviour? Tell your child when you are happy with their behaviour.
  • Spend time with them. Giving them the love and attention they need will encourage better behaviour.

Discouraging unwanted behaviour

Let's face it. Your child will misbehave from time to time. Dealing with episodes of unwanted behaviour is key to making sure it doesn't happen often. Which of these works best for you?

  • Ignore the behaviour if it's safe to do so (if it's not hurting anyone or damaging anything). You might be thinking this doesn't sound very helpful. But misbehaving is often your child's way of seeking attention. Ignoring the behaviour shows them that this isn't working.
  • Redirect the behaviour. Look for a positive activity to do instead. If your child is throwing items around indoors, take them to throw a ball around at the park.
  • Follow through with warnings. This helps your child understand the outcome of their actions. It also helps stop your child pushing limits in the future.
  • Remove something that your child enjoys, like watching a TV programme, or playing a video game. Taking away privileges can prevent a repeat of challenging behaviour. Remember to make it clear that your action is a reaction to their behaviour.
  • Be consistent. Children, like adults, respond well to stability. They will be confused if you react one way to a certain behaviour one day and then a different way the next.
  • Make sure your child knows that the behaviour is the problem, not them. If they have done something wrong, explain you are unhappy with their action and not them.

Setting rules and boundaries

All families need rules and boundaries. It's how we understand how to behave towards each other! School age children are learning to be more independent. They are pushing boundaries. And this means they need rules more than anyone!
Here are some top tips for setting boundaries:

  • Keep rules simple. Don't confuse your child. Simpler rules are easier to stick to.
  • Listen to your child. Be open and let them know they can come to you if something is wrong.
  • Give your child small jobs. Children like being able to show that they can be trusted.
  • Swap ideas. Speak to other parents and carers. They may have some useful ideas that worked for them.
  • Remember to update your rules as your child gets older. Give your child more responsibility and freedom. You wouldn't expect the same from a ten-year-old as you would from a five-year-old, would you?
  • And avoid silly arguments with your child. Nobody ever wins!

Look after yourself

Whatever you do, your child won't behave perfectly all the time. If your child sometimes misbehaves it doesn't mean you're doing a bad job – it's just a part of growing up! Remember, parenting is a tough job, so don't forget to be kind to yourself! Challenging behaviour often leaves parents feeling rubbish and tired. If you are feeling helpless and unsure of the best approach to take, don't worry. There are many helpful websites and support services. Try to stay positive, and if you feel you need a helping hand, reach out. And remember to look after yourself.

Information from external websites

Action for Children offers top tips on understanding and managing your child's behaviour. They also offer information on getting your child to do ask you ask, on what to do if your child always says no and on how to reward good behaviour.

Barnardo's Family Space share useful ideas for understanding and responding to behaviour in 4-8 year olds and also for routines and behaviour for 8-12 year olds

Family Lives has helpful articles for parents of 5 - 9 year olds on positive discipline, on dealing with pester power, and on sibling rivalry. They also have useful articles for parents of 9 - 14 year olds on communicating with your child and arguing with your child.

Young Minds have a helpful parents survival guide and a fantastic A-Z of information and advice.

Safe Space Health UK is a website for young people aged 11 - 14 in Surrey. It offers helpful information about emotional health, lifestyle choices, relationships, keeping safe, growing up and being okay with being different.

Struggling and need to talk?

For you

Action for Children offer 1:1 chat with a parenting coach (Mon - Fri). If they are closed you can leave a message and a parenting coach will get back to you within 3 working days.

Family Lives has a free, confidential helpline, offering emotional support, information, advice and guidance on any aspect of parenting and family life. Call the Family Lives helpline on 0808 800 2222 (Monday to Friday from 9am to 9pm and on weekends from 10am to 3pm).

NSPCC has a free, confidential helpline for parents looking for advice. Call 0808 800 5000 (Monday to Friday 8am – 10pm or 9am – 6pm at the weekends).

The Surrey Children and Family Health Advice Line is available from 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding Bank Holidays). They can provide support on all aspects of child health, development and parenting for families with children from birth to 19 years old. Call the Surrey-wide 0-19 Advice Line on 01883 340 922

Young Minds has a free parents helpline. For detailed advice, emotional support and signposting about your child call 0808 802 5544 (9:30am to 4pm, Monday to Friday)

For your child

Childline have a free and confidential helpline for children. You could encourage your child to call 0800 1111 if they need to speak to someone - open 7 days a week from 7.30am - 3.30am. Childline also have a 1-2-1 counsellor chat for children who don't want to speak on the phone.

If your child is 11 or older you might want to tell them about the Child and Family Health Surrey text service called ChatHealth. It's a confidential school nurse messaging service for young people aged 11-19. Young people can contact their school nurse in confidence by text. The Chat Health text number is: 07507 329 951 (Mon - Fri 9am - 5pm).

All of the issues discussed are confidential unless a child's safety, or that of others, is at risk. The school nurses will always encourage young people to discuss issues with their parents or guardians.

Useful videos about school age behaviour

You may find these 6 top tips on keeping your cool from Family Lives helpful.

View on YouTube

EHCAP shares a fantastic video that uses the hand model to help you understand what is happening in the brain when we lose control of our emotions - as useful for understanding your own emotional responses as it is for understanding your child's!

Family Lives has loads of videos about school age children's behaviour, including what to expect of 5-7 year olds and what to expect of 7-9 year olds. They also have a video on understanding early teens.

Family Live videos cover lots more topics, so why not visit their parent channel TV and browse the videos in the behaviour 5-9 years (21 videos) and behaviour 9-14 years sections (19 videos). To find all of the topics open the first video and click on the menu at the top to the left of the watch later button.

The Families Under Pressure video collection offers a great series of short top tips videos on managing behaviour and help with negative emotions. Perfect for when your family leave you feeling frazzled!

Helpful tools and apps

Action for Children has a quick guide to spotting if your child has low self-esteem and how to help it your child has low self esteem.

Care for the Family present a series of interesting podcasts on parenting through the primary years.

Childline offers a calm zone where your child can access loads of resources to help when they feel overwhelmed. They also have a toolbox to help take their mind of things and manage their emotions.

The NSPCC has a great guide on positive parenting with a helpful section on setting boundaries.

Surrey's Family Learning and Adult Learning teams have developed a family wellbeing resource, with lots of tips on looking after yourself and your family during these challenging times.

Online parenting guides

Surrey residents get free access to an online guide that include top tips from childcare, education and NHS health experts

How to register

Registration is quick and easy. Go to the OurPlace website and use the access code 'ACORN' to get your free guide.

Access to the guide is unlimited with no expiry date, so you can return as and when you need and want to. Why not watch the Child and Family Health video to find out more.

Community support, courses and local help

Choose the area you live in for local services. Please note that due to coronavirus (Covid-19) very few community services are currently running.

BETA: We would really appreciate your feedback to help us improve and grow the service. We're listening!

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Date published: 22 Apr 2021