Helping Set the Boundaries of Behavior For Your Five Year Old

Your five-year-old is growing up, their vocabulary is expanding and so is their circle of friends and circle of influence. For these reasons, it is really important to set the boundaries of behavior for your five-year-old. Why is that? Because five-year-olds can really act up, and cause a lot of havoc in the home and in the daily environment that they find themselves in.

Temper tantrums are always a factor that must be considered and dealt with. Temper tantrums must not be rewarded, but instead, through various means, must be made “not worth it” for the child to engage in. This takes time and persistence, but it is certainly worth it for you the parent.

The most important boundary to be set for your five-year-old’s behavior is to not allow the child to hit you under any circumstances. They must know that it is totally inappropriate for them to strike you. Of course there’ll be lots of times where you may secretly wish that that you could hit them, but that is not appropriate either: so the boundaries work both ways.

So how do you make it clear to your child that hitting you is not allowed and how do you keep it from happening? The best thing to do is: the first time this happens is to loudly and clearly say “NO don’t hit mommy!” (or daddy or whoever), and immediately put them in timeout. Put them in a longer timeout than usual, so that they know that this is a more serious offense than what they are used to.

Regarding timeouts, your child will tolerate them the best by far if you use an actual timer for the timeout. The best ones of all are timers that click or tick continuously as the timer is running, and then ring at the end of the time that is allotted.

So let’s imagine a scenario here: Your child has struck you, and you said “NO” very clearly and immediately put them in timeout in their room, closing the door and putting the timer just outside the door where they can hear it. You already announced that the timeout is longer than usual, maybe 5 min. instead of 3 min., for example, and then you set the timer and let the time run out.

Now during this time, your child may be screaming and breaking furniture in their room, (hopefully not), but if this is another behavior that you have seen them engage in before, then that is another boundary that needs to be set. If your child breaks their things or your things when they are angry, they need to know quite clearly that this is behavior that has serious consequences. For example, if they are in timeout in their room and in a tantrum they break one of their toys, that toy should not be replaced. This is a good lesson for them: actions have consequences-you broke your toy, and now you no longer have it to play with.

What your child may not realize is that during this time out, when they are screaming and pounding on the door and so forth, that you may very well be on the other side of the door in agony and wishing that it was all over with, but both of you have to go through this. You would like to end the timeout prematurely and rush in and be the “savior”, but that actually will in the long run be confusing to the child. They need to know that there are serious boundaries and serious consequences, and it is actually quite reassuring and comforting in a way to know that a punishment can have such a clear-cut beginning and ending time. If, at the end of the timeout,  you reenter your child’s room and they are still exhibiting the same behavior as before, it may well be quite necessary to assign another timeout with another period of time and go through the whole process again.

You will be surprised, though, that when you’ve been through this process a couple of times, the child knows that if they calm down then the timeout will end. It really makes a world of difference to use an audible timer: they won’t like it they definitely don’t like to see that timer come out, but it is a whole lot better than just saying go to your room! And then coming back into the child’s room at some non-predetermined time to talk with them. Timed timeouts really work.

You would think that in an ideal world, that everyone and everything would enjoy the complete freedom, but that is not actually true. If you open up all the cages in the zoo, more often than not the animals will wander around and then go back to their cages is what they’re used to and where they feel most comfortable and at home. This is perhaps a negative example, but children actually find it quite comforting to know that they are our boundaries in their lives. Five-year-olds need to know that this is my stuff, this is my room, and even this is my timer in my timeout.

So don’t be afraid to set appropriate boundaries for your five-year-old’s behavior they actually in a way will thank you for it and you both will be richly rewarded with more appropriate behavior in the future.


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Four Year Old Behavior – Surviving the Temper Tantrums

The behavior involved in four year olds temper tantrums quite often is qualitatively different that that of a three year old.

Why qualitatively different?   Because cognitively four year olds are much better able to “connect the dots” on a social level: they know that they have a kind of power in the family and may for various reasons seek to exploit it.  Four year olds also are trying out many new forms of interaction – imaginary friends, “best” friends, storytelling boasting, and using their words to exclude or include others.

What this means as parents is that four year olds are much better able to push our “buttons” as part of their tantrums – they know by now where the weak spots are and they push on them to either get a reaction or get what they want.

A temper tantrum thrown as a means to an end is called a manipulative tantrum.  Frustration tantrums, where the child is just plain exasperated from an inability to properly express themselves, is much more common at earlier ages and rarer at age for and up because 4 year olds have so many more tools at their disposal.

An example of a classic manipulative tantrum, though, would be a child waiting to see their favorite candy in the checkout line at the grocery and throwing an absolute fit in front of everyone until the parent gives in and does the convenient thing and gives them the candy.

Yes, in this case giving the kid the candy ended the tantrum, but was it the right thing to do?  In a word – NO.

Giving in and capitulating in obvious manipulative tantrums like these only lead to more and higher level tantrums – the child has scored an obvious cause-and-effect victory and they will lie in wait for the next and earliest opportunity to do it again – so what do you do instead?

This is another case where it is absolutely vital to be prepared with strategies beforehand.  The absolutely frustrated mother who has a four year old throwing a tantrum for candy in the grocery store must be willing to abandon the full shopping cart (full of frozen foods, no less) and take their child into the parking lot or back into the car to deal with their four year olds’ inappropriate behavior.

That is the first thing that needs to be established – that the tantrum is inappropriate behavior and will not be rewarded.  Just look at it from the childs’ perspective – you have:

1. Tantrum  =  Candy


2. Tantrum = Getting an uncomfortable and confining time where the parent gives them a good “talking to” or “timeout” until they calm down.

Clearly behavior #1, being rewarded, will continue on and get more frequent and worse.  And you can insert your own tantrum/reward outcome of choice:

Gets to play with siblings’ toy,
Gets to be the center of attention,
Gets to stay up way past bedtime,
…(your favorite tantrum nightmare goes here)…

Tantrum #2, however, stands a good chance of lessening in frequency until a new and more appropriate behavior pattern is established.

As mentioned before, the first thing is to make it clear that the tantrum is not appropriate and will not be tolerated.  A major trick, though, is since your buttons are getting pushed, how do you keep your temper from flying off the handle also?

You may well have to get your anger out yourself – one good way is to put the child in “time out” in their room (and actually use a timer that they can hear go off!) while you go and punch some pillows or scream (or both) in another room.  This is good therapy for you, and the child doesn’t get to see what a strong effect their manipulations may be causing on you the parent or caregiver.

Situations in public such as the grocery store example are much harder, though.  Part of a true story is of a mother saying “NO” continually to her child screaming for candy at the grocery checkout until the child figured out that “no” really did mean NO, and they didn’t get the candy.  The grocery store worker leaned over and whispered: “I wish more parents would say NO.”

So in this case the mother, instead of being perceived as an ogre, comes out as being the parenting hero.

It is certainly not easy being the hero, but it is vital – it is laying the foundation for your childs’ future behavior.  Some behavior must be made clear to be inappropriate, and that behavior must not be rewarded.  The parent must be a good example, channeling anger into non-destructive healthy expression, such as punching pillows.  The tantrums will lessen as they are not rewarded and they are guided into more appropriate behaviors

The “heroes journey” in regards to surviving and guiding your four year olds tantrum behavior is far from easy, but your child will look up to you as something steady that makes sense in this unsteady world, and the rewards for it will ring down the generations.


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Surviving Your Three Year Olds’ Behavior – Tips and Tricks

Everybody always talks about the “Terrible Twos” but lots of parents almost look back almost with fondness at  2-year-old antics compared to what they go through with their 3 year old child’s behavior.

Why is that?  Well first of all, in general a 3 year old is much bigger, stronger and much more mobile and coordinated that a 2 year old.  That means that they can be much louder, and can maneuver into getting themselves into trouble much faster – lucky you!

But surely you are comforted and soothed by the old saying: “Oh it’s just a phase they are going through” – yeah, right.  Try that in the middle of a mall when your kid for no apparent reason suddenly begins throwing a tantrum and you have no clear recourse except to pick them bodily up and remove them from the shopping area.

Oh, almost forgot: In the meantime in the midst of your well-publicized exit everyone is staring at you and giving dirty looks like “I think I should report that parent!” or “Where’s Child Protective Services when you need them”!

So clearly there needs to be some strategies worked out beforehand, if at all possible, to deal with your three year old acting up.

Also let’s make it clear right now that a three year old can be absolutely wonderful and a joy to observe and behold.  So don’t get too worried here, there’s plenty of good that goes with your 3 year old bundle of joy, it’s just a really fine idea to be like a Boy Scout and “Be Prepared” for the other side of the coin when it appears.

The first thing to do in regards to being prepared is to watch what sets your child “off” the quickest.

Is it:

  • Hunger
  • Tiredness
  • Loud noises
  • Sickness
  • Bored
  • Over-stimulated?

You could go as far as keeping a “tantrum diary” and keep track of the triggers, or you can just watch closely and take action when you think your child is getting close to the edge, all according to the triggers you observe.

For example, if you have any tendency whatsoever toward hypoglycemia, you know that you’ve got to keep your blood sugar up by eating protein regularly, or you’ll get quite irritable.  Watch for the same sort of pattern in your child – it may not be hypoglycemia, but it can certainly be worth it to always have portable snacks ready at a moments notice.

If tiredness seems to be a major trigger, do your best to establish regular daily naps for your child – if you can’t seem to accomplish that, then at least have regular daily “quiet times” where there can be some rest and recuperation (for both of you).

Unexpected loud noises can be culprits that set off a child that is already on the edge.  If the noise is ongoing, then of course you’ll want to try to get away from the noise.  If you can’t, then one strategy is to create your own “noise” to try to focus your childs’ attention elsewhere – try singing a favorite song, telling a story loudly, pointing out funny things around you, whatever it takes.

Temper tantrums from being sick pretty much speak for themselves – just try to get your child well as soon as possible.  No one feels too cheerful when they aren’t feeling well.

Bored and Over-stimulated are two sides of the same coin – as in all things, there needs to be some kind of balance.  A child that is resting for too long may become bored, and a child that is being loudly talked-at to try to distract them from loud noises may become over stimulated – either one can trigger a tantrum.

For the Bored-to-Over-stimulated continuum you’ll have to watch for the warning signs: fidgeting, looks of desperation, jerky movements.

What works to keep the tantrum from happening varies widely from child to child, but here’s a unique strategy that might work for you: if you are inside, take your child outside.

Children instinctively love nature, and if you quickly take your fussing (or screaming) child outside and start exclaiming about the wonders of Nature that you are seeing:

The sky is blue! or The sky is grey! (doesn’t matter which) – the Sun is climbing! The Sun is hiding!  Look at those clouds!  I feel the breeze!

The strategy here is to pretend that your childs’ tantrum isn’t important, but what you are observing outside is really important.  Keep it up and you’ll focus your childs’ attention away from their tantrum onto something else.  At the very least you’ll get some perspective.

So yes, you do need to be a singer, storyteller, sharp observer, organized snack person, and a clown all rolled in one to survive your three year olds’ behavior and you know what?

Sometimes it can be fun.


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