How to Deal With Behavior Problems in a 6-Year-Old Child

Burgeoning independence can spawn conflict at home

A young boy jumping from one sofa to another A young boy in wrestling mask jumping on one sofa to the other
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Six-year-old children are at a stage in their development where they are experiencing greater independence and flexing newfound skills. These very same qualities can cause a child to become easily upset when faced with setbacks and disappointments.

These contradictory emotions can lead to behavior problems that are relatively common for children of this age.

For a 6-year-old, they may include talking back, defiance, and whining. Children with siblings may further engage in fighting and rivalry as they jockey for parents’ attention and affection.

Independence as a Factor for Behavior Problems

Most 6-year-olds will instinctively test boundaries as they become interested in doing things independently and making their own decisions. It is part of the process children undertake as they begin to form unique opinions about what they like and don't like.

It's not always a one-way street. They may at times express defiance in regards to something they want and, at others, exhibit clinginess in response to an experience that distresses them.

While such behaviors may be frustrating to parents, it’s important to remember that they are simply an attempt to assert independence and part of the natural curve of a child's development.

What Informs a 6-Year-Old's Behavior

Understanding why a 6-year-old behaves the way that he or she does is not always easy.

After all, one 6-year-old can behave differently than another, much in the same way that siblings can differ.

In the course of monitoring child development, a psychologist will take into consideration the milestones a child is expected to meet and then place them within the context of what that child is experiencing.

For a 6-year-old, this stage of life is all about change as he or she takes the first step from a world largely bound by home and parents to one of teachers, classrooms, and friends. All of these changes can inform a child's insights and behavior in profound ways:

  • Daily routines change from the moment a child enters elementary school. At this age, they will spend more time away from home acting independently with friends and teachers. This sense of independence outside of the home may spur them to challenge authority from within.
  • Physical development and motor skills also factor into a child behavior at age 6. It can instill confidence in some and uncertainty in others.
  • Emotional development for a 6-year-old is marked by the ability to handle emotional ups and downs more maturely. Still, the child may lack the emotional sophistication handle to certain conflicts and, at the same time, feel a longing for the security of home. These internal conflicts can cause a child to act out in response to feelings she can't fully articulate.
  • Cognitive development means that your 6-year-old is engaging in problem-solving independent of others. While this can bolster confidence in some, it can chip away at the confidence of others. For those, the family is often the only safe target to direct unhappy emotions.

    Tools of Disciplining a 6-Year-Old

    As your child gets older, you may need to make adjustments in how you handle discipline. You may find that many of the strategies that worked in the past, such as time-outs, may suddenly have no impact or lead to a worsening of behavior.

    Remember that your 6-year-old is at a stage of cognitive development where he or she is more able to weigh outcomes, solve problems, and understand consequence. Managing behavior problems, therefore, require you to set boundaries and allow your child the chance to make the right choice. To do so:

    • Be clear and consistent about rules. Rules are what guide a 6-year-old successfully through elementary school. They understand this and are responsive when a teacher provides clarity in what the child can and cannot do. Employ the same approach at home. Speak to your child about the behaviors you expect and be clear about the consequences of not adhering to the rules. Be firm, but allow the child to ask questions as she might at school.
    • Listen but do not engage in debate. If your child wants to speak or offer opinions, it is important that you hear them and let him know that you do. But you must make it clear that this is not a debate but a means to understand the rules of the house.
    • Make the consequences appropriate. Sending a child to his or her room at age 6 doesn't have the same impact as it did when she was 4. In establishing the house rules, make certain that the consequences are appropriate to the age of the child, whether it be the removal of privileges or an after-school activity.
    • Give warnings and never waver. One warning allows the child to weigh options and to make the right choice. More than one means that the rules are as flexible as the consequences.

    A Word From Verywell

    It is important to take the long view when dealing with behavior problems. A desire to make things right more often than not increases conflict by focusing the child's behavior rather than the child. By looking at child development as a continuum rather than an event, you can adapt your interactions to encourage good choices rather the avoidance of bad behavior.