School-Aged Kids Discipline: Strategies and Challenges

Behavioral problems and effective solutions for your 6, 7, 8, and 9-Year-Olds

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Kids between the ages of 6 and 9 can be a lot of fun. But, they can also be a challenge. Their sophisticated skills will require you to possess some more sophisticated strategies to discipline them.  

 Fortunately, the strategies you use to address behavior problems now can teach your child valuable life lessons.  

Typical School-Age Kid Behavior

No longer a “little kid” and not yet able to keep up with the “big kids,” your school-age child’s behavior is likely to reflect a transitional period of development.

By and large, school-age kids are able to demonstrate prolonged concentration and will have greater patience when facing obstacles and setbacks. Their attention spans will be longer as well as their ability to focus on multiple activities

They also have better cognitive and physical skills and are able to perform everyday tasks more readily. This translates to less frustration and better self-control as they learn to juggle school, social life, and home life with greater ease.

With that being said, this period of child development is one in which kids tend to test boundaries. Your school-age child is likely to whine and may still exhibit an occasional meltdown although full-fledged temper tantrums will be less common.

Behavior problems such as talking back may take on a whole new meaning as children become more articulate and able to express their thoughts.

Many school-age kids crave a fair amount of independence. But, you might find that despite knowing the skills you've taught, your child might forget to use them sometimes.

Whether he gets swept up in teasing another child or repeatedly forgets to feed the cat, there's a good chance many of their social, emotional, and behavioral skills will need some fine-tuning.

Typical Behavior

  • Longer attention span

  • Better self-control

  • Testing boundaries

  • Wanting independence

Challenging Behavior

  • Defiance

  • Lying

  • Sibling rivalry and fighting

  • Dawdling

  • Whining

Common Challenges

Along with the wonderful milestones your school-age child will meet, there is also the less-pleasant emergence of common behavior problems for this age group.

While child-discipline issues, such as defiance and back talk, may have cropped up at earlier ages in a child, these behaviors take on an entirely more challenging aspect as children become older, more verbal, and more independent.

Defiant behavior is common among school-age children. So don’t be surprised if your child tests your responses by refusing to do almost everything you ask. Usually, defiance is a phase that comes and goes for a bit throughout childhood.

School-age children are likely to lie sometimes too. Whether they’re trying to present themselves in a favorable light by bragging about something that didn’t really happen, or they’re lying in an attempt to avoid getting in trouble, lying can become a bad habit if it’s left unaddressed.

As much as your children may love one another, sibling rivalry and fighting is a very common part of many sibling relationships. Whether your child still gets aggressive with his siblings or he’s constantly tattling on them, sibling rivalry is bound to occur.

Dawdling can be another frustrating behavior. Whether your child takes 10 minutes to put on his shoes or he’s the world’s slowest eater, dawdling can be frustrating.

Whining can also be frustrating. It’s one of the most unpleasant sounds known to man. And many school-age kids have perfected the art.

Discipline Strategies That Work

A good discipline plan should include positive reinforcement as well as negative consequences. Reinforce the good behavior with praise and privileges and provide negative consequences when your child breaks the rules. Here are the most effective discipline strategies for school-age kids:

  • Praise good behavior – Provide genuine praise for your child’s efforts and you'll boost her confidence. Use praise to encourage her to keep trying, study hard, and do her best. Rather than saying, “Great job getting a 100 on your test,” say, “Good job studying so hard.”
  • Place your child in time-out – School-age kids aren’t too old for time-out. It can be a good consequence when your child needs to cool off or when she’s refusing to follow instructions.
  • Use ‘Grandma’s rule of discipline’ – A subtle change in the way you word your phrases turn a consequence into a reward. Rather than saying, "You can't ride your bike because your room is a mess," say, "You can ride your bike as soon as your room is clean.” Then, your child will learn he can earn privileges by making good choices.
  • Provide logical consequences – Use consequences that are directly related to your child’s offense. If your child refuses to get off the computer when you tell her to do so, take away her computer privileges for 24 hours.
  • Allow for natural consequences – Let your child face the consequences of her choices when it’s safe to do so. If your 9-year-old doesn’t pack her snack for the park when you tell her to do so, the consequence is she won’t have a snack to eat. She might remember to do so next time if she experiences the natural consequence.  
  • Create a token economy system – Establish a simple token economy system that allows your child to earn chips or tokens for good behavior. Then, allow her to exchange those tokens for privileges, like time on her electronics or an opportunity to go on a special outing.

Preventing Future Problems

School work becomes more demanding as your child gets older. Some behavior problems may stem from a child's frustration over not understanding the work. Many kids would rather have their peers view them as the "class clown" rather than the kid who can't do the math.

While behavior problems that stem from learning issues should still be addressed with consequences, you also need to address the underlying problem.

Help your child establish good habits that will help them be successful at school. Create a homework area, designate a homework time, and stay on top of your child's progress.

Minor concerns can be addressed through after-school time with a teacher or tutor. More significant concerns may lead to a diagnosis of a mental health issue such as ADHD or learning disability such as dyslexia.

Seven, eight and nine-year-olds may veer between bouts of brassy over-confidence and uncertainty and doubt about their own skills. They may compare themselves to their peers by saying, “He is better at drawing than I am” or “She is a better soccer player," so it's important to teach your child that with practice and effort, she can improve her skills.

Research shows an authoritative approach to parenting leads to the most successful outcomes in children. Establish high expectations for your child but give plenty of support and warmth.

Validate feelings and show empathy, but establish clear rules and give consequences when those rules are broken. Those efforts can help you become a more authoritative parent, which is key to helping your child become a healthy, responsible adult.

Children depend on adults for reassurance and security. One of the best ways to give your child a sense of security is by providing plenty of positive attention.

Set aside a few minutes each day to give your child your undivided attention. No matter how much they misbehaved, play a game, talk about your day, or play catch. By giving your child plenty of positive attention, you'll reduce attention seeking behaviors and your child will be more inclined to want to follow your rules when you maintain a healthy relationship.

Communication Tips

While you don’t want to have long drawn-out conversations that shame your child for misbehaving, brief chats about how to make better choices can be instrumental in helping your child learn.

 Your child will be looking to you to learn how to deal with his emotions and difficult social situations so it’s important to stay calm when you’re communicating. Here are some strategies that communication tips that can help with your discipline plan:

  • Problem-solve together – When your child exhibits specific behavior problems, sit down and problem-solve the issue together. School-age kids can be very honest about what would help resolve the problem. Ask questions like, "This is the third time you've forgotten your homework. What would help you remember?"
  • Explain your rules – Provide a simple explanation for the reasons behind your rules. Talk about safety, health, morals, or social etiquette. Then, your child will understand you aren’t simply trying to make his life miserable, but instead, you want the best for him.
  • Encourage your child to express his feelings – Teach your child that feelings are OK. It’s what he does with those feelings that matters. Encourage him to express himself in healthy ways, by drawing, talking, or writing.
Parenting Strategies for Raising Happy, Healthy School-Age Kids
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