Discipline for School-Aged Kids: Strategies and Challenges

Behavioral problems and effective solutions for your 6-, 7-, 8-, and 9-year-old

As your child ages, discipline tactics and challenges don't change as much as you might expect. However, you will want to tailor your approach and communication style to suit your growing child. Your school-aged child is no longer a little kid, but they still need guidance, supervision, love, and limits.

Expect to see budding independence and increased cognitive abilities as your elementary-school student matures. Along with growing skills and autonomy, you also may experience more conflict and a steady testing of limits. For example, they may resist coming home from the playground in time for dinner, ask for a later bedtime and more screen time, or argue about whether their room is, in fact, clean enough.

School-aged children may feel easier to parent at times because they can do more for themselves. However, they may also begin to test boundaries and talk back in ways that can be very frustrating. Using effective discipline strategies can help remove the power struggle and build better relationships between kids and parents.

Discipline for school aged kids
Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell

Typical School-Age Kid Behavior

You might notice your child working diligently on a puzzle or taking their time in drawing a detailed picture. School-age kids are able to demonstrate prolonged concentration and typically will have greater patience when facing obstacles and setbacks.

If you ask your child what they did at school, don't be surprised if they tell you all about what their friends did and said, rather than what they learned from their teacher. School-age kids are developing more social skills and feel very bonded to their peers.

"During this stage, children... start making friends with their peers," explains Martha Horta-Granados, a teacher, psychologist, and consultant for SensibleDigs. "Generally, they will form friendships with children of the same age and sex. However, this will vary depending on the context of each child."

School-age kids may have longer attention spans. They may exhibit better self-control. They start to become more independent.

Common School-Age Challenges

Don’t be surprised if your school-aged child suddenly refuses to turn off the TV, do their homework, put away their shoes, or clear the dishes when you ask them to. Defiant behavior is common among children at this stage as they become more articulate and able to express their thoughts. Usually, defiance is a phase that comes and goes throughout childhood.

If your child has siblings, you may notice arguments happening between them during these years. Whether they're about whose turn it is to use the iPad or who gets to sit in the middle seat in the car, it may seem like your kids can turn just about anything into an argument. They may compete with each other and for their parents' attention.

School-age children may challenge rules and limits. They may become argumentative and competitive. They may lie to get out of trouble or avoid embarrassment. They may postpone, ignore, dawdle, or complain when requests are made of them.

Discipline Strategies That Work

Disciplining your 6- to 9-year-old can be tricky, especially as kids of this age can become expert negotiators and button-pushers. However, keeping consistent limits, expectations, and schedules can help to provide an effective environment for your child and family to thrive in. Discipline helps them learn wrong from right and grow into a well-rounded person. Consider these tried and true strategies for disciplining school-aged children.

Focus on Good Behavior

If you find yourself constantly correcting or chastising your child for things like tracking mud into the house, not completing their homework, or forgetting to make their bed, it may help to flip your language and focus on the positives instead. Praise them for what you see that you like or even the effort to follow your directions, even if it doesn't always end up going perfectly.

"Whatever you focus on is what you get more of," explains Heather Wallace, a Love and Logic parenting facilitator, certified pediatric sleep consultant, and the owner of BraveHeart Consulting. "When you describe the positive behaviors that you notice in a non-judgmental way, your child will know the exact behavior you are looking for." They want to please you and letting them know what you want them to do sets them up for success.

Start by clearly stating what you want your child to do using positive language. Instead of telling your child not to track mud onto your clean floors, say something like, "Please take your shoes off on the front steps before coming into the house."

It is important to be clear and specific. "Avoid using generic expressions such as 'Behave yourself' or 'Be good,'" advises Horta-Granados. "You have to give them more concrete rules, such as 'Pick up your room before going out to the park.'"

You may need to remind your child a few times until they get the hang of any new expectations. Let them know that you notice their success. Be specific. Say something like, "I noticed that you took your shoes off outside today. Thank you for helping keep the floors clean!" A little bit of praise can truly go a long way.

Use Time-Out

Time-out isn't just for toddlers. However, it looks a little different as kids mature into their school years. For little ones, time-out is a quick punishment tool. But for older kids, it should be a cool-off period.

"When your child is upset, they cannot reason or process language, explanations, or consequences," says Wallace. "Therefore, it is very important that both you and your child are calm before you address the behavior. In order to get there, you or your child might need a time out!"

If your child refuses to help carry the groceries into the house or won't stop arguing with their siblings, sending them to their room for a few minutes can help them deescalate their emotions so that they are mentally ready to have a discussion about their behavior and make better choices moving forward.

Talking briefly about what they did wrong and why it is not permitted can be very helpful with school-age kids. Unlike toddlers, these children have developed a good understanding of moral reasoning.

Make Enforceable Statements

Power struggles are common with school-aged kids, who are asserting their burgeoning independence. While you're probably proud that your child can tie their own shoes, ride a bike, and make themselves a simple meal, you may be frustrated when they refuse to clean their room or do their homework.

Avoid the power struggle by telling kids what they can do, rather than what they can't. For example, "Feel free to play baseball with your friends as soon as your room is clean," works so much better than, "Clean your room or you can't play baseball!"

Following through is vital when it comes to statements like these. "When parents' actions match their words, children are comforted, as there doesn't need to be a guessing game as to what will happen next," explains Wallace.

Provide Logical Consequences

Discipline is all about teaching kids how to behave. Often, punishments don't achieve that goal. If your child sneaks extra iPad time late at night and the consequence is that they can't have dessert the following evening, you'll most likely end up with a child who is angry at you, but likely to sneak the iPad again if they think they won't be caught.

Instead, calmly let your child know that you'll have to take their iPad away for a while because they broke the rules. They are more likely to change their behavior in the future if the consequence is directly related to the offense. Unrelated consequences are more likely to make kids feel confused, defensive, and wronged. Consequences related to the behavior or rule usually make more sense to them.

"Logical consequences are powerful because it allows there to be a lesson without shame or anger so that the child does not revert to fight or flight and is able to truly learn from the consequence," notes Wallace.

Allow for Natural Consequences

It's often said that experience is the best teacher, and whenever it's safe to do so, it can help to leverage this concept. For example, if your 9-year-old doesn’t pack their snack for the park when you tell them to do so, the consequence is they won’t have a snack to eat. Feeling a little hungry or disappointed may help them remember to pack a snack in the future more than your constant reminders. Likewise, if you pack and bring along a snack anyway, you undermine the lesson.

"When a child experiences the effects of a choice they made, it stands out in their brain and they will be able to recall it when they need to make a decision next time," explains Wallace.

Similarly, if your 7-year-old insists that they don't need a jacket in the morning, it may be wise to allow them to leave without one. Later, if they feel chilly, they'll learn to at least bring a jacket along, just in case. If you insist on the jacket, you'll be fighting a battle you don't want to fight. And if you go home and get a jacket for your child when they experience the consequence of being cold, you'll probably have to do that again in the future.

Natural consequences promote learning very effectively. However, it is important to prioritize your child's safety. When a natural consequence is unsafe, use a logical consequence instead. These consequences are created by the parent and should be related to the offense.

For example, if your child enters a dangerous body of water, you will have to get them out rather than let the natural consequence play out. Instead, you might use the logical consequence of having to leave that area or go sit in the car.

Create a Token Economy System

If your child is really struggling with a behavior, such as lying consistently about getting their homework done or getting into frequent fights at school, it can help to set goals together and use positive reinforcement. Rewarding improvement is an effective motivator for many kids.

First, investigate possible reasons for the behavior and provide any necessary interventions. Maybe your child is really struggling with a certain math concept and they need extra support so that they can be successful. Maybe your child is being bullied and they are retaliating. In this case, the bullying needs to be addressed.

Next, set a goal, such as completing all homework assignments for a week straight or maintaining self-control for three consecutive days. Make sure the goal is specific and attainable.

Chart the goal in some way, and establish a simple token economy system that allows your child to earn chips or tokens. A small jar of marbles to fill up works well. Allow kids to exchange tokens for privileges, like time on electronics or an opportunity to go on a special outing.

Preventing Future Problems

Not all behavioral problems can be prevented. However, there are ways to encourage good behavior in your school-aged child and minimize acting out.

Connect With Your Child

If your child is misbehaving, they may be trying to communicate something to you. Kids don't always know how to identify or express their emotional needs. Try to be a detective of sorts. If your child just started a new school, they may be struggling with the transition and need reassurance. If your child feels lonely, they may be misbehaving to get your attention.

Spending quality time with your child can prevent behavior problems. It may help to set aside a few minutes each day to give your child your undivided attention. You might play a game, talk about your day, or play catch. By giving your child plenty of positive attention, you'll reduce attention-seeking behaviors. Moreover, your child will be more inclined to want to follow your rules.

Keep an Eye on Academics

Pay attention to your child's homework load. 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.

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.

Address minor concerns 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 a learning disability such as dyslexia. If you suspect your child has any of these diagnoses, speak to your pediatrician and ask if they recommend a psycho-educational or neuropsychological evaluation.

Use an Authoritative Approach

Parents are most effective when they are neither authoritarian (unquestionable) nor permissive (have no expectations). Research shows an authoritative approach to parenting leads to the most successful outcomes in children. With the authoritative approach, you remain warm and supportive while also enforcing reasonable rules.

Establish high expectations for your child but give plenty of support and warmth. Instead of letting them stay up past their bedtime because they are having so much fun, kindly enforce bedtime and remind them that sleep is important for learning and mood.

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, an approach that has been shown to help children become healthy, responsible adults.

Communication Tips

Developing productive, positive communication with your child is key to gaining compliance. Rather than drawn-out conversations that shame your child for misbehaving, aim for brief chats about how to make better choices. It's important to leave space for feelings and questions. It is the behavior that needs to change, not your child's emotions. These conversations can be instrumental in helping your child learn.

Model a respectful, calm tone when you talk with your child. Your child will be looking to you to learn how to deal with emotions and difficult social situations, so it’s important to stay calm when you’re communicating. Successful communication helps with your discipline plan.

Problem-Solve Together

When your child exhibits specific unacceptable behaviors, sit down with them and problem-solve the issue together. School-age kids can be very honest about what would help resolve the problem. For example, if they repeatedly forget to bring things to school, ask questions like, "What would help you remember?"

Give the Reason for the Rule

Provide a simple explanation for the reasons behind your rules. Talk about safety, health, morals, caring for your community, or social etiquette. Then, your child will understand you aren’t simply trying to make their life miserable, but instead, you want the best for them.

Stay Calm, Yet Firm

It can be very frustrating when your child misbehaves, but staying calm helps your child stay calm, too. It also helps them stay in a frame of mind where they are able to listen to you and learn to correct their behavior. "Use a clear, firm but gentle tone of voice," advises Horta-Granados. "Shouting only makes your child feel fearful."

Calm doesn't mean permissive, however. You want your child to understand that you mean what you say, and you will enforce it. It's possible to be both calm and firm at the same time.

Validate Feelings

If your child is unhappy that screen time lasts only 60 minutes per day or that they are not allowed to go on sleepovers (after they broke a rule at the last one), that's understandable. Allow your child to express their disappointment. Teach your child that feelings are okay. It’s what they do with those feelings that matter. Encourage kids to express themselves in healthy ways, such as drawing, talking, or writing.

A Word From Verywell

School-age children are becoming more mature and developing more independence. However, they are still young and need plenty of parental guidance. Using a calm, caring, logical approach works best. School-age kids are ready to discuss why rules are what they are, so don't shy away from these conversations. Kids who feel heard are more receptive to adults and more confident.

If you have any questions or concerns about your school-age child's behavior, reach out to their pediatrician.

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Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Elisa Cinelli
Elisa is a well-known parenting writer who is passionate about providing research-based content to help parents make the best decisions for their families. She has written for well-known sites including POPSUGAR and Scary Mommy, among others.

Originally written by
Katherine Lee
Katherine Lee
Katherine Lee is a parenting writer and a former editor at Parenting and Working Mother magazines.
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