Get Real! Expectations for 5- and 6-year-olds
Children between the ages of five and six-years-old are no longer “little kids.” They are in the middle of the important transition into becoming a “big kid.” They have developed skills that allow them to present as one of the “older kids,” which can sometimes lead to adults in their life expecting too much too soon. Children at this age still need patience and guidance as they continue to develop and grow.
Between the ages of 5 and 6, children are very enthusiastic. Their language skills have increased, they are able to pay attention for longer periods of time, and they can usually follow multi-step directions. They are developing thinking and reasoning skills, and they have recently begun to see other people’s point of view. All of this increases their confidence and gives them a sense of independence.
While these new, more mature skills are exciting for us to see, they often come with the side effect of the “know-it-all” attitude. We recommend the praise-correct-praise method when this attitude rears its proverbial head: praise them for their knowledge, correct their tone, and then praise them for sharing their knowledge with you!
Another side effect that comes with more developed language and reasoning skills? Negotiation! 5- and 6-year-olds will test their new skills by talking back, trying new tones (whining, fake crying, or the “cutesy” voice) to try to get their way, and it’s not abnormal for kids at this age to test out lying for the first time. The best approach is to remain firm in the face of their attempts. Demonstrate that you have not been emotionally affected in one way or the other, and that your decision has not changed and will not change.
One of my favorite strategies is to tell a child that I can’t understand them if they’re talking in a whiny voice, and that they’ll need to speak in a big kid voice for me to understand. I will look at them with a sincerely confused, apologetic look and say, “I’m so sorry! I just can’t seem to understand your words. I have a really hard time understanding words in a whiny voice, but I can always understand words in a big kid voice. Maybe you could try that?” Works like a charm!
Children at this age also love showing off their new skills and being in the spotlight! This can be adorable, but it can also lead to a particularly challenging behavior — poor sportsmanship. 5- and 6-year-olds may accuse others of cheating during games or get upset when they don’t win. They themselves may try to cheat, or they may even try to sabotage the other players in order to get ahead.
At Lions, we take a two-pronged approach. First, we provide lots of opportunities for all of the kids to win, and we will set up games that ensure that each child gets to feel successful. However, we also provide opportunities for children to learn how to lose gracefully. We have lots of discussions about having a growth mindset so that they become more resilient from these experiences.
5- and 6-year-olds need adults in their lives that understand this unique transition period as they learn to become “big kids.” Children this age need guidance & structure, and their confidence increases by seeing that they are making the people they look up to feel proud. Thus, the best approach is to use positive reinforcement with them by catching them being good. Praising the good behavior that they exhibit will increase their confidence and therefore increase the likelihood that they’ll do it more often! This will naturally reduce any negative behaviors, making them more manageable.
Understanding the development of 5- and 6-year-olds is essential for the adults in their lives. Keep a strong spine and a soft heart. Remember to take challenges in stride, to give yourself some credit for raising such a smart kid, and then have a little fun.