Understanding where they come from
I recently saw a TikTok video of kids in a Preschool classroom, so aged about 5, sitting and repeating after their teacher. They were counting to ten when the teacher said “now lets count backwards” and one little girl did just that and turned her whole body so she was facing away from the teacher. She quickly realized her mistake when the other kids started counting starting at ten, and spun herself around to join them, but this video gives a good example of how this age group should be communicated with in order to help them communicate with you. Kids who have trouble communicating may not want to talk at all. The job of the parent is to encourage the child to begin or join in conversation as much as possible. This will most definitely help your child begin to feel more comfortable opening up.
During the ages of 5 to 10, children are “learning how to learn” They start off not understanding how to problem solve or think in an abstract way. They start of very self-centered in their thinking and have a hard time being able to look at something from another individual’s perspective. You may find yourself asking your 5 year-old “why did you hit so-and-so, don’t you think that hurt them?” The usual answer is a shrug, I don’t know, or no. They just don’t understand the question because they can’t understand. It would be better to say “we don’t hit, it hurts when you get hit. What happened to you?” Then the most important thing is to listen to what they say.
Most of the time children lash out in anger and temper tantrums because they don’t feel heard. They immediately get in trouble for hitting and never get their side of the story heard. In this case, your child might say “so-and-so took my crayon I was using.” Parent’s usually reply to this by saying “that doesn’t matter, you don’t hit others, now you don’t get any crayons.” The result is then more screaming, and the day is ruined. As parents we should be teaching children how to react appropriately but this means that parents need to react appropriately. In this situation the parent should say “I’m sorry that happened. It’s very frustrating when people take things from us. Let us go say sorry for hitting and ask for the crayon back.” Kids may even need a hug to help bring them back to a calm state before being able to say sorry. Stubbornness may occur but staying calm is necessary for teaching. They will learn how to stay calm if you stay calm. To help children develop the skills for empathy, getting feelings flashcards and books about feelings are helpful tools to get kids to develop that part of their brain more efficiently. This will also help them to communicate their feelings in a verbal way instead of a physical way.
As children get older in this age group, they start to learn more about others and that they like different things from themselves and have different feelings. Around 8 to 10 is when you can start adding “how do you think that made them feel” and talk them through it if they are struggling. Give them examples of how they felt in a similar situation. You can start talking to them about how it should be handled differently in the future. They can start to think a bit more abstractly and a bit more logically now, but still need things to be concrete. Directions should be explicit and say what needs to be done exactly. Instead of telling the child to “put away their shoes” tell them to “put their shoes in the coat closet.” Also don’t over complicate directions. When younger, only give one direction and start to add a couple more as they get older. If they get lost along the way, just gently guide them back on track. A lot of fights start because a child didn’t do what the parent wanted them to do and the child is confused because they did what they were asked to do, it’s just that the parent was able to think logically and the child was not.
Children will still need help during this time when asked to clean up, just as adults get overwhelmed at times, so do kids. Kids don’t have the ability to think very far ahead so trying to understand where to start can be a struggle, since they can’t fully see the finished outcome. Try saying “This looks like a big mess, let me help you get started on picking this up” or “would you like my help with cleaning up your room.” Encouragement and praise are your best friends in getting kids to learn and do the things you want them to do. Look for the positives they do and encourage those to grow. The more you focus on the negatives, the more those are likely to grow and get worse. Logical consequences over punishment works better. This way children will be able to see that what they do has negative and positives outcomes. So instead of taking the box of crayons away for the rest of the day, it would be better to take a break from the crayons for 30 minutes. For older kids in this group, a couple hours or the rest of the day is sufficient. As mentioned earlier kids don’t have the ability to think ahead and don’t have a firm grasp of telling time. Usually for them they feel like they will be in perpetual punishment forever, which means they will just continue to do whatever it was that got them in trouble.
For children between 5 and 10 there is a lot of learning that occurs during this time and parents are their true teachers and guides. In order for children to communicate effectively, parents need to communicate effectively through calm words and behaviors, understanding, and logical consequences. Remember to reflect your child’s feelings when they are communicating ineffectively and give suggestions of how they can better handle that feeling, be it deep breathing or asking for a hug. Sometimes it may take some time for them to calm down, so it is good to talk to them about the situation after they are relaxed and thinking clearly. My best piece of advice is to remember what it was like being their age and how difficult it was.
Bloom: 50 Things to Say, Think and Do with Anxious, Angry, and Over-the-top Kids by Lynne Kenney & Wendy Young.
Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control by Heather T. Forbes
If you or anyone in your family is experiencing mental health concerns please call The Center for Collaborative Counseling and Psychiatry at 847-440-2281.