Karen Potter
Psychotherapy & Mentoring
Lismore, NSW
Child behaviour

Understanding Child Behaviour (Early School Years)

The early school years are a big time for children to experience. During these years, children go through many changes in their development as well as testing their boundaries in different ways. Many parents can become concerned over some behaviours that their child develops, as they are unsure if they are ‘normal’.  In the following article, we discuss some behaviour that children between 5-8 years old may display and how to handle these behaviours as a parent.



As children take the step into ‘big school’ and start interacting with many more new people, it is very common for them to experience some level of anxiety.  Feeling anxious or overwhelmed about new situations, experiences and/or people is a ‘normal’ part of a young child’s development.  As a parent, the most important thing you can do is to be available to them emotionally, be interested in what they are going through, acknowledge their feelings, provide the support they need and encourage them.  It is also helpful to acknowledge and praise children when they have overcome an anxious experience/situation.



Many children develop small habits during the early school years. Some examples of common habits are biting nails, twirling hair, picking their nose and chewing objects like pencils. Some habits can be exacerbated by anxiety, fear or simply boredom.  Sometimes these habits can bother or annoy parents to some extent, so it is helpful to know that as long as they are harmless and not interfering with your child or the family’s well-being, then there’s no need to worry.  Typically, children grow out of these habits. What you can do is to help your child notice when they are doing the habit, talk to them about it to understand if it might be coming from anxiety, as well as to praise them when they don’t do it.


Defiance, pushing back and arguments

This stage of development that children go through during the early primary school years requires more of them socially and emotionally.  Additionally, children are tested in new ways, as they form new friendships, have to consider others’ needs/wants/feelings a lot more, they begin to have expectations on them from parents and teachers, as well as noticing a lot more differences between themselves and others.  These experiences can often lead to feelings of frustration, anger, anxiety and sadness and sometimes can result in arguments with parents, other children or even teachers.


However, this is the way that children discover and learn about themselves, others and the world. As a parent, being aware that arguments are a ‘normal’ part of development is an important first step in lowering concerns around these situations. From here, there are many things you can do.  Children need support, acknowledgement and guidance to navigate their way through these experiences and relationship issues. It is important to spend some one-on-one time with your child and talk to them about any issues that are coming up and try to identify the cause. Once the cause is identified, it can be helpful to problem-solve with your child and helping them to see things in more helpful ways and what other factors may be involved.


Cheating and Making up Stories

During the early school years, some children may start to make up stories (often referred to as lying) or cheat. These behaviours can often be symptoms of some emotional disharmony inside them.  Kids may cheat on schoolwork or in sports if they feel they cannot fulfil the requirements of the task or they may be worried about disappointing their parents and/or they may feel anxious, frustrated and/or sad about something.  If you notice that your child is cheating, it can be helpful to sit down with them and try to understand what they were feeling and why they did it in a non-judgemental and compassionate way.  When children make something up there is usually a reason behind it and so again, it can be helpful to sit down with them and try to understand together what they are thinking and feeling.   Once the underlying reasons are discovered for these issues, you will be able to help them through it by explaining why honesty and trust are important in relationships or that you only expect them to try their personal best.


In Conclusion…

Overall, it is crucial to recognise that a certain level of these behaviours is very ‘normal’ during the early school years.  The most important thing to do is to spend time with your child and try to understand what is going on for them, they may not know themselves, but you might have some ideas yourself.  Then together you can talk through it to help them link their behaviour to what is happening inside them.  It is also important to provide clear, healthy and appropriate boundaries so that children can feel safe and know where/what the limits are.  Integrating and maintaining these boundaries into your daily life will then enable your child to learn them.


If you feel concerned about your child’s behaviours and/or that the level of anxiety, anger or sadness appears high, it can be helpful to see a Child Psychologist. Karen Potter specialises in child behaviour and parenting – offering support, education and guidance to help you better understand and support your child and may work with your child to help him/her manage their emotions more effectively. Visit Karen Potter’s website today to find out more.

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