How do you teach a 6-year-old good behavior? This is a great age to start reinforcing rules as well as rewards versus punishments. Your goal is always to improve behavior, not just make your child miserable, so try these tips to help them take responsibility for their actions and be a happy camper!
1. Withholding Dessert
Is there anything a 6-year-old loves more than dessert? Taking away sweets is completely harmless, but to a small child, it can be a great motivator.
The nice thing about this is that you can use it as positive reinforcement if their behavior changes. For example, try telling them they can have that ice cream, but only once they pick up their shoes. Or say they can have a piece of candy if they sit quietly in school. If the child has siblings, this comes with the double whammy of watching their brothers and sisters get dessert while they don’t.
You should do this with a dessert or treat that they get regularly, like ice cream after dinner. If you just give the other kids a treat specifically so you can keep that treat from the misbehaving child, they may feel singled out and targeted as a “problem child”. Kids often behave in the way they are expected to, so you don’t want your child to feel like people expect bad behavior out of them.
This will also train the other kids to be glad when their sibling makes a mistake because that means they get a treat. This is not something you want to do, so only withhold a treat/dessert from your child if they would’ve gotten it otherwise, and do not just give extra treats to the other kids.
2. Simple Chore
At the age of six, children have a strong sense of loyalty to their families. Have them perform a simple chore that will add to the well-being of the family.
Children of this age can clean windows, wipe down railings, organize a sibling’s shoes in their closet, empty trash out of a car, vacuum a small room, or put books back on a bookshelf. These are simple tasks that six-year-old children can perform on their own. It should be something simple and preferably related to their mistake.
If they threw a toy, they can pick up all the toys in the playroom. If the child colors on a wall, they can wipe down all the walls in that room. A child who broke their sibling’s toy can vacuum their room or make the sibling’s bed for them.
3. Apology Note or Picture
6-year-old children can focus on a task for at least 15 minutes. This is the perfect time frame for them to make an apology note or picture for the person their actions hurt.
While they likely aren’t able to write all of the words, they can easily draw a picture and sign their name. If you write the words “I’m sorry,” they could copy the letters below and write it themself. They can also vocalize an apology letter for you to write on the back of their drawing and can sign their own name.
This helps children to learn how to go out of their way to apologize and make their mistakes right again. They can deliver the note, say they are sorry, and give them a hug.
4. Nose on the Wall
This is a sort of structured time-out. Make the child stand, not sit, with their nose on the wall for a minute or two. Add minutes if they keep fussing. You can also take away minutes to reward standing still and being quiet.
Six-year-old children can also effectively count to ten and can follow directions with up to three tasks. You can ask them to put their nose on the wall and sing the alphabet song 3 times or count to 10 five times. It will give them something to think about while they are there.
Positive reinforcement is a great tool, so they have a positive reward attached to punishments. This is a harmless punishment that can be used by babysitters as well as parents, and you can use it on multiple children at the same time. Just send them to different walls with enough space that they can’t touch each other.
5. Taking a Nap
Bad behavior from children as young as 6 can often be attributed to fatigue. A twenty-minute nap, or just some quiet time alone in their room, lets them calm down and get some rest. They don’t have to sleep if they can’t but make sure they’re doing a quiet, calming activity like reading a book while they spend some alone time.
You should also make sure that this allows the child time to be alone. Taking a nap is time they have by themselves to recharge, so if you’re trying to punish a group of children, send them to separate rooms or use a different method.
Six-year-olds are learning how to be more social and nicely play with friends. With this punishment, you want to enforce the idea that when they are behaving badly, people don’t want to be around them. If they are going to be playing with other kids or spending time with you, they have to play nice.
6. Time In
A time in is the opposite of a time out. Don’t try this if you’re already overstressed or overwhelmed, but if you have the time, I highly recommend it. Have the 6-year-old shadow you for anywhere between an hour to a day, depending on the time you have and what they did. Make them help you with household chores like dishes or gardening.
Children will often act out because they need attention or something to do, so this can give your kid both. They aren’t allowed to do the things they want, and they should try to learn a new skill at the same time.
If the child has been especially helpful, and the bad behavior is gone, do something positive together at the end of the time. For example, let them shadow you while you watch their favorite movie, or go out for ice cream.
Positive reinforcement is just as important as punishment at this age, maybe more so. You need to emphasize the connection between actions and consequences. Good actions equal good consequences, bad actions equal bad consequences.