How to Deal With Behavior Problems in a 7-Year Old

Behavior is informed by curiosity and a desire to test limits

Two Young Boys throwing stones in a stream
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Seven-year-old children are situated at the cusp between childhood from the preteen years. At seven, they will have left kindergarten behind to navigate the sometimes unsteadier waters of elementary school. At the same time, while remaining far removed from the challenges of adolescence, they will become increasingly aware of (and curious about) it.

The child's behavior is likely to reflect this transitional period of development.

By and large, seven-year-olds are able to demonstrate prolonged concentration and will have greater patience when facing obstacles and setbacks. Their attention spans will be longer as well as their ability to focus on multiple activities

They will also have better cognitive and physical skills and be able to perform everyday tasks more readily. This translates to less frustration and better self-control as they learn to juggle school, social life, and home life with greater ease.

With that being said, this period of child development is one in which kids are will being to test boundaries. Parents can be expected to face whining and the occasional meltdown (although out-and-out tantrums will be less common). On the other hand, behavior problems such as talking back may take on a whole new meaning as children become more articulate and able to express their thoughts.

What Informs a 7-Year-Old's Behavior?

Testing boundaries is very much a part of the process of growing up.

For a seven-year-old, who will know the difference between right and wrong, this may result in behaviors such as lying and defiance.

But, at the same time, it's not just about "behaving badly" but rather an extension of the natural curiosity that every seven-year-old child has. Generally speaking, they will ask a lot of questions and form own opinions about what's being told to them.

If the message is unclear, they may misinterpret it or challenge what is being told them. This is natural.

Most seven-year-olds are at an age where they are still willing to be affectionate in public. This need for parental affection and approval often stands in contrast to the growing independence they crave. It is these types of emotional conflicts that can spur a child to act out, often in contradictory and confusing ways.

This may be further exacerbated by the emotional swings children can experience as they struggle to build a sense of self-esteem and navigate peer pressure. To a seven-year-old, the desire to sort out these feelings can lead them to become overly critical of their own perceived shortcomings. They can become perfectionists and their own worst enemies.

Tools for Disciplining a 7-Year-Old

With the days of time-outs and tantrums behind you, you will need to embrace an entirely different approach to discipline. The child's increased communication skills will demand that you be even more articulate when communicating your expectations. Failure to do so can lead to misinterpretations that make boundaries and rules far less clear.

Here are some simple guidelines that may help:

  • Make talking a priority. Establishing good communication with your child is an important part of handling and preventing behavior problems at any age. By setting the groundworks now, your child will become more comfortable discussing problems, secure in the knowledge that her or she will be heard rather than be being spoken at.
  • Set boundaries that are clear. Children who know exactly what is expected of them are less likely to push boundaries. While seven-year-olds can be expected to experiment with limits, clarifying was is off-limits places them in the position of having to make a choice rather than allowing them to skirt a rule. Enforcement of limits is just as important as setting them.
  • Use "quiet time" effectively. By seven, a timeout will not have the same effect it did when your child was four. Instead, use a "quiet time" wherein the child will be asked to sit and reflect, without distraction, as to why a certain behavior was either wrong or inappropriate.
  • Set a positive tone. If you expect your child to speak to you in a respectful manner, you need to do the same. Make a conscious effort to use a loving tone, and focus on why the behavior was wrong rather than why the child was wrong.
  • Problem-solve together. Teaching problem-solving skills allows your child to become a part of the solution rather than being the target of one. Afterward, reinforce what good comes from making the right choices rather than focusing on what went wrong.
  • Use logical consequence to connect the dots. Logical consequence helps a child understand that he or she is not being punished for something you "don't like" but rather the consequence of a choice the child willingly made. If the child refuses to stop playing a video game, for example, don't take away TV privileges. Take away the video game. Be consistent in your choices.

Ultimately, at seven, child discipline should be focused more on guidance and less on the consequences of bad behavior. By doing so in a firm yet loving manner, you will be more effective in correcting behavior problems.

In the end, children do what you do. Set a good example and be consistent.

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