Your 5 Year Old Child: Emotional Development

An overview of the ups and downs of a 5-year-old's development

5 year old child development - girls lying on grass and laughing
Five-year-old children are becoming big kids, but they may sometimes still revert to tantrums and other emotional outbursts. Rosemarie Gearhart/Getty Images

The phase of 5-year-old development is fraught with emotional extremes and contradictions. At this age, many children are still straddling the not-too-distant past period of the toddlerhood/preschool years and the "big kid" phase of development to come. A 5-year-old may be able to exhibit much more self-control than, say, a toddler, and most children this age will be able to sit for periods of time in a classroom and listen to a teacher's instructions.

At the same time, a child this age is still learning to regulate his emotions, and will still be prone to meltdowns over something as small as a spilled glass of milk.

Words and Feelings
This is the age when many children begin articulating their feelings in a meaningful way. For instance, a 5-year-old child might say, "I don't like it when I have to go to bed early." Children also naturally feel empathy, and a 5-year-old who sees a friend in distress might say, "I'm sorry you are sad." If a child this age is upset about something, she may simply declare what she's thinking, and say something like, "I'm mad at you, Mommy."

Criticism of Others and Themselves
Many 5-year-olds will point out things that they see as different or wrong in others' behavior and appearance. At the same time, children this age can also be very critical of themselves and may be hard on themselves if they think they made a mistake or didn't do a good job with something.

Similarly, you may see 5-year-old children exhibit confidence (she may tell younger children about all the things they can do now as a "big" kid, for instance), but then just as quickly fall apart when she realizes that she cannot do something as well as she wanted.

As with many milestones at this age, 5-year-old children will experience a desire to be independent at everything from choosing their own clothes to eating certain foods.

(For children this age, there will often be tears and tantrums of frustration, as their desire to be a big kid and more independent may not always be possible because they may not be yet developmentally ready for certain tasks or activities.) As many parents of kindergartners know, these declarations of independence can often result in a battle of wills as when a 5-year-old might insist on going to school in a tutu in the middle of winter or refuses to eat anything but food that is white.

At the same time, many children this age will still need cuddles and comfort, and will want to be "babied" from time to time—a pattern parents can expect to see to varying degrees in the next few years.

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