Mother trying to get daughter to behave

It’s natural that children test our boundaries. How many times have you told a child to do something and they refuse? Bad behavior, tantrums, and not listening to instructions are frustrating, but knowing how to deal with a naughty 5 year old will help you to take control of the situation without losing your temper. Here are some handy tips on how to get a 5 year old to listen and behave.

1. Give One Direction at Once

Children find it difficult to multi-task. Make your directions easy to understand by keeping them short and to the point. Instead of saying something like, “Clean your teeth, and you need to hurry up and get in bed,” instead say, “Clean your teeth please,” or simply, “Teeth.” Children are able to follow specific instructions better than hearing simultaneous tasks. Don’t give kids a choice as directions can’t be negotiated.

Educational psychologist Dr. Leilani Sáez suggests writing down multi-step directions so you can physically show and read each instruction out. Cross each direction out once completed and move your thumb down the list to identify the next instruction. This action helps a child to process each instruction as a separate task rather than trying to process them mentally, which may add confusion. You should also minimize distractions by switching off the television and tablets.

2. Speak to A Child Directly

Ensure you have your child’s attention when giving directions by facing them and making eye contact. Kneel down so you know that you have their full attention. This is so effective as when they’re focusing on you, you know that they’re more likely to listen to instructions.

3. Don’t Shout

While it’s tempting to lose your temper when a child isn’t paying attention to you, this can cause them to become stressed. As a result, you’ll lose control of the situation. Instead, make like a good teacher when engaging with your child. Teachers recommend giving commands in a clear, calm voice so a child can easily understand what you’re saying.

4. Don’t Use Bribes or Ultimatums

Offering bribes for good behavior doesn’t teach children the consequences of not behaving well. Similarly, using ultimatums often causes children to become angry or unresponsive to directions. Instead, you should reward good behavior with appraisals and positive reinforcement.

5. Reward Good Behavior

As we just mentioned, it’s far more effective to acknowledge good behavior with rewards than bribes or ultimatums. From simple acknowledgements like giving a hug to using positive words to using a reward chart, rewarding good behavior will help children feel good about themselves and encourage them to use positive actions.

6. Create House Rules

Create house rules with the help of your child. Letting your child to contribute to house rules gives them encouragement to follow them. For example, asking your child, “What do you think we could do with toys left on the floor? Do you think tidying them up at the end of the day is a good idea?” gives them an incentive to help with chores without feeling like you’re being unfair.

For bad behavior, instead of shouting, create a ‘naughty step’ or ‘naughty chair’ to show that bad behavior is unacceptable. Explain to your child what they have done wrong and use the naughty area to give them ‘time out’ to think about their actions. Remember to remain calm when using a naughty step or chair.

It can take time for children to recognize that they need to stay in the naughty area for a certain period of time. Supernanny, Jo Frost, suggests using five minutes for 5 year olds (one minute per year of their age). Keep taking your child back to the step or chair until they have sat there for 5 minutes. Following through with this action shows you’re serious about recognizing bad behavior.

7. Play Games Which Teach Instructions

Teach kids to listen and follow instructions with the aid of fun games. There are several enjoyable games you can use which help children to follow directions. For instance:

  • Simon Says

Simon Says is a simple yet effective game to help children follow directions and enhance their concentration. Take the role of ‘Simon’ by giving amusing commands, such as, “Simon says hop on one leg,” or “Simon says put your hands in the air.” The winner of the game is the person who follows all the instructions correctly—you could offer a small reward like a lollipop or sticker when they follow all directions.

  • Follow the Leader

Follow the leader is a great game to play outdoors. Get your child to follow you as the leader and take it in turns to let everyone have a turn leading the group.

8. Activities Which Increase Concentration

There are many activities which help to enhance concentration in children, perfect for aiding good listening skills and behavior. A few great ideas are:

  • Storytelling

Telling a story requires children to focus their attention for a short period of time. Selecting an age-appropriate book for your 5 year old, like those with a short story and illustrations, is vital.

  • Coloring

Coloring more complex illustrations increases concentration and enables children to unwind while completing a fun activity.


Getting a 5 year old to listen and behave is often a challenge. That’s why it’s important to create structure when it comes to setting boundaries for good and bad behavior. It’s also important to play games and encourage them to do activities which improve listening and concentration. All of these efforts will work to encourage positive behavior.