School-Age Children

 Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

School-age children, roughly between age 6 and 10, are more independent, and independently social, as they take on more responsibility for their social lives, their activities, their schoolwork, and their health, diet, hygiene, and safety. Some will enter puberty at this age, girls more likely than boys.

The frequent transitions of this period can be daunting for kids and for parents, but children are more likely to thrive when they are confident that their caregivers remain ready to support their emotional needs. Parents can maintain strong relationships with their kids by remaining engaged with their connection even when their children don’t seem to be (or won’t admit to be). Parents may find that even as sons and daughters begin to rebel, they will still listen to their caregivers’ advice, eventually, if it is given calmly and without judgment.

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How can kids learn to become more independent decision makers?

Metacognition means being aware of one’s own thinking—and experts believe it is crucial for children developing decision making, as it enables planning, monitoring, and evaluation of their responsibilities, school assignments, and schedules. Conscious awareness of one’s challenges in math, for example, can lead to better planning on upcoming assignments, more attention to the results, and greater self-reflection and meaning making.

Why do children seem to lose motivation as they enter middle school?

Often a child who worked hard and was eager to achieve in elementary school seems to slack off and lose interest when they enter upper grades. It’s a normal phenomenon at this stage of development, often driven by frustration with new demands on their organizational and time-management skills; distraction, as social life and bodily change become higher-priority concerns; the effects of bullying or social exclusion; and an embrace of rebellion to authority, represented by teachers. Parents who observe these shifts in their children should reach out with calm, empathy, reassurance, and practical advice, as opposed to judgment or punishment.

How do children develop resilience?

Life stressors can weigh particularly heavily on children, who may lack the perspective an adult might bring to a temporary setback. Resilience is not an innate trait; it’s something children can develop. Research has shown that children who are better able to regulate or control their emotions are less likely to become anxious or depressed in stressful times. Supportive relationships with parents and other close adults can boost a child’s resilience, as it gives them the confidence to move forward.

How can a parent tell if a child has enough friends?

Parents may hope that their children meet whatever definition of “popular” they subscribe to, but like adults, children differ in their social needs: Some are happy to have one or two close friends, while others are anxious may become anxious if they don’t feel like everyone in their class likes them. Like adults, though, few children embrace loneliness, and parents who closely observe their children’s moods and routines, and recognize that they are experiencing loneliness, can support them—not by arranging play dates, but by encouraging participation in group activities and helping them develop social skills.

How can children manage early puberty?

The American Academy of Pediatrics considers puberty to be early, or “precocious,” if it occurs before age 8 in girls, or age 9 in boys. The average age of puberty onset is about 12 years, although research suggests that this age is gradually shifting earlier for more children than ever before. For these children, changes to their bodies and moods may be especially tumultuous, leading to feelings of awkwardness around peers, discomfort with their bodies, and an unwelcome sense of being an outlier. Girls who reach puberty earlier may be more likely to experience panic attacks, body dissatisfaction, substance abuse, and even suicidality. Researchers refer to these issues as the result of mismatch between one’s physical and emotional development. Early developing boys experience similar stresses due to mismatch, research finds, but generally to a lesser extent as even early puberty tends to arrive later in boys than in girls.

Parents, experts advise, should reassure children that they are still “normal”; they are just reaching a universal milestone slightly ahead of schedule. A parent’s openness to listen to a child’s concerns about any topic, and their ability to remain positive and supportive, can help a child get through this period with their confidence and self-esteem intact.

For more, see Adolescence.

How does bullying affect children?

Approximately 20 percent of students report being bullied at school, and boys and girls report being bullied in equal numbers, although with the advent of cyberbullying, those numbers may be rising. As children move past early childhood, they are less likely to tell parents about bullying or ask parents to intervene. Victims can be traumatized by bullying, in ways that may linger into adulthood including shame, lower self-esteem and diminished self-confidence. Children who are bullied may experience it as social rejection, which is why being bullied is a common source of school avoidance.

For more, see Bullying.

What do children need most from their parents as they approach adolescence?

Research has long suggested that the most beneficial parenting style for a child’s development is authoritative—high in both warmth and discipline. More recent research investigated which of those factors was more important for healthy development over the lifespan and found that children benefited more strongly from parental warmth, regardless of whether the parent was also high or low in terms of discipline. Love, then, in the form of warmth, forgiveness, and understanding, may be the most important thing a parent can offer their children.

How can a parent tell that a child is depressed?

Research suggests that 1 to 3 percent of children experience depression before puberty. Parents should understand that depression is a treatable condition, and that treatment is crucial because, if ignored, depression can recur throughout their child’s life. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to tell that a child is depressed, especially as they approach and enter adolescence and become increasingly less likely to share their feelings with parents. The most common symptom of depression in children is irritability, and a depressed child may also display sadness, lethargy, a lack of interest in their activities, and self-destructive behavior. Parents should let a child know that they are aware of his or her pain and that they want to listen, and to help. Along with seeking professional help, taking part in activities together, like biking or walks, may lessen symptoms by boosting a child’s activity and assuring them that they have support.

For more, see Children and Depression.

Does too much screen time affect kids’ mental health?

Recent research suggests that there could be an effect, but a small one, and that it may not work in the way many people imagine. A study based on surveys of thousands of children ages 9 to 11 revealed a link between screen time and depression in young people, and a lesser connection between screen time and anxiety. It appeared, however, that increased screen time, especially passive time watching videos or other content, was a symptom of depression, not a cause. Gaming and online chatting were more closely linked to anxiety in children, though, again, the link was not necessarily causal and in any event, it was statistically small.

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