This week we continue with our look a childhood growth and development and the implications for parenting. This week we will focus on middle childhood.
Middle childhood is a time of great growth and change! How this growth and the changes are navigated by both the child and the parent will lay the foundation for teenage years and adulthood. This period includes children from 6 years to 11/12 years of age. While physical growth slows a bit, there are huge increases in strength and motor coordination. Children who participate in sports, dance, gymnastics, and other physical pursuits begin to feel a growing sense of competence. Parents need to provide opportunities for exercise, play, and outdoors time. Sitting inside in front of an Xbox will not provide a sense of competence! Parents also need to make sure children are eating nutritious food and getting enough sleep. Children at this age need 8-10 hours of sleep. Many children in this age group become “sleep-deprived” as they engage in too many activities and too much screen time.
Children’s cognitive abilities increase dramatically, and children begin to develop what is known as self-efficacy, or the knowledge that they know what to do and have the ability to do it. Children move from “learning by doing” to more abstract thinking. This is due to the growing development of the child’s prefrontal cortex. Children now develop the ability to think about their own thoughts, or metacognition, which leads to more complex social and emotional development. Children now begin to identify themselves based on personality characteristics and peer influences. As a child’s social world expands and they enter school and develop new friendships, children begin to internalize messages about themselves. If children develop a sense of competence and feel that they are capable, then they begin to form a strong self-concept. As children perform more complex tasks in school, many will strive to master new skills. Children who are encouraged and commended by parents and teachers will develop a sense of capability. Children not receiving encouragement or who struggle to develop a sense of competence may begin to develop feelings of inferiority and possibly failure. Parents need to be alert for academic struggles as well as social/emotional issues in their children during this time. Talking to doctors, teachers, and school counselors about concerns is the first step. Early intervention in this age group is essential.
What do children need from parents during this stage of development? Parental encouragement and involvement are critical during middle childhood. Parents need to use encouragement, warmth and enthusiasm for efforts put forth by the child. Encouragement helps children believe in themselves; it leads to internal feelings of worth. Praise, which focuses on the person, can often convey how parents value their children and may lead to the child to look for external reward. For example, saying something like, “It looks like you enjoyed making that model,” rather than, “What a good boy you are for making that model,” or, “Awesome job!” provides the child with the opportunity to feel good about themselves internally rather than seeking it from others. As children develop the ability to think and reason, they also might become overwhelmed with messages in the media and from friends about risky behaviors (vaping, alcohol, drugs, sex). Instead of avoiding the topics, parents should talk to their children openly and honestly about the health dangers of such risky behaviors without scare tactics. Equip them with the facts to help them make their own decisions. Parents during this period need to set up structure and clearly define their expectations and set ground rules. Continuing to offer choices and provide logical and reasonable consequences will allow children to accept responsibility for his/her behavior. Using short time outs or brief periods of taking away privileges can work well as consequences. Grounding works with older children. The key to any of these types of consequences is to be short term; long-term situations can lead to resentment and anger as well as lowered self-esteem. Children who are perpetually disciplined harshly begin to feel that they are “screw-ups” or “losers.” Always use love with any type of consequence. Parents should provide opportunities for kids to identify how they feel, process those feelings, and help their child find healthy ways to express feelings. Key to this is listening to your child…without judgment or interruption. Just listen. Process after listening. Learn to respond rather than react! If your child says something like, “I hate ___ for calling me names,” a good response would be to reflect their feeling. You could say something like, “It sounds like you are really angry with ___.” This takes some practice but stick with it!
Most of all during this age of middle childhood, children need loving nurturance. They need lots of love and affection from you now! Spend time with them, include them in both fun and stimulating activities. Help them build healthy self-esteem through love and acceptance. Children need to feel valued, capable, and loved. This will lead them to feel confident and better able to cope and persevere.
Here is a list of tips for parenting kids in middle childhood:
• Spend time with your child, especially some one-on-one time.
• Provide warmth, acceptance, and LOVE without conditions.
• Recognize your child’s accomplishments and encourage them (instead of praise).
• Ask children to take on household responsibilities.
• Talk with your child about friends, school, what he/she looks forward to each day.
• Listen to your child and help them talk about feelings and how to express in healthy ways.
• Allow them some time alone.
• Provide them with structure and rules and stick with them!
• Provide reasonable and logical consequences when the rules are broken.
• Begin to help your child set their own achievable goal … and follow up on how they are accomplishing those goals.
• Start talking about the future including education and careers, again, without judgment.
• Let them PLAY! Unstructured play is still essential for kids in this age group. This helps in development of imaginative and creative minds.
• Limit screen time!
• Watch for signs of academic struggles, emotional/social distress or feelings of inferiority. Seek out intervention by talking with your doctor, a teacher, a school counselor or counselor in private practice.
Gail Roaten has taught counseling students for 13 years, and was a counselor in schools for 12 years. She has provided parenting classes and trainings through various churches and the Department of Family and Protective Services. She has a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision, and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Texas. She is the parent of three children and has six grandchildren.
The information Roaten is providing is based on research and research-based practices as well as from well-known theories. The parenting information and tips offered is intended for informational purposes only. Use of this column is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal or other professional assistance or therapy.
The information found in this column is not intended to treat or diagnose; nor is it meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional.
This column, its author and The Rockport Pilot are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any information provided that may be used in parenting. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions.