As children enter this “middle childhood” stage of development, they officially become “big kids.” This is often a fun time to be a parent: children are beyond many challenging toddler behaviors and are quickly becoming their own people. They can do so many things and even begin to carry on engaging and thoughtful conversations with adults. This is a stage where friends become increasingly important as do activities like sports, clubs, or even learning new skills like coding. Be prepared for many new adventures in this stage as your child becomes more aware of the world around them.
By Age 8 Children Should Be Able To:
- Enjoy testing physical limits
- Run in a zig-zag pattern, jump down steps
- Make improvements in combining gross motor skills like running to kick a ball or skipping while turning a rope
- Complete daily hygiene tasks without your help
- Cut out irregular shapes
- Show more independence from parents and family
- Start to think about the future
- Understand more about their place in the world
- Pay more attention to friendships and teamwork
- Want to be liked and accepted by friends
- Follow the rules they help create
- Have rapidly changing emotions: angry outbursts are common, many children are critical of others, especially their parents.
- Learn better ways to describe experiences and talk about thoughts and feelings
- Know how to count by 2s (2, 4, 6, 8, and so on) and 5s (5, 10, 15, 20, and so on)
- Know what day of the week it is while they do not usually know the full date and year
- Complete simple single-digit addition and subtraction problems (such as 1 + 8, 7 + 5, 6 – 2, 4 – 3).
- Tell the difference between right and left
- Have a black-and-white perspective much of the time. Things are either great or awful, ugly or beautiful, right or wrong. They focus on one trait or idea at a time.
- Follow more complex directions
- Use language to explore their thoughts and feelings
- Have longer and more complex conversations
- Voice opinions and have lots of energy and emotion when telling stories
- Follow a simple recipe
- Write stories based on daily life
- Write an email or instant message
- Read independently in bed at night
Note: These guidelines do not constitute medical advice. Every child develops differently. If you ever feel your child is delayed in their development, discuss it with your pediatrician.
How You Can Help Foster Development
- Focus on praising kids for their progress, not just the outcome. At this stage, it’s easy for children to become discouraged if they cannot complete a new task or skill perfectly. Parents can foster a healthy sense of confidence and growth mindset by praising their progress, not just the outcome. Fostering a growth mindset means helping children understand that skills and abilities aren’t “fixed” but that anyone can improve on any task. We can’t all be wonderful at everything, but helping children understand that we can always improve, fosters a real sense of confidence.
- Encourage empathy and perspective-taking. In this middle childhood stage, children begin to be capable of considering another person’s perspective. That is a crucial skill both for life in general but for raising an empathetic child. Foster this sense of empathy by encouraging children to consider others’ feelings and ideas. Even while reading or watching a movie, ask your child how they think different characters are feeling. All these conversations have an impact on children’s emerging emotional skills.
- Introduce activities that require fine motor skills. Because their fine motor skills are more developed, children in the 6 to 8-year-old range often love learning new hands-on activities. You can try introducing simple sewing, drawing, Legos, beading, braiding, or weaving. These activities are wonderful ways to bond with your child while enhancing their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
- Introduce science-based activities. In middle childhood, children are often fascinated by science concepts. Hands-on activities, including pulleys, levers, pendulums, and magnets, are usually a massive hit with children of this age group. You can find many fun activities to illustrate common science properties, even using household items.
- Role-playing activities. That is a wonderful stage to enjoy role-playing activities with children. Activities like puppet shows, short plays, or games like charades can be fun for the whole family. These types of activities are not just fun; they also have real educational benefits. Taking on another persona and staying “in character” requires many emotional awareness and social skills.
Common Myths During this Period/What NOT to Believe
- Playing is no longer necessary at this age. It may be hard to believe, but you might hear this myth floating around parenting circles. Good old-fashioned free play sometimes gets pushed aside with the abundance of online entertainment and structured activities for this age group. Unstructured, free play (not guided by adults) still has many benefits for children of this age. Unstructured play fosters many excellent skills children need, including executive functioning, social interaction skills, self-regulation, creativity, planning, and teamwork. These skills develop because children are not tied to adult rules (except for a few safety precautions) or organized activities. Spontaneous, unstructured play means that kids devise their own rules, games, and ways of interacting with one another. Experts often remind us of Albert Einstein’s famous words, “play is the highest form of research.”
- Reasonable risks during play are too dangerous. With their gross motor skills well-developed, children of this age often try to push their physical limits. Children may try to climb up the slide on the playground, jump from higher objects, bike faster than before, or even climb on seemingly unclimbable things (like bike racks, fences, etc.). Although boundaries to ensure safety are still necessary, generally, some degree of “risky” play is encouraged at this age. Developmentalists tell us that these forms of play help keep children safer in the long term. By testing their physical abilities and feeling in their body what feels safe and what doesn’t, children gain a valuable sense of their limits. Much to some parents’ chagrin, children have to find these limits themselves. Although some challenges may look scary to us, children have a good sense of their physical limits in many instances.
- We should protect children from all difficult or painful situations. As challenging as it sounds, it’s not helpful to protect children from all difficult situations. Of course, safety is always a top priority; allowing children to fail or experience challenges does build a sense of resilience. By not “rescuing” children from everyday challenges like getting cut from a sports team or bringing their homework when they forget it at home helps them gain valuable coping skills and experience natural consequences. Each challenge they handle serves to bolster their confidence in their ability to handle whatever life brings.
Common Challenges Parents Experience During this Period
- Children being critical of parents. With their newly refined cognitive abilities and sharp sense of justice, children at this age might begin to be critical of others, even you. Since children in this age range have a very black-and-white sense of the world, they may love everything you do one day and disagree with everything the next. As a parent, it’s helpful to distinguish between an age-appropriate questioning of the world and outright disrespect. Consider your child’s criticism honestly before reacting. It’s tough to hear criticism from your child, but sometimes their honesty might help us. If, on the other hand, you feel the criticism is unwarranted or disrespectful, remind your child of the rules and expectations. It could also be an excellent opportunity to model for your child how to offer constructive feedback to someone without being disrespectful. This, of course, is a valuable life skill for all of us.
- Helping children with friendship issues. As kids mature and their friendships become a more significant part of their lives, challenges with friendships also emerge. Without the life experience or social skills of an adult, children often struggle to handle friendship issues such as jealousy, disagreements, or rejection. Friendship issues can vary a lot, but as parents, our primary goal should be to scaffold children to gain the skills to handle these situations on their own. If possible, work with your child to brainstorm solutions to difficult situations. Help them think through the various ramifications of certain actions or choices when interacting with their friends. These issues may give you the opportunity to discuss what to look for in a good friend. As with many aspects of parenting, children learn a lot through modeling. It’s usually helpful to model kindness and empathy when interacting with friends. Helping children learn how to be a friend and interact well with friends is a key part of their developmental process.
- Children not listening. This is probably one of the most common challenges for parents of almost any age group, but perhaps even more so in this middle childhood stage. The challenge of “not listening” is a general term to describe what could be a whole range of behaviors. Is your child not listening, or are they choosing to ignore you? Or perhaps they hear you, but they don’t quite know how to comply. If you believe your child is intentionally not complying with your instructions, then there are a few ideas you could try:
- Offer a choice—Offering children options (even small ones) can be empowering. A choice like, “Do you want to clean your room now or after dinner?” is more likely to get heard than a command like, “Clean your room now!”
- Focus on what you want them to do. As parents, it’s easy to get a bad case of the “no’s.” We tell our children “no” dozens of times each day. How about flipping the script and try telling them what you want them to do instead. A request like, “Please use a quiet voice in the car” instead of “No yelling in the car!” can often be internalized by children much easier.
- Look for underlying causes. Sometimes there might be more to your child’s “not listening” than meets the eye. Consider circumstances that might be making it difficult for them to listen and comply–are they hungry, tired, overstimulated, or just so engrossed in their play that they didn’t hear you. Getting to the root causes of their “not listening” can be eye-opening.
Conclusion As a parent, years 6-8 can be so much fun. Children at this stage are open to learning about the world around them, growing in independence, and learning about their interests. With guidance and support from you, children can thrive during this time. One way to support your child is by expanding their educational horizons with engaging online classes in coding, math, or music from BYJU’S FutureSchool. These classes can help them hone their fine motor skills, give them opportunities to problem-solve, and allow them to discover a new passion!