School age snapshot

It's often considered the golden age of childhood

Six- to eight-year-old kids are eager to take on new responsibilities, revel in questions and conversation, and are growing in independence.

“It’s really important to capitalize on the depth of the relationship that tends to develop between parents and children at this stage,” says psychologist Jeanne Williams, who is also mom to two boys in Edmonton. “This will stand you in good stead for the potentially challenging years ahead.”

Here’s a developmental snapshot of your school-aged child:

Growing self-sufficiency
Maia just turned eight. Her responsibilities include clearing her dishes from the table, getting herself ready for bed and cleaning her room, which means the floor must be clear, says her mom, Jeannette Arends.

At this stage, kids are pretty competent when it comes to the basics, and are often eager to take on new challenges, such as feeding the dog or making a sandwich.

Making it work
The challenge is that you can make that sandwich in less time than it takes him, but it’s worth being patient. Doing things himself builds competence and confidence. When you want to commend your child’s accomplishments, says Williams, “focus on the effort and the detail rather than offering praise: ‘Wow, you used great colours in that picture’ or ‘It was hard for you to stay focused on those spelling words, but you did it.’”

Zest for knowledge

“Living with Conor, 7, is a constant stream of questions from when he wakes until he goes to bed,” says his mom, Jennifer Arthur.* “He asks about everything in the world around him and how things work.”

Arthur and her husband welcome the questions. “We have had some in-depth talks about what is morally right and wrong. We have talked about the fact that some decisions in life are not black and white, and there are many shades of grey.”

Grappling with the grey areas is just beginning at this stage. This is evident in the value kids place on rules. “Listen in on their play and you’ll hear 30 minutes of rule making before the game even begins!” says Williams.

Making it work
Role modelling is key. “Kids are watching over your shoulder to make sure you’re not speeding, for example. And you better have a pretty good rationale for breaking the rules. If you don’t, the message you’re sending is that they’re meant to be broken,” says Williams.

Because children are able to do things themselves, it can be easy to go through your day without taking time to have a conversation or play together. But, says Williams, “spending time with your child is very empowering for him.” Arends has found this solution: “Talking at bedtime is the best! It’s amazing the stuff that comes out.”Learning through play

Pretend play, in particular, is crucial to healthy social and emotional development. Through play, children develop relationships with friends, learn to negotiate and solve problems, and explore feelings and experiences.

Making it work
Kids need downtime, which is playtime, says Williams, who cautions against overscheduling lessons and other commitments. She also recommends limiting screen activities in favour of active play.

Understanding feelings

Arends notes that her daughter is able not only to talk about her feelings, but empathize with others. Recently Maia described an incident when kids laughed at a boy in her class. “I didn’t laugh because I didn’t think that was very nice,” said Maia.

Making it work
Parents can help kids develop an emotional language, says Williams. Help your child name his feelings — “Are you feeling angry (sad, frustrated)?” — and express them, she says. “Saying to Dad, ‘I’m really mad at Mom’ is OK. What’s not OK is breaking something.”

Kids are sometimes beset with worries as they become more aware of the world and the dangers that exist in it. If, for instance, he’s worried about dad driving home because he’s heard about a car accident, don’t dismiss the concern, says Williams. “Ask what would help. Often kids will come up with something. If a phone call before dad leaves the office makes him more comfortable, it’s worth it.”

*Names changed by request.