School-age children come in all shapes and sizes, but child development between six and eight years typically has a few things in common. Here’s what your child might be doing, how you can help and when to seek help if you need it.
School-age child development at 6-8 years: what’s happening
Playing and learning
Your child’s play is complex now, and he often plays out ideas he’s come across at school or in the media. For example, you might find yourself serving dinner to an elf, a rock star – or maybe even the Prime Minister!
Because your child is better at controlling her own behaviour and emotions, she also copes better with games that involve rules, as well as winning and losing.
Your child enjoys making friends and being a friend. Friendships give him a sense of belonging and help him learn and practise basic social skills like sharing and negotiating.
Friendships can also be challenging because friends can sometimes be bossy or cranky. Sometimes they might even leave your child out – for example, ‘If you play with David you can’t be my friend anymore!’ Most of your child’s relationships will be positive, but keep an eye out for signs of bullying.
You child might also start to play more with children of the same gender.
Your child wants to please the important adults in her life, like her parents and teachers, so doing things the ‘right way’ becomes very important to her. On the other hand, she might sometimes seem over-confident.
Your child is more easily embarrassed and more sensitive to other people’s views and beliefs. In fact, your child has lots of empathy for family and friends when they’re distressed. But at times he can be very self-critical and might need your help to focus on the things he does well.
You might notice that your child is more aware of events she’s seen or heard on the news, like natural disasters. This growing awareness of the world can cause some anxiety and fear, so it’s important to talk with your child about what’s going on in a way she can understand.
Your child has a much better understanding of the relationship between cause and effect and begins to see how his actions affect other people, although sometimes he still seems self-centred.
Your child’s memory is improving and she can group objects according to size, shape and colour. She has a good understanding of numbers and can do simple maths problems like adding and subtracting.
Be prepared for lots of questions as your child keeps exploring the world around him. You might find he’ll do small experiments to see how things work. What happens if I fill up the basin and tip in your soap, toothpaste and make-up, Mum?
There’s a lot happening at this age, so don’t be surprised if your child gets distracted easily and forgets small requests and directions from you.
Talking and communicating
Your child can follow more complex directions and use language to explore her thoughts and feelings. The average eight-year-old learns about 20 new words per day, mostly through being read to or reading.
Your child now has longer and more complex conversations, and you should be able to understand all of his speech.
Your eight-year-old is learning to voice her opinions and has lots of energy and emotion when telling stories. She can follow a simple recipe, write stories about her activities, write an email or instant message, and read to herself in bed at night.
Your child enjoys testing his physical limits and developing more complex moving skills, like running in a zig-zag pattern, jumping down steps, doing a cartwheel and catching small balls.
Your child is getting better at combining gross motor skills like running to kick a ball or skipping while turning a rope. These physical skills depend on how often your child practises them. Structured sports like dance classes, tennis and soccer all help, but lots of opportunities to run, kick, throw, cartwheel and more are just as important.
Your child’s fine motor skills are well developed now, so she can now brush her teeth and do other daily hygiene tasks without your help. She can cut out irregular shapes and write smaller letters inside the lines in her school books.
Daily life and behaviour
At this age, your child’s life is all about his family, school, friends and after-school activities. He might enjoy collecting items like footy cards, shells or small figurines.
Your child’s morals and values are developing, and she might share strong opinions about whether things are right or wrong. She’ll also be more aware of what others are doing, which might lead to comparisons like ‘She’s better at drawing than me’ or complaints about siblings getting more than her.
Your child is even more independent and wants more say in what he can and can’t do. As part of this independence, he enjoys doing more chores around the house – at least sometimes! But spending time with you is still important to him.
At this age, your child might also:
- like to tell jokes, many of which will be original – but perhaps not very subtle!
- write numbers and words more accurately, but she might still confuse some letters – for example, b/d and p/g
- have better reading than spelling skills
- begin to understand the value of money and enjoy counting and saving
- take more interest in her appearance and in clothing or hairstyle trends
- be better at telling the difference between fantasy and reality
- talk up her skills or behaviour – for example, ‘I can eat 10 hamburgers at once!’
Helping school-age child development
Here are some simple things you can do to help your child’s development at this age:
- Build your child’s self-esteem and self-confidence by recognising his strengths and positive qualities. Sometimes children’s self-esteem goes down in the primary school years as they become more self-critical and compare themselves with others.
- Teach your child that it’s OK to make mistakes: let your child see you trying new things and making mistakes. This helps her understand that learning and improving are all about making mistakes, but the key thing is to never give up.
- Give your child opportunities to explore and learn, inside and outside. Inside he can experiment with things like cups, thermometers, magnifying glasses and jars for storing things. Outside you could explore your local park or nature reserve together..
- Read with your child: reading is still very important for your child’s literacy development. As your child learns to read, try having her read to you. You can also try literacy activities like telling stories or making your own book.
- Encourage your child to be aware of the consequences of behaviour and see things from other people’s points of view. You can do this by asking questions like, ‘How do you think Jane feels when you do that?’
- Share ideas and discuss important issues with your child: this helps you connect with your child and shows that you’re interested in him. As your child gets older, allow him to join in family decision-making where appropriate.
Parenting a school-age child
Every day you and your child will learn a little more about each other. As your child grows and develops, you’ll learn more about what she needs and how you can meet these needs.
In fact, as a parent, you’re always learning. Every parent makes mistakes and learns through experience. It’s OK to feel confident about what you know. And it’s also OK to admit you don’t know and ask questions – often the ‘dumb’ questions are the best kind!
Your own physical and mental health is an important part of being a parent. But with all the focus on looking after a child, lots of parents forget or run out of time to look after themselves. Looking after yourself will help you with the understanding, patience, imagination and energy you need to be a parent.
Sometimes you might feel frustrated or upset. But if you feel overwhelmed, put your child somewhere safe or ask someone to look after him for a while so you can take some time out until you feel calmer. Try going to another room to breathe deeply or call a friend or family member to talk things through.
Never hit or verbally abuse a child. You risk harming your child, even if you don’t mean to.
It’s OK to ask for help. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your child, call your local Parentline
. Our coping toolkit
has practical ideas to help you relax and feel calmer.
When to seek help
See your GP if you have any concerns or notice that your child has any of the following issues at 6-8 years.
Communication and understanding
- has a stutter or lisp when talking
- has difficulty following instructions.
Behaviour and play
- finds it hard to make friends
- can’t skip, hop or jump
- has trouble sitting still for extended periods
- is aggressive with other children
- seems to be afraid of going to school, or refuses to go to school (this might show as headaches or stomach aches when getting ready for school).
- can’t get dressed or undressed independently
- experiences daytime wetting or soiling
- still has regular night-time wetting at eight years.
You should see a child health professional if at any age your child experiences a noticeable and consistent loss of skills she once had.
Children grow and develop at different speeds. If you’re worried about whether your child’s development is ‘normal’, it might help to know that ‘normal’ varies a lot. But if you still feel that something isn’t quite right, see your GP.