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Children experience lots of new things once they reach school age. They start to feel a lot of new things too – and you can help them explore these emotions.

Smiling girl sitting in chair
 

What to expect

Once at school, your child will probably:

  • go through stages of being loud and confident and then quiet and shy
  • not have a complete sense of right and wrong, and might lie or steal
  • start learning about being independent
  • make lasting, close friendships (from eight years old)
  • start understanding other people’s points of view (by the age of eight or nine)
  • still need lots of affection and support from you.

Your child is starting to understand that other people have deep feelings and often a different view of the world.

Your child will probably start forming closer friendships from about the age of eight. Research shows that boys will often form a group of friends, whereas girls prefer to be in smaller groups or even pairs.

At this age, children are often very keen on rules. Sometimes disagreements about rules can cause arguments between school-age children. Your help is still important to keep play going smoothly.

Play ideas to encourage the exploration of feelings

Play is one of the best ways for young children to express and manage their feelings. Your school-age child can explore feelings through:

  • making art – try painting and drawing
  • having fun with music, including jumping around and ‘acting out’ music, creating music with odds and ends from around the house, and learning to play an instrument
  • messy play, such as playing with sand or mud
  • playing with puppets or toys
  • going to a park or open space and running, tumbling or hitting a ball around – there’s nothing like kicking a ball really hard to help release tension.

Your child might find it easier to express feelings if she feels in charge. Letting your child lead play can help with this.

Talking with your child

Whether you have a preschooler or a school-age child, well-meaning but general questions such as ‘How was school?’ often produce only one-word answers, such as ‘good’, ‘bad’ or ‘OK’.

Instead, ask specific questions to get a good conversation going. For example, you could talk about something that happened recently – ‘Is soccer getting any easier?’ These questions work because they’re about your child’s very own experiences, and they can get her to come up with a specific response. Children are also more likely to open up if they feel you’re really listening to them.

Sometimes getting your child to talk is a matter of finding the right time. For example, your child might need some time to wind down after school before he’s ready to tell you about his day.

Your child is the best consultant you can find for what your child needs, if you are willing to listen. From the time he was born, your child knew when he was hungry, needed to be changed, when he needed to go to sleep. So ask questions that tap into your child’s self-knowledge.
– Michael Thompson, PhD, co-author, Raising Cain 

Bullying at school

Bullying at school is more common than you might think. Research suggests that one in five Australian school students reports repeated bullying. And half of Australian children say they’ve been the target of bullying behaviour at least once.

    There’s no single way to tell if a child is being bullied. The way a child reacts will depend on how bad the bullying is, as well as the child’s personality. Apart from obvious physical signs of bullying, the things to look for are changes in your child’s social or emotional behaviour.

    Most importantly, children should never be left to sort out bullying on their own. They can be seriously hurt by it. It’s important for grown-ups to stop bullying before it starts happening over and over again, or damages a child’s confidence.

    If you notice that your child is very shy, doesn’t seem to form friendships with other children, or is aggressive or bullying, it might be a good idea to discuss this with your child’s teacher and/or your health professional.
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    • Last Updated 11-01-2011
    • Last Reviewed 02-11-2009
    • Rubin, K.H., Bukowski, W., & Parker, J.G. (1998). Peer interactions, relationships and groups. In W. Damon & N. Eisenberg (Eds), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 3. Social, emotional and personality development (5th edn, pp. 619-700). New York: Wiley.

      Thomson, R.A. (1998). Early sociopersonality development. In W. Damon & N. Eisenberg (Eds), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 3. Social, emotional and personality development (5th edn, pp. 25-104). New York: Wiley.