Relationships and school-age children’s development
Warm, stable and responsive relationships are fundamental to children’s development and wellbeing.
Your child will become more independent when they start school, but family relationships are still the biggest influence on your child’s development. That’s because your child’s relationship with you helps your child feel secure and gives them confidence. Security and confidence are important as your child meets new children, tries new things and takes on new responsibilities when they’re ready.
Relationships with school-age children: what to expect
Your role as a parent is just as important as ever, but your relationship with your child might change once they start school.
For example, your child might love to be independent, but they still need plenty of your love and attention. Your child is proud of being a ‘big kid’, but they want your approval. Your child might be easily embarrassed, self-conscious and even self-critical, so they’ll need your help to focus on the things they do well.
Your child might not tell you as much about their day as they used to – maybe because it’s hard for your child to tell you everything that’s happened in a school day. But your child still needs to know you’re there and ready to listen when they’re ready to talk.
Your child’s language, thinking, emotions and physical skills are developing rapidly at this age. This means that you might sometimes have quite deep conversations with your child. Or you might start sharing hobbies or interests like sport or music with your child. This can give you a lot of opportunities for tuning in to your child’s interests, ideas, thoughts and feelings.
Peers and school friends might start to become more important in your child’s life, particularly as they move towards the middle-primary years. School friendships give your child a sense of belonging and help your child learn and practise social skills like sharing and negotiating. But if friendship problems come up, your child will turn to you for help. Your child’s secure and safe relationship with you helps them to manage the ups and downs of making and losing friends.
And your school-age child might start looking for adult role models outside the family – for example, a favourite teacher. But they’ll still look to you for guidance or want to know what you think about these people.
You are still important to your child and your child still needs you as they grow and develop, even if they don’t always say that to you.
A strong parent-child relationship is about more than just having fun together. By tuning in to your child’s feelings, praising your child and helping them to see things from other people’s points of view, you can help your child learn and develop.
Building strong relationships with school-age children: tips
Children of all ages need parents and caregivers who are warm and responsive, who pay them attention and who make them feel safe. Here are ideas to help you keep building this kind of relationship with your school-age child.
- Give your child plenty of positive attention by showing warmth and being interested in what they’re doing. One way to do this is by asking follow-up questions when your child starts talking – for example, ‘Really? That’s funny! What did the teacher say then?’ This keeps the conversation going.
- Use everyday moments and activities to build your relationship with your child. For example, driving your child to an activity might be a chance for an uninterrupted chat.
- Make time to share things you both enjoy, like cooking or kicking a ball at the park. This can also give you a chance to find out more about your child’s likes and dislikes, worries and frustrations. Some children find it easier to talk when they’re doing something else.
- Tune in to your child. If you see your child is getting angry or upset, help them understand their emotions. For example, ‘I can see that you’re feeling angry about turning off the TV’. Understanding emotions is a key part of self-regulation, which is important for all your child’s relationships.
- Avoid asking your child a lot of questions about school when they get home from school. Your child will probably be tired and hungry. When you sense that your child is ready to talk about school, simple, positive and specific questions can start a conversation. For example, ‘Who did you sit with at lunchtime?’ or ‘What was the best part of your day?’
- If your child asks about tough topics, answer honestly, in language that they can understand. For example, ‘To make a baby, a sperm from a man and an egg from a woman join together’. If you encourage open communication now, your child learns that they can always talk to you.
- Set some positive family rules to guide how your school-age child treats you and other family members. Rules that describe the behaviour you expect can help everyone in your family get along better. For example, ‘We say “please” when we ask for something’.
- Share regular family meals. Family meals can strengthen your family relationships and your child’s sense of belonging. They’re also a good chance to catch up on each family member’s day.
- Keep up family rituals like birthday celebrations, family movie nights or bike rides on the weekend. Rituals create shared memories and build family relationships and bonds.
It’s important to look after yourself. Even spending a few minutes each day doing something you enjoy like going for a walk or reading a magazine can make a big difference to how you feel about the time you spend with your child. Looking after yourself is good for you, so it’s good for your relationship with your child and their development.