Child development at 6-8 years: what’s happening
Playing and learning
Your child’s play is complex now. At this age, children often play out ideas they've come across at school or in the media. For example, you might find yourself serving dinner to a scuba diver, a rock star – or maybe even the Prime Minister!
Because your child is better at controlling their own behaviour and emotions, your child copes better with games that involve rules, as well as with winning, losing and playing fair.
Friendships can also be challenging because friends can sometimes be bossy or cranky. Sometimes friends might even leave your child out. Most of your child’s relationships will be positive, but keep an eye out for signs of bullying.
Your child might also start to play more with children of the same gender.
Children want to please the important adults in their lives, like parents and teachers. So you might notice that doing things the ‘right way’ becomes very important to your child. On the other hand, at times your child might seem over-confident.
Your child is easily embarrassed and sensitive to other people’s views and beliefs. In fact, your child has lots of empathy when family and friends are distressed. But at times your child can be very self-critical and might need your help to focus on the things they do well.
You might notice that your child is more aware of disaster news and distressing news stories. This growing awareness can cause some anxiety and fear, so talking about tough topics can help your child make sense of things.
Children have a much better understanding of the relationship between cause and effect. They begin to see how their actions affect other people, although sometimes they still seem self-centred.
Memory is also improving and your child can group objects according to size, shape and colour. Your child 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. Your child might do small experiments to see how things work – for example, fill up the toilet with soap and flush it, just to see what happens.
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
Children can follow more complex directions and use language to explore their thoughts and feelings. The average eight-year-old learns about 20 new words each 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 their speech.
By eight, your child is learning to voice opinions and has lots of energy and emotion when telling stories. Your child can follow a simple recipe, write stories based on daily life, write an email or instant message, and read independently in bed at night.
At this age, children enjoy testing their physical limits and developing more complex moving skills, like running in a zig-zag pattern, jumping down steps, doing cartwheels 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.
Fine motor skills are well developed now, so your child can now brush teeth and do other daily hygiene tasks without your help. Your child can cut out irregular shapes and write smaller letters inside the lines in school books.
Daily life and behaviour
At this age, your child’s life is all about family, school, friends and after-school activities. Your child might enjoy collecting items like footy cards, shells or small figurines.
Your child’s morals and values are developing, and your child might share strong opinions about whether things are right or wrong. Children will also be more aware of what others are doing. This might lead to comparisons like ‘They're better at drawing than me’ or complaints about siblings getting more of something.
Children are even more independent and want more say in what they can and can’t do. As part of this independence, they might enjoy doing more chores around the house – at least sometimes! But spending time with you is still important to them.
At this age, children might also:
- like to tell jokes and talk up their skills or behaviour – for example, ‘I can eat 10 hamburgers at once!’
- write numbers and words more accurately, but they 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 their appearance and in clothing or hairstyle trends
- be better at telling the difference between fantasy and reality
- be interested in using technology and having screen time
- understand that people often expect girls and boys to behave in certain ways because of their gender.
Helping child development at 6-8 years
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 their 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.
- Let your child see you trying new things and making mistakes. This helps your child 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 they 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.
- Set aside some time for free play. Playing is still very important at this age. Let your child choose how they want to spend free playtime. Your child might want to go outside and throw a ball, jump rope or stay indoors and draw.
- Read with your child. Reading is still very important for literacy development. As your child learns to read, try having your child 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 their ideas. As your child gets older, allow them to join in family decision-making where appropriate.
- Talk with your child about treating boys and girls equally and respecting girls and women.
Parenting a school-age child
As a parent, you’re always learning. It’s OK to feel confident about what you know. And it’s also OK to admit you don’t know something and ask questions or get help.
When you’re focusing on looking after a child, you might forget or run out of time to look after yourself. But looking after yourself physically, mentally and emotionally will help your child grow and thrive.
Sometimes you might feel frustrated, upset or overwhelmed. It’s OK to take some time out until you feel calmer. Put your child in a safe place, or ask someone else to look after your child for a while. Try going to another room to breathe deeply or call a family member or friend to talk things through.
Never shake, 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 the demands of caring for your child, call your local Parentline. You might also like to try our ideas for dealing with anger, anxiety and stress.
When to be concerned about child development at 6-8 years
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 a long time
- is aggressive with other children
- seems to be afraid of going to school, or refuses to go to 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 they 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.