The emotional changes in school-age children are often enough to leave a parent scratching her head and wondering if everything is okay. However, children’s development, while sometimes challenging, follows definable patterns. Becoming familiar with what changes to expect makes this stage easier to negotiate. If you have concerns about your child’s behavior or social skills, you should consult your doctor.
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Developing friendships is a vital part of emotional growth. The child development professionals at PBS Parents note that by 7-years most children find enjoyment in their new-found friendships. It is normal for children to have one or several best friends and also an enemy, though those roles may change frequently. They also prefer same-sex friendships and think of the opposite sex as weird. Some children begin to like taking care of or playing with younger children.
Karen DeBord, Ph.D., writing for the University of North Carolina Extension Children, explains children of school-age begin to define themselves in terms of their appearance, possessions and activities. This can be exacerbated due to peer pressure or advertising, as children begin to judge themselves by the expectations and appearances of those around them. This can lead to them being self-conscious and feeling as if other people notice even small differences in their looks or actions. For example, they may be concerned about how fashionable their clothes are or a new haircut or about hugging a parent in public.
An important part of children’s emotional development is they strive toward competence, notes “Lewis's Child And Adolescent Psychiatry.” This means they want to be more self-sufficient and independent, and they seek the approval of parents, teachers and peers to confirm their competence. For example, they may want to choose their own clothes, perform tasks or chores by themselves and place a greater value on showing competence by doing well academically or in sports.
School-age children also begin testing boundaries. According to the National Institutes of Health’s MedLine Plus your child may begin lying, cheating or stealing as they learn how to negotiate the expectations and rules placed on them by family, friends, school and society. Rather than being alarmed, you should understand that acting up like this is a normal part of childhood and deal with these behaviors privately so the child's friends don't tease them. Appropriate discipline and demonstrating forgiveness are important to show the child that while you don’t accept wrong-doing you still love and value them.