Between the ages of about 5 and 12 years, we refer to the growing person as a child. Childhood may be the most dynamic phase of human development. Unparalleled growth occurs in a short period of time. Body size and weight, lanquage acquisition, peer relations and social interaction, intellectual capacity, logic, reason…there is just so much happening within this period that it can become confusing and overwhelming for parents, especially with more than one child in the home.
The needs of the child, in addition to the basic physical/biological requirements, are becoming increasingly psychological/emotional. At this state of development, industriousness and competency become primary concerns. The child is now attending school and being confronted with many tasks. The child is forming relationships with schoolmates and neighborhood friends. The child is learning to use various tools and collaborate with others in joint projects. Parents are becoming a less dominant presence as the child spends more time away from home at school and in after-school activities. Teachers and peers become the dominant role models. Industriousness and competency are a challenge in just about every sphere. Even play, which, in the toddler phase was more for the pure satisfaction of play itself, becomes a means of developing competency. The care-free toddler is on the path towards becoming a youth concerned about method, achievement and accomplishment. One area of the need for competency is in some areas of knowledge. Children ask all kinds of questions; why this or why that – it can drive a parent nuts! Children will ask questions about sex as well: how are babies made? How come I have a penis (or vagina) and mommy (or daddy) doesn’t? Children will “play house” and act out parental roles. Despite these questions, the child is not interested in sex, per se; they are just curious about what makes the world the way it is. This is also a time when a child is most apt to become interested in and learn about the father’s and/or mother’s hobbies or favored activities such as any kind of arts and crafts, gardening, sewing, painting, singing, dancing, auto mechanics, computers….the list can go on and on. Outings into the community to parks, public pools, museums, libraries, malls….Children are like a sponge and soak up experience. Children benefit tremendously from exposure to a wide range of experience.
Some of the things a parent can do to help a child master the challenges of this stage include:
- Support, encouragement and patience. It takes a lot to learn a method. There are lots of mistakes and failures in learning anything new. A child needs to learn, and to feel, that mistakes and failures can be corrected; that they are steps towards mastery. This is accomplished through positive coaching, realistic encouragement and supportive guidance. Children, when learning something new that they really want to learn, don’t accept failure easily. If a child wants to learn to ride a bike, they will take many falls and not be discouraged getting up again and again until they are riding down the street yelling “look mom, no hands.”
- Allow a child to pursue what is of interest to them. If a child takes a keen interest in the electric guitar, don’t require them to play the piano. Of course, parents can introduce their children to all kinds of activities: singing, dancing, swimming, sports, cooking, sewing…However, keep in mind that every one of these, and all other activities, will be colored by the child’s need for competency in that area. If the child wants to partake of an activity, the chances of mastery are much higher. The child may loose interest after a while and want to move on to something else. This is not uncommon as the child explores the field of possibilities. Allow this exploration. Do not force a child into an activity he or she does not want. Find an alternative. Keep in mind that children at this stage NEED to be industrious and develop competency. They will choose an activity, or activities, by which this can be accomplished. Children don’t, by nature, want to sit around idling. However, it is a very good idea to limit TV time and make sure plenty of alternatives are available.
- Provide exposure to varied experiences at home, in the neighborhood and in the community.
- Reward successes. This is such a basic tenet that it hardly goes without saying. Nevertheless, it is important and must be incorporated into the life of a growing child. Even little accomplishments like completing a household chore on time — and correctly, can be acknowledged.
- Do not punish for mistakes or failures. Punishment must be for violation of rules and that punishment is best in the form of natural consequences which have been laid out beforehand. For example, if a household rule is that all toys are to be taken out of the living room and put into the bedroom before going to bed or else that toy will be taken away for a week, and a toy is left in the living room overnight, then that toy is taken away for a week. There should be no surprise. Household rules and consequences should be known by everyone in the family. Children, even as young as 5, and certainly by age 8 and up, understand rules and consequences.
- Answer questions honestly. The answers can be simple. When a child asks “how are babies made” the parent can answer simply “babies are made when mommy and daddy have intercourse.” The child does not need to know the meaning at this stage, just that he/she received a credible answer.
- Be available to listen to your child. Spend quality time with your child. Communicate, collaborate and negotiate with your child. Children at this age are becoming increasingly social, and reasonable, creatures.
- Play with your child. Children at this age are still very much interested in play, even though it may be more geared towards an end than a means in itself, it is still fun.
If a child fails to satisfy the need for being industrious and competent, a sense of inferiority and inertia can develop. Or, they may become accomplished in a very narrow area, perhaps even a virtuoso, but very limited.
All too soon Childhood comes to an end. Whether or not the tasks and needs of this stage have been fully satisfied, we enter the domain of adolescence. A difficult time, to say the least.