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The Challenges of Middle Childhood

— St. Louis Children's Hospital
Updated on Jul 16, 2010

The Challenges of Middle Childhood

They’re long out of diapers but will have to wait before they get behind the wheel. And whether they’re starting first grade or are reigning queens and kings of their elementary schools, your kids’ minds, bodies and emotions are subtly changing to help prepare them for adulthood.

“This period is a critical time for social, physical, cognitive and emotional development,” says Danny Plax, MD, board-certified pediatrician on staff with St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Parents can help their children leave this stage with a good sense of self by focusing on what that child does well without making comparisons to other children. Instill a sense of responsibility by positively reinforcing them for good decisions and establishing consequences -- but still offering your support -- for choices that could be better.”

As a parent, you may be wondering if your children are developing on target. “It’s essential to remember that a great deal of variability among this age group is completely common,” says Suzanne Thompson, PhD, pediatric psychologist on staff with St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Differences in personality, talents, activity choices and challenges should be expected -- even among siblings.”

Getting Physical

During middle childhood, your kids will continue to grow at a steady rate -- though perhaps not as rapidly as in infancy and early childhood.

“Boys and girls typically have similar growth patterns during this period,” says Dr. Plax. “Until puberty (which begins on average at age 10 1/2 for girls and 11 1/2 for boys) both sexes often gain two to three inches in height and three to eight pounds in weight annually.”

In addition to overall changes in size, middle childhood is also characterized by the development of small muscles, which helps to increase fine motor skills necessary for tasks like writing and learning to play musical instruments.

Moreover, some children (especially girls) may even begin to show the signs of puberty like breast buds or development of pubic hair toward the end of the 6 to 12 age range. If your child shows concern or anxiety about these characteristics, offer reassurance that the changes are completely normal.

Mental Masters

Beyond the changes they experience in their bodies, children at this age also experience a significant shift in the way they think. During the preschool stage, children tend to think concretely, but during middle childhood, they begin to grasp more abstract concepts. Their increasing cognitive capabilities help them master the challenges of school.

The perfect time to learn to read and write, the mental maturation of middle childhood enables both boys and girls to better focus their attention as well as take time to locate necessary information. In addition, the ability to order and sequence events and objects enhances mathematical abilities.

“This age span can be the time when learning problems may appear. Watch for difficulties with tasks like remembering facts; basic spelling, grammar and math skills; and organizing information, materials and concepts,” explains Dr. Thompson. “Teachers can be excellent resources for parents looking for feedback about their child’s development. They can also help point parents in the right direction for intervention by recommending strategies to try at home or a counselor trained in learning disabilities.”

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