General Characteristics of Middle and Late Childhood
The child is, by nature, a pragmatist. He is concerned with how things work, rather than with why they work or how well they work. It is an age at which doing, making, and building are all-important. Now that young people have good small- as well as large-muscle control, they are beset by the urge to sew, cook, and bake; they want to build things, make things, and put things together. Although children still engage in these activities to some extent, such activities have to compete with less challenging pastimes, such as computer games, television watching, and organized group activities. Although some children still engage in craft activities today, children are more often involved in more adultlike pursuits.
The child tends to be an optimist as well as a pragmatist. Children have a tendency to deny unpleasant realities and to have a cheerful outlook on life. The world is a new and exciting place full of things to experience and learn about. Because the child lives in the here and now, every activity is important, and the most important activity is the one in which he is presently engaged. That is why it is often so difficult to disengage children from their play or computer games. Children also look forward to growing up, and they look forward to birthdays as evidence of their growing maturity and independence.
To be sure, children are not always happy. Particularly today, we see a phenomenon that was rarely seen in the past, namely, school-age children with depression. Some children have chronic low moods, apathy, and self-derogatory ideas. Sometimes this depression is merely a reflection of parental depression, but for some children, it arises from their difficult life circumstances. Although most children retain a sense of hope, even under the worst conditions, for some young people the stress is just too overwhelming.
Fortunately, for most children, their optimism is undaunted. They are excited about what they would like to become and are not bothered by the real and many hurdles that lie in the path of the desired goal. In fantasy, children can move away from the family, leave school, sail around the world, and become a beachcomber or continue their studies and become a doctor or a lawyer. At its base, children's optimism rests in their belief that they have an almost unlimited number of years to attain their goals. The union of pragmatism and optimism in the child is not really surprising because the two usually go together. Those concerned with getting things done are often imbued with unlimited faith in what can be accomplished by persistent effort, and that is the true spirit of childhood.
The pragmatic attitude of children is very important for personality development and is a prerequisite for the personality integration that is the task of adolescence. By engaging in all sorts of activities, children are discovering themselves. It is a psychological truism that we are what we do. The child must discover what sort of pupil, athlete, musician, peer, and friend he really is, and these discoveries can be made only through his classroom work, his participation in sports, his efforts to play an instrument, and his interactions and friendships with peers. By engaging in these many activities, the child evokes reactions in others that give him the information he needs to find out about himself.
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