Developmental Landmarks of Middle Childhood
During the years of middle childhood, children are challenged by developmental events and changes that lead to increased maturity and responsibilities. They are faced with the central task of acquiring a sense of industry as opposed to a sense of inferiority, according to Erikson (1950, 1964). Although this challenge becomes the primary psychosocial focus of children in middle childhood, they are also expected to achieve many additional developmental tasks during this period. These tasks complement a child’s emerging sense of self, and achievement of these skills helps children acquire healthy self-esteem during their school-age years.
The events of early childhood lay the foundation for the developmental tasks and milestones addressed during middle childhood. The higher expectations held for children during these years are reflected in a significant change. Both parents and school systems expect children to acquire an attitude or feeling of duty and accomplishment (industry) as a result of the successful experiences they have in middle childhood. This attitude may be described in several ways: (1) a positive attitude toward work assignments and routine jobs leading to the development of a positive work ethic; (2) “tools,” or mental and social skills our culture expects children this age to master over time (i.e., academic skills such as reading, writing, and calculation and learning group politics through group and individual activities with peers); and (3) an emerging ability to take responsibility for personal actions and behavior.
The development of a healthy attitude toward work and duty in performing one’s responsibilities means that school-age children are expected now to begin an assignment or task and to complete it satisfactorily without having to be continually reminded to do so. The nature of the task may not be as important as the process of beginning the job and performing it to acceptable standards outlined by those in authority. The overall feeling or reaction that should emerge during this life stage is pride in accomplishing a variety of skills and in demonstrating one’s dependability in performing assigned tasks. Learning a basic American work ethic is accomplished in this manner as children learn that they are rewarded accordingly if assignments and tasks are performed satisfactorily in the eyes of parents, teachers, and other authority figures.
Entrance into the school environment signals changes and adjustments for the child, the parents, and the family system. An additional social group now takes on increasing importance in children’s lives. This group is composed of other children, approximately the same age and with similar abilities, who become a child’s peers. As a child progresses through this stage and through adolescence, the peer group assumes an increasingly significant role in facilitating a child’s socialization process.
Throughout these years, the cultural expectations of parents and other adults in authority concerning how children should behave and what they should be learning combine with the maturation process to include new developmental objectives for school-age children. These objectives, which are largely social and mental, are communicated to children through their parents, the school environment, peer groups, and social programs in which they participate.
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