First Grade Emotional Development


If you thought the end of kindergarten meant the end of all the arguments, tantrums, crying, ups, downs and in-betweens, we’ve got bad news for you. Children in first grade are bound to endure a storm of emotional whirlwinds. Some of it makes sense and some of it doesn’t, but how you react can help your child through this stage of life. Check out this slideshow to find out what your first grader will do and what you should do.

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They are striving for independence.

Kids spend many of their school years striving for independence, but first grade is a big step in getting there. They want an identity, friends, and to do things on their own, but often they aren't ready to handle these things.

What you should do: Give your child opportunities to find hobbies and do activities, but don’t push in any certain direction.

They can't tolerate failure.

As first graders strive to become more independent, they become highly concerned with their personal behavior. Tantrums can occur if your child accidentally breaks something, if she can’t solve a problem, or if her peers outperform her in school or play.

What you should do: Be patient and understanding. Accept this as a normal stage in your child’s life. Remind her of things she’s learned to do in the past year, such as riding a bike, doing dishes or reading.

They can’t accept criticism, blame or punishment.

Every child relives the classic story of the kid who says he didn’t eat the cookies while he has chocolate all over his face. First graders can’t admit wrongdoing, and taking any type of blame can result in tantrums. Because they’re insecure and boastful all at once, accepting criticism is extremely hard for them to do.

What you should do: Set reasonable rules and be consistent in enforcing them, but be very sensitive to this stage of your child’s life. Never tease or give unnecessary criticism. Think of discipline as a form of protection, not something to make your kid feel bad about herself.


They crumble under high expectations.

Children this age are insecure. They are constantly in a hurry so they can be the first to finish. They want to win games so they can say they are the best. They have high enough expectations for themselves without their parents pushing them to be perfect. Too much pressure to succeed can lead children to damaging feelings of failure and frustration.

What you should do: Accept your child’s enthusiastic, competitive nature, but look out for these feelings. As a parent, you have standards, but your kid shouldn’t feel pressured by them. Give your kid freedom and time.

They aren't good sports.

First graders feel like they must be the winner. They change rules to benefit themselves, and they quickly accuse others of cheating.

What you should do: Avoid games that determine a winner. Instead, encourage games that involve building skills, working together and accommodating the skill levels of others. Kids this age love cooperative activities, projects and tasks.

Do you want to learn more about this common phenomenon? We've got an article all about it. Click here to read "Why Are First Graders So Competitive?"

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They are easily upset by slight changes in routine.

Kids at this age love routines, which give them comfort and make them feel like they know what they are doing. It’s common for them to have tantrums when something goes wrong.

What you should do: Encourage basic routines like bathing, cleaning the bedroom, playing outside and going to bed at a certain time. When routines are broken, be calm and collected while you find a solution, which shows your little one that she too can learn to think on her feet.