How To Parent Five- To Eight-Year-Olds

Our story starts when they are five years of age. They seem so grown up as they stride off in their new school uniform. They can sit, concentrate, mix, communicate clearly and write and read some words. But don’t be fooled by this superficial show of maturity, because the five-year-old is still a baby in many ways.

Total dependence

Little children can treat Mum and Dad like lesser beings, but behind the show they are still immensely influenced and dependent on us. The degree of dependence or independence varies greatly from child to child, but young children need us much more than we realize.

FiveTo Eight Year Child

They may appear to ignore what we say, but behind this pretence they watch what we do and tune into our beliefs and values. If Dad believes that Elvis is alive and pumping gas on the Gold Coast, they believe the King still lives. If you think the greenhouse effect is caused by cattle passing wind, there’s no debate, it’s cows farting that does it. Other children and teachers may seed some ideas in their minds, but we parents are still the main source of wisdom.

Even your words get recycled. As you hear them talk to their friends, they might sound like you on a bad day: ‘I’m tired of having to tell you’; don’t think I can play. I feel a headache coming on.’

At this age, children have few independent thoughts, and you are the main policy maker. For these few years you are seen as infallible. Enjoy this brief moment of power, because it passes all too quickly!

A magic mind

Six-year-olds are fitted with a technicolor imagination. They don’t really believe in ghosts and monsters, but when the night is very dark, they worry that something might be out there. The idea of reindeer, chimneys and the North Pole may seem far-fetched, but as it gets close to Christmas, Santa becomes very real.

This blur between fact and fiction can add technicolor to the truth. So a passing car braking hard while the kindergarten class plays outside may become, over the course of the day, a multiple car accident involving the police rescue squad and a fleet of ambulances.

It’s important to be aware of this imaginative exaggeration. Behind every exaggeration lies a seed of truth, but sometimes the story is bigger than the seed. If your six-year-old makes claims about his teacher, the story you hear may not be the complete truth. It is wise to first check the facts before you round up a posse of neighbors for a shoot-out with the principal.

Skipping and cuddling

This is a wonderfully unspoiled age of innocence. It is a time when children don’t Just walk; they skip, wave their arms and bounce with enthusiasm. They are like little lambs that frolic just for the joy of being alive.

It is a magic time when children sit on your knee and snuggle up close. If it’s cuddles you are after, this is the age to get your share.

Also, young children are unfazed by nudity. A six-year-old will race around the house wearing nothing more than a whoop of joy. At this age they do what feels right and their minds are unpolluted by adult shame and modesty. Six-year-olds know nothing of apples, serpents and Original Sin.

Open and helpful

Seven-year-olds are remarkably up front, and if you listen you will hear most of what’s on their minds. Such is their openness they can’t keep a secret, so when they buy your birthday present they have to drop hints, they can’t wait until the big day. Make the most of this forthrightness to establish clear lines of communication at this time because, as they get older, they will be less open.

Children of this age work well beside their parents and are usually happy to help. Obviously some requests are more attractive than others: ‘Would you like to turn off the television and go to McDonalds?’ gets more response than ‘Would you like to turn off the television and tidy your bedroom?’ This is hardly surprising, they’re not stupid.

Too honest

Under-eights know nothing of political correctness. They call things as they see them, and have not yet mastered the almost-honesty of adults. So when a live-year-old spots a fat lady or a one-legged man, they will announce it to the world. They get confused when we tell Grandma her cooking was a cordon bleu extravaganza, because they know Dad thought it was boring mush. They are surprised when we tell Uncle Bill he looks good, because to them he’s looking close to expiry. Even when they pass wind, they apologize politely rather than disown the noise.

Likes rules and tells tales

The six-year-old is a miniature bureaucrat who loves rules and regulations. Most six-year-olds enjoy the clear structure of school, where they work quietly and raise a hand before they speak. At this young age classroom regulations are like commandments delivered on tablets from the mount. Even at home they may quote these rules to brothers, sisters and babes in arms,

They are not only interested in rules, but also in their abeyance: ‘Please Miss, Jack took Sarah’s pencil’; ‘Please Miss, Kate’s talking again.’ But this time of informing on others is short-lived, and by the age of seven or eight it’s already uncool to tell on your mates.

Property is a fuzzy notion

The under-eight has little idea about money or value. They can quote the price of a lollipop, but that is the limit of their financial wizardry. If the ball they kick shatters a priceless vase, it is Mum’s anger, not the monetary value, which catches their attention.

The idea of ownership is another fuzzy notion. Though most children are reasonably honest, the under eight-year-old is often fitted with remarkably light fingers. Some infant teachers joke that their pupils could do with a strip search at going-home time, as pencils, toys and trinkets seem to slip into pockets.

This immaturity with money and ownership is all part of growing up. Our response to petty pocketing at this age should be low key: just state what you believe happened, register your disapproval and watch out for repetitions.

Lives for the present

A five-year-old has no appreciation of the long-term future. The world they understand is happening now. Once I asked a little boy, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’

I don’t want to grow up,’ he said. ‘I would have to drive a car and might not be able to stop it.’

This was a relevant answer for a five-year-old, but by eight years he will see beyond the present and by twelve he’ll probably understand the advantage of four-wheel discs with an anti-locking option.

We might explain a complex idea to our under-eights but they won’t really understand: ‘Grandma got sick, developed pneumonia, went to hospital, died and is now in heaven.’

They can repeat this, but have no understanding of pneumonia, heaven or death and can’t grasp the permanent nature of this event. To them Grandma is on a long holiday and may well come back.

Unspoken worries

As a young child. I was always warned about the dangers of germs. At that lime we lived near a large hospital for infectious diseases that was bounded on Its front by a high wall, Every lime my parents drove along the road outside I crouched low in the back of the car and held my breath to protect myself from any germ that might vault over the wall and land on me. It was very real in my mind, and I believed my parents were negligent in subjecting me to such risk. But they never knew that this was troubling me: they just wondered why I was blue and breathless.

FiveTo Eight Year Child

Psychiatrists are continually amazed at how five- to eight-year-olds can grasp the wrong end of the stick then worry themselves silly over unimportant things. If Mum and Dad have a major tiff their six-year-old may anticipate a break-up. If Dad is late to pick them up, they may fear abandonment. If Mum is admitted to hospital, they may worry she might die. If their sister develops leukemia, they might believe they are in some way to blame. It can be a confusing time for children, and little minds may worry more than we think.

Similarity of boys and girls

In the early school years, the size, strength and sporting ability of boys and girls are almost the same. While girls are generally more verbal and boys may have more behavior and learning problems, at this age boys and girls are more similar than they ever will be again.

Both boys and girls wonder about their anatomical differences, but this is an innocent interest without any sexual overtones. At this age boys more often play with boys and girls with girls, but it’s okay to mix any way you want.

However, after the age of eight years, growth, development and maturity race ahead, and with this comes a definite segregation of the sexes.

Filed Under: Family & Relationships


About the Author: Roberta Southworth is a psychiatrist by profession. She likes to help out people by writing informative tips on how people can to solve their family and relationship issues. She is currently staying in Ireland. She has 5 years of couple counseling experience.

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