Family relationships are still the biggest influence on your school-age child’s development. Fitting in with friends and finding role models are also important, and you can help your child with these parts of her social and emotional development.

Understanding school-age children: the basics

At school, your child is busy learning and making friends. This includes trying to understand the rules of life, learning about manners, values and what’s right and wrong, and finding role models like teachers and other trusted grown-ups.

At the same time, your child’s brain is developing rapidly, bringing increased emotional maturity, social skills and thinking abilities.

Even with all these new influences, your home life and family relationships are still the biggest influence on your child’s development. Your relationship might change a little bit because you’re spending less time together – your child might even prefer a wave to a public kiss goodbye – but your job as a parent is just as important as ever.

Your little one is heading off to a world of grazed knees, tearful misunderstandings and fascinated learning. And when your child’s knee hurts, he doesn’t get invited to a birthday party, or he needs help with homework, you’ll be the first person he wants.

Developing your child’s social skills

When children start school, they’re entering the wider social world. Your child will be thinking about finding her own place, fitting in with friends and feeling part of a larger social group.

Although you’re not there when your child is at school, there’s still a lot you can do to help him develop his social skills:

  • Help your child make friends by encouraging her to play with other children outside school hours, have sleepovers, and join clubs and groups.

  • Help your child develop conversation skills like asking questions and listening to other children. You can be a role model for these skills in conversations with your child. 

  • Help your child understand the kinds of comments that might upset others, lead to teasing and get in the way of making friends – for example, ‘Your hair is always messy’. 

  • Help your child develop empathy and understand different points of view by getting him to describe his own feelings and by talking about other people’s feelings.

  • Suggest how your child could handle different situations at school and with friends – for example, ‘Maybe if you shared your new toy it might help’, or ‘Smiling makes people feel happier. It helps if you smile when you first meet people’.

At 7-8 years, children become more aware of having a private self. They recognise the emotions and thoughts that are uniquely theirs. They also start comparing themselves with their peers. After the age of eight, friends their own age become more influential.

Finding role models

At 5-8 years, school-age children gain a sense of self by finding people they want to be like – or role models.

Children look to older relatives, family friends, teachers and peers – usually of the same gender – to see what it’s like to be a man or a woman in society. These role models can help children work out what sort of people they want to be.

Your child’s teacher

At school, the most important role model in your child’s life is her teacher. When you consider that your child learns from watching, listening and interacting with others, you can see why teachers have a huge influence on your child’s thinking, attitudes, behaviour and views about school.

Understanding rules

During the first few years of primary school, children can get quite preoccupied with learning rules.

Games and sports with rules become important. Through them, children learn that rules apply differently in different situations. They also start understanding what’s ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. For example, some rules or behaviour that are all right at home might not be OK when visiting friends.

At this age, children come to understand and accept that there are rules in the family and in society. They might feel guilty when they do the wrong thing.

Helping your school-age child understand rules and values

Explain why things are considered right and wrong, and why some behaviour isn’t tolerated at all in society – for example, teasing and stealing.

  • Encourage a sense of compassion and empathy by saying things like ‘Imagine if you were that person right now’.

  • Play games with rules that include elements of both chance and skill. Let your child win some of the time, but remember that losing is also important. It helps your child learn to deal with disappointment.

Discuss the idea of values with your child. Share your own personal and family values with him. You can also talk about broader community values.

© raisingchildren.net.au, translated and adapted with permission

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