Growth & Development in Children Six to 12 Years Old
During these years, children become more aware of being part of a larger world. Consequently, they grow more independent from their parents and seek approval from peers, teachers, and others they come in contact with. External factors like good grades, establishing a circle of friends, physical attributes, or prowess in competitive sports take on increasing importance as children branch out socially from home.
By age seven or eight, most children develop a sense of continuity with friends, usually of the same sex. Social milestones may include the first “sleep-over” at a friend’s house or going away to camp. A good general strategy for parents during these years is to expose a child to a wide range of activities, so that he or she can learn to develop new areas of interest, discover hidden talents, and build up confidence.
Physical growth rate continues to slow. Boys and girls grow, on average, about two inches each year and gain about five to seven pounds, though there are wide individual variations. Physical features may become an important source of pride or shame. Though most children in this age range remain sexually immature, there is still interest in gender differences and sexual issues.
Because children are developing increased muscle strength, coordination, and stamina, this is a good time to encourage them to make exercise a lifelong habit. Even at this age, being sedentary is associated with an increased lifetime risk of obesity and heart disease. On average, schools are offering fewer physical education classesand gym programs tend to stress competitive sports rather than cardiovascular fitness.
Yet all youngsters can participate in aerobic activities, since they require minimal hand-eye coordination and athletic talent. Running, for example, can be a good aerobic activity for children. Long-distance running poses an increased risk of injury for prepubescents, but if a running program is gradual and well supervised, the risks should be minimal. Swimming, cycling, brisk walking, and hiking are other good aerobic options that can easily be shared as family activitiesand are likely to become lifelong habits.
Behavioral problems or learning disabilities may become more apparent during these years and may affect school and social performance. If your child finds schoolwork or reading unusually difficult, talk to a teacher or to your doctor about having the child tested for developmental problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or a specific learning disability, such as dyslexia. Such problems demand attention and usually can be successfully treated with medications, special classes, and various forms of psychotherapy. (Usually the family should be involved in the therapy.)
Depression has also been recognized increasingly in children. It may be marked by withdrawal and a loss of interest in activities. Studies indicate that antidepressant medications may be helpful, especially as adjuncts to therapy, in treating depressed children.
Once children are in school, they are more likely to be exposed to contagious ailments ranging from lice to colds. Some of these can’t be avoided, but it is important to continue getting regular medical checkups and recommended immunizations. Regular dental exams are also important, since during this period a child’s baby teeth fall out and all the permanent teeth, except for wisdom teeth, come in.