Notes on Middle Childhood (6-12 years)

Jan Armstrong, University of New Mexico

Major changes - many of them internal and very important - take place in middle childhood (A, Sroufe). This is a period of consolidation of skills and practicing for adolescence. Children attain higher levels of social and cognitive functioning. Age 8 is a milestone across cultures. Children are perceived by adults to have attained a new level of competence at this age. Children are now able (permitted) to be on their own more often.

6-8 years - children acquire the logical reasoning associated with concrete operations. They understand the rules of conservation. They grasp principles of identity, compensation and reversibility. Metacognitive skills (knowing how we learn and remember) continue to develop. Children begin to use metacognitive strategies when they learn new material. They gain much from teachers who help them cultivate useful strategies for learning. Children in the age group are able to be fairly logical and organized when working on problems with concrete objects. However, they have difficulty dealing with abstractions, hypothetical situations, and multiple variables.

With respect to social cognition, in contrast to preschoolers, children in this age group are able to distinguish appearance from reality. For example, they know that gender and clothing are separate qualities (a girl dressed in boy's clothing is still a girl.) Perspective taking skills increase. As always, there may be variations in the rate at which different skills develop. A child may be advanced in some areas and lag behind in others.

School age children acquire a relatively stable and comprehensive understanding of the self. The child can view the self as a psychological entity that includes not only one's physical characteristics, but also how one thinks and feels.

Children acquire a set of standards and expectations with respect to dealing with others. The formation of friendships and close affiliations with peers is a hallmark of this period. The nature of friendship is appreciated in a new way. The basis for friendship lies in loyalty and mutual support (not just in sharing playthings, for example). There is also a new appreciation of authority and an interest in understanding and abiding by the rules. As a general rule, elementary school children want to conform to norms.

There is a reciprocal relationship between cognitive development and social interaction. Children are able to understand different perspectives and take on different roles. This helps them interact in more mature ways. Interacting with peers, in turn, fosters cognitive growth.

With respect to health education, this is an important time because habits are being formed. However, it is very hard to change existing health habits in this age group. This is because 1) children this age usually feel good most of the time. 2) They can't make a logical connection between behavior today and their health years from now. And, 3) The media and other institutions promote unhealthy foods and lack of physical activity. The best thing we can do to support the health of elementary school children is reduce hazards for this age group (accidents remain a serious threat) and model good health practices.

Created 6/7/02. Last update 6/7/02 / jka.

Return to Human Development Course Handouts Page