Parenting Your School-Age Child

It’s back-to-school time. But preparing for the school year is about more than buying new school clothes, the latest superhero backpack, jumbo rolls of paper towels and all the things on your child’s school supply list. It’s also about navigating the changes that children experience as they learn to become more independent.

What’s Happening:

Parenting school-age children is a special challenge. Children ages 6-12 go through big changes. As they begin to spend more time away from home at school and other safe places, they are learning to develop their own identities. Physically, their bodies are growing stronger and going through hormonal changes, a process that continues through puberty and into the teen years. Mentally, they are learning how to control their feelings, use reason, and solve problems. But kids in this age group are still kids. They still need rules and structure, and most of all, their parents’ love and support.

What You Might Be Seeing:

School-age children:

  • Mature unevenly. Their bodies may be growing, but they are still capable of having temper tantrums and need reminders to take baths and brush their teeth.
  • See things in black and white. Children in this age group tend to be focused on fairness and rules.
  • Get distracted easily. Although children this age are capable of doing chores and homework more independently, they may need you to remind them to stay on task. They also may lack organizational skills, so they need you to teach them.
  • Develop deeper relationships with peers. Kids become interested in “fitting in,” as social structures begin to reveal themselves in more obvious ways.

How You Can Help:

  • Model the behavior you want to see. Always keep in mind that your children are constantly watching and learning from you. Meet your responsibilities, follow your own house rules, and communicate with respect. Respecting your children means using reason whenever possible, rather than simply making demands. Even if children don’t like a particular rule you want to enforce, they will learn important lessons from hearing your reasoning.
  • Make a few important rules and enforce them every time. Along the same lines as above, consistency in making and enforcing rules is really important. Choose your battles making essential rules that are simple to follow and still allow for choices in small matters (e.g., clothing, room decorations, snacks). Micromanaging every step your children take will make developing their own identities more confusing.
  • Talk about what you expect. Post rules and routines where everyone can see them. Remember to use black and white terms. Fewer “gray areas” means less to argue about.
  • Limit screen time. Pediatricians recommend that school-age children spend no more than 2 hours each day watching TV, playing video games, or using the computer. Monitor Internet use for safety and encourage children to participate in hobbies and activities that do not involve screens.
  • Be involved with your children’s school. Talk to their teachers and attend parents’ nights and parent-teacher conferences. Teach your children that school is important by providing a quiet space for doing homework, volunteering at school when you can, and celebrating your child’s hard work.
  • Offer support and understanding. When your child has a problem with his/her peers, help explore ways to resolve the conflict. Resist the temptation to interfere directly. If your child is being bullied, alert the school staff and work with them to keep your child safe.
  • Don’t wait for your children to learn about sex, alcohol, and drugs from peers. First, educate yourself about how to speak to your child about these issues and your values. Then engage them in a calm and inviting way. The goal is to keep the lines of communication open so that your children will feel comfortable asking you questions. Also, equip your children with resources for resisting peer pressure.

Remember: Talk to your children often and listen to what they have to say. School-age children sometimes act like they don’t care what their parents say, but they crave your love, attention, and guidance!

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