Understanding Child Development From Ages 4 to 12

The stage in which children are no longer babies, but are not yet teens, is one of great developmental strides in cognitive ability.  Children also experience a gradual yet dramatic increase in maturity and independence during these years.

Four to five year olds are very inquisitive.  If they haven’t gone through the “why?” stage already, they likely will do so at four.  Not all children relentlessly ask “why?”, though.  Their curiosity may take the form of asking how things work, for example.  Regardless of the way they go about it, children of this age group ask a lot of questions!  This group also watches their world very closely, taking in a great amount of detail.  Anyone who has ever taken a walk with a child in this age range can attest to that!  They also do not have an easy time distinguishing between things that are real and pretend.   They easily believe in things like magic tricks and monsters under the bed.  With this age group, it is good to answer their questions as best you can, which will cultivate their natural curiosity of the world around them.

Six to nine year olds are a bit more independent and mature.  They think more logically rather than literally now.  They are even able to start understanding jokes.  Their reading skills improve, and they enjoy reading on their own.  They are now aware of rules, and may even try to make up their own!  This often happens when playing games.  They are sorely disappointed when they don’t win, and need to be taught how to lose gracefully.  From ages six to seven, children are usually still interested in parental and teacher approval.  By ages eight to nine, they start to care more about what their peers think of them.  This comes about because of their new found ability to understand perspectives besides their own.  Now that they can imagine themselves in someone else’s position, they can see themselves in a new way too, and are suddenly aware of what others may think of them.  At this age, children tend to be self-conscious and worry about things more.  They want to blend in at all times, which means they may not share their worries with parents, especially if parents seem busy or stressed.  A great way to encourage them to open up is to be there to listen to them and remind them that you are available to them whenever they need you.  This is always a positive message, and is a good precedent to set before heading into the teen years.

Ten to twelve year olds definitely go through a lot, physically and emotionally.  This is often the age when puberty begins.  They are now embarrassed by parental affection, especially in public.  They may think they are more capable of being independent than they actually are. Remember, they still need parental guidance, even if they act like they don’t.  But it is also healthy to let them have a bit more independence as well.  Eventually, they will be completely independent adults, so trying it out in gradual stages is a great way to get them accustomed to it. It is also good at this point in a child’s life to be sure they have other safe, healthy, adult role models to talk to besides their parents.  Confiding in other adults is just one way children this age explore living in a broader community, as they begin mentally preparing to one day live on their own.

About Meghan Toledo

Meghan Toledo holds a degree in Psychology from UCLA. She loves interacting with both animals and children, and she worked with abused horses rejuvenating their spirits with love and carrots. She spent time in Los Angeles and San Francisco as a zookeeper and educator, allowing her to care for animals while fostering a love in children of the natural world. These days she is enjoying the adventure of being a new mother and the joy of that experience. In her spare time, she is freelance writer and a proponent of natural childbirth and attachment parenting.

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