Big Kids 101: Understanding Big Kid Development

You may have mastered managing toddler tantrums and preschooler proclivities, but big-kid behavior is a whole other ball game. Learn what milestones to expect during the school-age years.

What defines a big kid?

A big kid is a child between kindergarten and second grade (ages 5 to 8), with big kids being considered school age around ages 5 to 6. These years are filled with new milestones, new interests, new social needs, and new academic developments.

What milestones should I look out for at this age?

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As your child enters the school-age and big-kid years, your focus will likely be less on issues at home (such as sleep or discipline) and more on issues at school, both academically and socially. During these school years, your child will learn to read, develop routines, understand complex directions, and learn to interact with peers one-on-one and as part of a team. Growth and development milestones include losing baby teeth and getting permanent teeth, continued muscle development, better hand-eye coordination, and the ability to sustain physical activity for longer time periods.

How can I help my child succeed in school?

Developing a good relationship with your child's teacher and other school staff early in the year can be beneficial, as issues may arise later. Even if there aren't specific problems, it's a good idea to check in with the teacher on a regular basis to assess your child's progress in school -- what his strengths are and whether there are areas that need extra help. Create a positive homework environment for your child by making sure he has a clean, well-lit workspace, all the school supplies his teachers require, and a quiet atmosphere. As your child gets older, homework should be a priority; completing it will help teach discipline, problem solving, and time management skills. Homework also helps your child practice what he learned during the day to be certain he understands concepts. Give your child enough time to do his work, and always turn off the TV, avoid answering phone calls in the same room, and remove other distractions, like computers or video games.

Parents can set their child up for success in school by creating the right environment at home. Make sure your child gets enough sleep at night so he is well rested and able to stay alert throughout the school day. Ensure that he eats a full breakfast and a substantial lunch, so that he?s not distracted by hunger during the school day. Give him a diet rich in nutrients, good fats, complex carbohydrates, and protein to keep his brain active and keep midday sugar cravings at bay. Finally, show your child you're there for him during these years -- to answer questions about homework, to help him master new skills, and to guide him through unfamiliar social situations. Encourage good behavior in school by creating an environment that fosters good behavior at home. "As a child learns at home to respect limits, [this] will translate ... into the classroom environment," says Amy McCready, a discipline expert and founder of Positive Parenting Solutions.

How can I help my child make friends?

The school years are a time when your child will start to make her own friends, instead of playing with whomever you set her up with on playdates. Help your child develop friendships by welcoming other children into your home, which will signal that your house is a safe, fun place where they can hang out. If your child is struggling to make friends, help her find group activities that she enjoys so she can meet other kids with similar interests. If your child enjoys soccer, arts and crafts, or camping, look for a local soccer team, crafts club, or Boy or Girl Scouts group.

As your kid makes more friends, always know who they are and get to know their parents, which will help you stay connected to your child and protect her from certain dangers. "When they start school, it's easier for kids to become disconnected from their parents and to participate in a private world. It's important to know what?s going on in his friend's home -- who is home, who is watching the kids, and what the child is exposed to," says Meg Meeker, M.D., a pediatrician in Traverse City, Michigan and the best-selling author of six parenting books.

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