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?

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.

How can I protect my kid from bullying?

Bullying has become national news in recent years, and it is wise to do whatever you can to protect your child from physical or emotional harm. Although it may be tempting to call the parents of the bully, most experts agree it?s better to leave these dealings to the school administration. Make sure your child's teachers and principal know about your concerns, and follow up with them to find out how they are handling the situation. See if your child's school has anti-bullying programs in place; otherwise, take these steps to protect your child further:

  • Initially, advise your child to ignore the taunting. Often a bully just wants to get a response, and if he doesn't, he will give up or move on. If this doesn't work, more substantial intervention may be required.
  • Encourage your child to talk. If your child opens up about the bullying experiences, he will be more able to handle his feelings about what's going on. If you have experienced bullying in the past, share your own stories and resolutions.
  • Help your child foster positive friendships. Forming a tight group of friends leaves your child less open to attacks from a bully.
  • Help Kids Deal with Bullying and Stress

What kind of activities should my child participate in besides school?

Using time outside of school to explore other interests can greatly benefit your child. The school may have plenty of after-school activity options (sports, art, music), but take advantage of other community resources. Check local houses of worship, the YMCA, and museums or other cultural institutions to find classes and events your youngster would enjoy. Physical activities are especially important, as school-age kids begin to develop good physical habits and incorporate daily exercise into their routines. If your child is wed to the idea of joining the local baseball team, let her, but also encourage sports where she will benefit from more continuous physical activity, such as swimming or basketball. Just be wary of overscheduling your child; extracurricular activities shouldn't interfere with her ability to get homework done, to spend quality time with family, or to just relax. It's important to let your kid just be a kid.

What should I do if I think my school-age child has learning issues?

The earlier you discover an issue and begin to resolve it, the better the outcome. If you think something is wrong, discuss it immediately with your child's pediatrician and teachers. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, children whose learning disabilities are identified and dealt with before they leave the third grade have the best chance at succeeding academically. Discuss different approaches to learning disabilities with the teacher, who may suggest that your child get a complete education evaluation, which should be paid for by your school district. With more information about your child's educational needs, you can work with the teacher to develop a plan. Keep in mind, though, that having a learning disability is not the same as exhibiting slowness in certain educational areas. A child who is slow to read, for example, may require special services to get him up to speed, but this does not indicate a disability. Always encourage and support your child at home. Remember that a learning disability can affect him socially, not just academically, so make sure he has plenty of opportunity to socialize with peers and to explore other strengths and interests.

How should I prepare my school-age child for the preteen years?

Your school-age child may still seem little, but before you know it, she'll be entering the preteen years and there will be changes on the horizon. It's best to be aware of them while your child is still in elementary school. Your child may receive her first official form of sex education as early as fourth or fifth grade, but chances are, she?ll start to hear about sex, smoking, drugs, and other matters before the official introduction. Gain the upper hand by initiating a conversation with your child first, before she gets incorrect or overwhelming ideas from her peers.

Most children won't experience puberty until their preteen years, but some do experience what is known as "precocious puberty," when a child's body starts to change before age 8 (for girls) and age 9 (for boys). Some children may require medication to delay this rapid onset of development. Otherwise, the normal onset of puberty can happen any time between the ages of 8 and 12. Many children may wonder if they are normal or if they're developing at the right pace. Reassure your child that everyone develops at her own pace. Giving your child a book to read on her own will help her understand her development and answer questions she may be too embarrassed to ask you. Popular books like the What's Happening to My Body series by Lynda Madaras, or newer guides like The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls, from the American Girl Library, can make growing children feel more secure about their changing bodies and set the stage for your discussions with them about sex and development.

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