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Review: Caring for school-aged children

In this article we will recap the main take-aways from the Middle Childhood Week.

Middle childhood (4-9 years) involves rapid growth in social, emotional, and cognitive abilities. Change can impact children in a variety of ways, depending on many individual factors, the specifics of the event or transition, and children and families’ access to material and psychological resources. The four main areas of development, some typical effects of change, and ways adults can support children are summarized below:

Area of Development Growth Between Ages 4-9 Typical Impacts of Change How Adults Can Support Children
Language & Emotions Children experience an expansion in vocabulary, an increasing ability to talk about feelings, and develop greater self-awareness of their needs and wants. Change might lead to difficulties in understanding and communicating complex or new feelings. Children might express themselves through non-verbal means such as changes in daily routines, withdrawal, or unexpected outbursts. Opportunities to talk with adults can help children process feelings while also building their vocabulary and self-awareness. Displays of emotions, including outbursts, that are met with support instead of punishment can help children cope with a change and ease uncertainty.
Concern for Others Children expand their “circle of concern” throughout middle childhood: they move from focusing on their own experiences to a growing interest in the experiences of others and an ability to imagine what it is like to be “in someone else’s shoes”. During change or transitions, younger children might struggle to take other’s perspectives while older children might be more motivated to do so. Some children might see it as an opportunity to help their community. Finding ways for children to contribute to the family, school, or community can provide them with a sense of purpose. Talking with children about differences in other children or families’ experiences can help to build empathy and perspective taking.
Thinking & Understanding Children transition from mostly concrete thinking to abstract thinking, providing many opportunities for rich imagination and conversation about ideas. Older children are able to hold more things in their minds and talk about ‘big questions’. During periods of change, children might struggle with remembering or focusing on information. They might seem distracted or disengaged. Daily routines or typical chores and activities may require more patience or adult support than usual. Children might ask hard questions about the present or future. Adults can support children by providing visual reminders, calendars, or schedules of routines and tasks. Adults can talk with children – listen to their questions, provide age-appropriate information, and help children build their understanding of life events. Sharing relevant and age-appropriate information can ease uncertainty, worry, or confusion.
Relationships & Play Children move from mostly parallel forms of play to increased cooperative play. Children learn listening, flexibility, teamwork, problem-solving, decision making, and other important social and emotional skills through play. During periods of change, relationships can be altered or disrupted. This might lead to loneliness and limited opportunities to practice social skills. At the same time, children may be eager to laugh, be silly, engage in imaginary games or physical play. Adults can support children by engaging in frequent play and relationship building. Children in this age range need daily opportunities for social interaction, feeling a sense of connection and belonging, and opportunities to process feelings and experiences through play.

Social Emotional Learning & Play

An effective way to support social and emotional development is through play. Play is an important way for children to process their experiences, act-out uncertainties or new emotions, and release physical energy. In middle childhood, the five characteristics of Learning through Play (meaningful, joyful, iterative, socially interactive, and actively engaging) manifest differently across the ages 4 to 9. To facilitate playful SEL during middle childhood, some important criteria to keep in mind:

  • Make the activity playful
  • Target relevant skills
  • Be explicit
  • Be sensitive to unique needs
  • Link SEL to real-life
  • Praise the child for doing it well
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Coping with Changes: Social-Emotional Learning Through Play

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