6-Year-Old Child Development Milestones

Your child’s growth and development at age 6

What to expect from your 6-year-old.

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Like many phases of child development, the period of 6-year-old development is characterized by contradictions. A 6-year-old child will have their foot more firmly in the big-kid years than they did as a kindergartner; at the same time, they will still experience the insecurity that comes from stepping more into the big wide world without the constant comfort of their parents.

As they increasingly experience school, play dates, birthday parties, and other activities without a parent, they may want and need more attention and comfort at home.

Physical Development

Seemingly overnight, your child has morphed from a chubby toddler to a lanky grade-schooler whose limbs seem to be growing every day. During this stage of child development, referred to as middle childhood, kids can grow an average of 2 to 2.5 inches per year.

At 6 years old, children will exhibit a wide range of new physical skills. Some may show natural athleticism while others will work on accomplishing simple skills such as throwing or catching a ball. There will also be a natural variation in growth rates, with some children starting to shoot up while others growing at a slower rate.

Most 6-year-olds will have lots of energy and will need time outdoors to burn it off. Physical activity will be important since most children this age spend so much of their time in classrooms. In fact, research also supports that exercise is beneficial for cognitive function.

Fine motor coordination will also continue to develop at this age. Many 6-year-olds will become more adept at drawing and writing letters, and their pictures and stories will look much more recognizable and legible. They will become more skilled at using tools like scissors and will be better able to perform tasks like tying shoelaces or buttoning buttons with less clumsiness and more accuracy.

Key Milestones

  • Shows off ever-improving locomotor skills, such as running, jumping, and skipping
  • Demonstrates stronger hand-eye coordination (better able to kick a ball into a goal or throw a ball at a target)
  • Follows rules of a game or sport, so sports often become more meaningful

Parenting Tip

Play physical games with your child. Throw balls, jump rope, or climb over obstacles. It’s a great time for kids to sharpen their coordination skills, which can help them feel more confident in themselves.

Emotional Development

At age 6, your child will become more aware of emotions—both their own and those of others. They may understand sophisticated concepts, like not hurting someone’s feelings by, say, saying something critical about them directly to that person.

Children this age may also increasingly express a desire to choose their own clothes, wash themselves, and comb their own hair. Parents can encourage this independent self-care and offer some guidance. You can let kids wash themselves but “help” at the end or suggest a sweater and tights if it’s too cold to go to school in just a favorite frilly skirt, for instance.

Friendships and other social relationships with peers and adults become more complex and take on more meaning at this age, as they become more aware of the world around them and their role in it.

Key Milestones

  • Loves to show off talents
  • Develops improved self-control skills
  • Shows improved ability to maintain emotional stability

Parenting Tip

Establish predictable routines, such as nighttime rituals, after-school activities, and regular play dates. These regular activities and relationships will provide the security they need as they encounter unfamiliar challenges and experiences.

Social Development

Your 6-year-old will also become more adept at navigating relationships with friends and family and will feel security and comfort from their relationships with those who are close to them.

They frequently enjoy sharing snacks, toys, and other things with friends at school and at home. That isn’t to say rivalry and scuffles over favorite toys won’t occur, but conflicts will pass and grade-schoolers will increasingly gain the social skills to one day work out differences on their own, without adult intervention.

Key Milestones

  • Pays more attention to friendship and teamwork
  • Wants to be liked and accepted by peer group
  • Shows more independence from family

Parenting Tip

Your 6-year-old will be better able to understand other people’s feelings but may need some prompting from you. Ask questions like, “How do you think your friend felt when you said they couldn’t play with you?”

Cognitive Development

Children, this age may feel an increasing awareness of right and wrong, and may "tell on" peers who they think are not doing the right thing. Flare-ups, even among close friends, may be common, but will typically fade just as quickly as they started, especially with loving guidance from teachers and parents.

Most 6-year-olds are continuing to develop longer attention spans and will be able to handle more complicated projects and tasks at school and at home. The ability to have complex thoughts really starts to develop at this age, and a 6-year-old’s curiosity about the world around them will begin to increase exponentially.

Speech & Language

Many 6-year-olds will begin or continue to develop independent reading and may begin to enjoy writing stories, especially about themselves. They may be able to write a short paragraph about what they did over summer vacation or a weekend, for instance.

The number of sight words they know will grow and they will be able to break down words into sounds. Their vocabulary also increases, and they will be able to spell a greater number of words (though many words will still be invented spelling, such as "floo" for "flew"). They will also learn how to use punctuation and capitalization of letters in sentences.

They may enjoy reading simple chapter and will be able to proudly re-tell basic plot lines and discuss elements of what they liked or didn’t like about the story or characters.

Play

Most 6-year-olds will increasingly understand the difference between "real" and "imaginary." They may become more interested in doing "real" things such as taking real photographs with a camera or making real food instead of pretending to cook in a play kitchen.

Key Milestones

  • Participates in simple group activities or board games
  • Tells time
  • Copies complex shapes, such as a diamond

Parenting Tip

Even though your child may be able to read on their own, keep reading togehter. Listening to you read expands their vocabulary even further. It’s also important to let them read out loud to you sometimes.

Other Milestones

Many 6-year-olds may want to do things perfectly, which may be hard for themselves if their performance isn’t as good as they want it to be (if they lose at a game or can’t seem to get a picture to look just the way they wanted it to, for instance).

At this age, they often see things as black and white and will express strong opinions about things. They may see something as good and something else as bad, and will have trouble seeing the middle ground.

Your 6-year-old may begin to express a desire for privacy when they dress or undress (although many will still enjoy bath time with a parent close by and will ask mom or dad to wash their hair).

When to Be Concerned

At age 6, many children are in kindergarten or first grade. This may be the first time they're asked to spend extended time with classmates, follow strict school rules, or focus on schoolwork for extended periods of time. As a result, this may be the point at which developmental differences or delays begin to surface. It’s important to talk to your child’s pediatrician if you see any of the following issues:

  • Very withdrawn, worried, or depressed
  • Difficulty separating from you
  • Doesn’t interact with others
  • Has difficulty following two-part directions like, “Put your bag away and then bring me your soccer uniform.”
  • Shows no interest in trying to write her own name
  • Exhibits lots of challenging behavior

A Word From Verywell

While it’s important to ensure your child is reaching developmental milestones on target, avoid comparing your child to all the other children the same age. By age 6, some will be natural athletes and others will shine in music. Just because your child doesn’t have skills in a certain area doesn’t mean they are behind.

If you have concerns about your child’s development, talk to the pediatrician or meet with your child’s teacher.

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