School-Age Parenting Tips (6-, 7-, 8-, and 9-Year-Olds)

The best advice for raising happy, healthy school-age kids

As you lounge on your sofa with your 8-year-old child, who is hungrily reading through the next chapter of their book, a memory photo pops up on your phone. A wide-eyed 2-year-old stares up at you from the screen, with the same fluffy hair as the school-age child on the other end of the couch.

You look up at your real-life child, engrossed in their reading and in an instant the image of the toddler on your screen stretches longer, having aged 6 years. You can't believe how grown up their face looks today! Your baby is no longer a baby, but an independent child with a mind of their own.

School-age children thrive when their physical and emotional needs are met. Learning about their development and their nutritional, physical, social, and emotional requirements can help you parent them in the best way possible.

parenting tips for school age kids
Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell 

Daily Life

School-age kids spend a good portion of their day at school. They may eat one or two meals there, and spend more time at school than at home. Even after school, 6-, 7-, 8-, and 9-year-olds may attend after-school programs, clubs, sports, or just spend time with their friends.

Diet and Nutrition

If your child, who once gobbled down every Brussels sprout set before them, suddenly swears they hate them, don't be too surprised. School-children can be finicky eaters, and their tastes may change frequently. Sometimes, these sudden shifts in appetite have less to do with a child's taste buds and more to do with wanting to assert control or fit in with their peers.

What's most important is that your child eats a variety of nutritious foods from all of the food groups, so they get the vitamins and minerals they need. School-age kids need vegetables, fruits, proteins, grains, and healthy fats to thrive.

Children between the ages of 4 and 8 should get between 1,200 and 1,400 calories per day, depending on their size and activity level. At 9 years old, boys need around 1,800 calories and girls need around 1,600 calories. Note that these are just generalizations, and your child may need more or less.

To help make sure your child is nourished properly and establishes healthy, positive eating habits, aim to stock nutritious choices. Make it easy for your child to see and reach for fruit, veggies, and whole grains.

Instead of focusing on what your kid should eat less of, emphasize what to eat more of. "Many kids will respond better to plans that encourage them to increase their intake of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and water," says Kristi Ruth RD, LDN, a pediatric dietitian and author at Cookies and Carrots. "This may feel easier than trying to cut down on foods with added sugar, saturated fat, and trans fat."

Make mealtimes as happy as possible by avoiding making your child eat when they aren't hungry or forcing them to eat something they don't like. Do your best not to use food as a bribe or reward, as well. Steer table talk to pleasant topic: In other words, save the discussion about that note from their teacher for after dinner. 

As long as your child has plenty of energy and is growing normally, don't worry too much about what they're eating. Most kids don't eat a balanced diet every day, but over the course of a week or so will manage to get the full variety of nutrients. If you're worried about your child's nutrition, check-in with their pediatrician. Most kids don't need a daily vitamin, but their healthcare provider can help guide them.

Additionally, set a good example of healthy eating habits. Your child is still looking to you for guidance, so eat as you want them to eat. "Let them see you take an extra serving of green beans," says Ruth. Even if they don't follow suit now, they'll be influenced by your choices. If you serve dessert, make it part of the meal instead of a reward for cleaning their plate.

Physical Activity

Chances are, your child isn't getting as much physical activity as they should. Children need about twice as much physical activity each day as adults need. Recess, gym class, and sports activities can count toward your child’s physical activity recommendation, but that may not be enough. It's good to find ways to incorporate physical activity into your family life, whether that's going for hikes every Saturday or biking to school instead of driving.

Elementary-age children need an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. About three days per week, their exercise should include strength training activities.

Some kids will love sports, while others will prefer free play, such as on outdoor play structures. Whatever your child likes best is the ideal way for them to get the exercise they need. If they do play sports in their free time, make sure they like it and don't get too caught up in the competition. At this age, sports should be primarily for fun.

Aerobic activities for kids include running, playing soccer, or riding a bicycle. To incorporate strength training, try crossing the monkey bars on the playground or climbing trees. And if your child is hard to motivate, it may help to add in a social factor. They may enjoy family walks, swimming with friends, playing catch, or going to an obstacle course.

Kids are more likely to embrace an active lifestyle if you do, too. "If they don't actually see you exercise, such as if you get your movement in while they are at school, let them know it in a conversational way," suggests Ruth. "If they ask about your day, let them know if you enjoyed a walk with a friend or tried a new yoga class."

Around the House

Most school-age kids are eager to take on some responsibilities of their own. So even if your child already makes their bed and keeps their room clean, they'll likely welcome some extra jobs that make them feel like contributing members of the household.

Offer some age-appropriate chores that are more "grown-up," like being the designated dishwasher emptier or being in charge of the recycling. If you can, come up with different options for your child to choose from. They'll be more likely to follow through on doing something they picked.

It's usually not a great idea to pay a child for doing chores that are part of being a good citizen, like picking up their own room. If you choose to give your child an allowance, you might tie it to chores that benefit the entire family. Praise their effort and hard work. Positive reinforcement will boost their self-esteem and encourage them to stick with their jobs.

When your child is 7 or 8 years old, start teaching them about money by giving them an allowance. It doesn't really matter how much, but one reasonable method is to give them 50 cents to a dollar per year of age—so between $3.50 and $7 for a 7-year-old. Managing even this small amount will help your child learn the value of money and the importance of saving.

Health & Safety

Start teaching your school-age child the steps they can take to keep themselves physically and mentally healthy. Regular pediatrician visits, mental health evaluations, and good sleep hygiene are all important.

Visiting the Doctor

As long as your child is healthy, their pediatrician will likely recommend annual check-ups. At your child's well-visits, the pediatrician will measure their height, weight, and blood pressure. They may want to discuss developmental milestones, diet, and sleep schedules. You can even count on a vision test and any needed immunizations.

If your school-age child is up-to-date on their immunizations, they probably only need a flu shot. Flu shots can be administered at their well-check if it occurs early in the flu season. Otherwise, your child should come in for their flu shot during the month of October each year.

Mental Health

If you notice your child becoming a lot more withdrawn or lashing out frequently, pay attention and reach out for help if you are concerned. Mental health issues may develop—or become apparent—during the school-age years. For example, kids can become depressed, anxious, or show signs of behavior disorders or attention deficit disorders at this time.

If you have concerns about your child’s mood or behavior, talk to your pediatrician. Early intervention can increase the success of treatment.

Sleep

Your child might not look sleepy when they stay up past their bedtime, but it may be very difficult for them to get up the next day or concentrate well when they do. Elementary-aged children need nine to 12 hours of overnight sleep to function at their best. And although napping is, for the most part, out of the picture, afternoon rest time is often helpful at any age.

No matter how old your child is, a bedtime routine is helpful for winding down and establishing sleep expectations. "This routine may look different for each child, but generally you may want to add a bath or shower, brush teeth, put on pajamas, set clothes out for the next day, pack their backpack, and connect with you by reading or talking about their day," explains Heather Wallace, a certified pediatric sleep consultant and the owner of BraveHeart Consulting. "Some children respond well to mindfulness as part of the bedtime routine in order to calm their brain and focus their thoughts before sleep."

School-age kids should get between 9 and 12 hours of sleep each night.

If you notice that your child has trouble winding down at bedtime, and they don't seem well-rested by morning, take a look at their screen usage. "Make sure to turn off all screens two hours before bed," advises Wallace. "Find calmer activities your child can engage in such as playing legos, working on a puzzle, listening to audiobooks, and drawing."

Safety

Grade school kids are becoming more independent, so it's increasingly important that they know how to keep themselves safe. If your child is allowed to walk to the park on their own, remind them to look both ways more than once before crossing streets.

No matter how safe your area is, your kids need to know what to do if a stranger approaches them. Make sure they know not to get into a car with someone they don't know, even if that person claims you said it would be okay.

School-age kids need to know what constitutes an unsafe touch. They also need to know that it is OK to say no if someone makes them uncomfortable—even another family member or family friend—and that they should tell a trusted adult right away.

Ensure that your child knows what constitutes an emergency, how to dial 911, and what to say to the dispatcher. 

While in a car, school-age kids need to ride in a booster seat until they reach a height of 4 feet 9 inches. Regardless, they should always ride in the back seat and wear their seat belt any time the car engine is on.

Kids who ride bikes should always wear helmets, and the same goes for any protective gear necessary for other sports, such as a mouth guard, helmet, or knee pads.

Your child needs to know how to swim, so if they don't already, it's time to start swimming lessons. And no matter how strong of a swimmer they are, they always need to be supervised while in the water.

Technology

Your school-age child may reach for your phone or plead with you to buy them their own. They may want to watch movies with friends on the weekends or play video games after school.

Technology can play a positive role in your child's life, whether it's a game that develops their spatial reasoning skills or educational YouTube channels. But, it's important to set limits as well. Screen time should not take away from sleep or the required amount of daily physical exercise.

All devices, including the TV, should be shut off and stowed away during family mealtimes, and kids should not have any of these devices in their rooms at night. It is also wise to monitor the content your child views, and it's OK to say no to certain types of games or sites.

Excessive screen use can lead to problems like excessive weight gain or sleep issues, and it may leave kids vulnerable to sexual predators or cyberbullying. Monitor and limit your child's screen use. Screens don't belong at family meals, or in kids' bedrooms overnight.

Your School-Age Child's World

Your school-age child is likely to be quite independent in many areas of their life, including their hygiene habits. For example, they're likely to be able to take their own shower, but they might still need a little supervision to ensure they get all the shampoo out of their hair.

Similarly, your school-age child should have the motor skills they need to effectively brush their teeth. But, they might need some encouragement to brush longer or need some supervision when it comes to flossing. While some kids these ages are pretty compliant with taking care of their bodies, others may need a little extra support.

Your child will still be eager to spend time together as a family. As a result, they might be open to doing just about anything with you, from a family board game night to a pizza party. Friends become a bigger deal during this time, too. It’s a good idea to support your child in seeing peers outside of school. Attending birthday parties or playing with kids on the playground can be good for their development.

Bullying can become a problem around this age. It’s important to talk to your child about kindness and respect so they don't become a bully, and it’s also imperative that you talk about what they can do if they become a target.

Schoolwork becomes increasingly difficult as children move up in grades. This is a time when some kids begin to thrive, while others struggle to understand more advanced concepts.

For many families, homework can be a serious struggle. As a result, many school-age kids are reluctant to sit down and study for a spelling test or complete a set of math problems. It's also often tough for kids and parents to balance school with sports, music, and other after-school activities.

Other Tips for Your School Age Child

It is important to stay involved in your child's life as they grow. Get to know their friends, their friends' parents, and chaperone children when you can. Being present and involved is the best form of supervision.

Stay nonjudgmental when your child tells about their day, especially when they talk about their failures or their mistakes. If your child tells you that they failed a spelling test, empathize and ask them why they think that happened, instead of reprimanding them. Work with your child to make a study plan for the next test.

The test won't matter in five years, but your reaction will. The idea is to build trust so that as they become teenagers, they will continue to feel safe confiding in you.

A Word From Verywell

School-age kids are growing up fast, but they still need to know that adults are there for them when they need them. They need to know that loving adults are interested in their lives and that they are loved unconditionally. Parenting school-age kids is a balance of letting them be independent and keeping a close eye on them. If you have any concerns about your school-age child, reach out to their pediatrician or their school teacher.

Originally written by
Katherine Lee
Katherine Lee
Katherine Lee is a parenting writer and a former editor at Parenting and Working Mother magazines.
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28 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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