Parenting Tips for School-Age Kids

Advice for Raising Happy, Healthy School-Age Kids

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School-age kids (ages six through nine) are busy bundles of energy. Their personalities are clear, and they start to show distinct interests and talents.

Understanding your school-age child's development and needs can ensure that you’re helping them stay as healthy as possible , mentally and physically, so they can be at their best. These strategies can also help you instill lifelong healthy habits in your child.

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

Fitness and Nutrition

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 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 brush their teeth. But, they might need some encouragement to brush longer or need some supervision when it comes to flossing. While some school-age kids are pretty compliant with taking care of their bodies, others may need a little extra support.

Nutritious Food

Grade-schoolers can be finicky about food. The child who once gobbled down every Brussels sprout set before them may suddenly swear they hate them. The child who was always perfectly happy to drink water with their afternoon snack may start to beg for soda. Usually, these sudden shifts in appetite have less to do with a child's taste buds and more to do with wanting to fit in with their peers.

Children between the ages of 4 and 8 should get between 1,200 and 2,000 calories per day, depending on their activity level. At 9 years old, boys need between 1,600 and 2,600 calories, and girls need between 1,400 and 2,200 calories, depending on their activity level.

To help make sure your child is nourished properly and establishes healthy, positive eating habits:

  • Stock nutritious choices: Make it easy for your child to see and reach fruit, veggies, yogurt, milk, and whole grains.
  • Limit liquids before a meal: Discourage kids from filling up on milk or juice before meals. If their tummy is full of fluid, they won't feel much like eating solid food. 
  • Make mealtimes as happy as possible: Don't try to make your child eat when they aren't hungry or force them to eat something they don't like. And never use food as a bribe or reward. Steer table talk to pleasant topics; save the discussion about that note from their teacher for after dinner. 
  • Give them freedom: 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 your doctor can guide you.
  • Set a good example: Your child is still looking to you for guidance. In other words, eat as you want them to eat. Even if they don't follow suit now, they'll be influenced by your choices.
  • Reserve sweets for an occasional treat: Avoid serving high-calorie, sugary treats regularly. Your child doesn’t need a sweet dessert every night after dinner. If you do serve dessert, make it part of the meal instead of a reward for cleaning their plate.

Physical Activity

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. So incorporate physical activity into your family life.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that school-age kids get one hour or more of physical activity each day. Much of that activity should include aerobic activity.

Some ideas for incorporating physical activity into daily life:

  • Aerobic activities: Running, playing soccer, or riding a bicycle
  • Muscle-strengthening activities: Crossing the monkey bars on the playground or climbing trees
  • Bone-building activities: Basketball, tennis, running, jumping rope, or games such as hop-scotch
  • Social activities: Family walks, hikes, swimming, playing catch, going to an obstacle course, or kicking a ball around together

Your child will learn healthy habits by watching you, so make sure you are a good role model for physical activity.

Responsibility

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.

Chores

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. Better to consider their housework their contribution to family teamwork. Praise their effort and hard work. Positive reinforcement will boost their self-esteem and encourage them to stick with their jobs. 

Allowance

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 dollar per year of age—so between 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

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

Physical Health

As long as your child is healthy, your child’s pediatrician will likely recommend annual check-ups. Well-child visits might include:

  • An examination of your child's growth and development
  • A review of diet and sleep schedules
  • Measurement of height, weight, and blood pressure
  • Counseling for injury prevention, dental health, and a proper diet
  • A review of school performance
  • Immunizations
  • vision test

Some common health issues in children this age include:

  • Skin issues like rashes or poison ivy
  • Nosebleeds
  • Earaches
  • Constipation
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Mental Health

Mental health issues may develop—or become apparent—during the school-age years. For example, kids can become depressed or anxious or show signs of behavior disorders or attention deficit disorders.

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

Sleep

Bedtimes for children at this age range greatly. You may put your child to bed at 7:30, while their classmate goes to sleep at 9. But don’t feel bad if your child goes to bed earlier than their peers. Sleep is vital to your child’s health and development.

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

If your child has trouble waking up in the morning or staying awake during the day, or seems overly emotional, take a look at their sleep habits. They might not be getting enough rest.

Establish a bedtime routine for your child. Shut off all electronics a couple of hours before they go to sleep and consider any other distractions that may interfere with sleep. Encourage them to read books or engage in some quiet activities before going to bed.

Safety

Grade school is an ideal time to help a child learn to watch out for their own safety. You can start with street smarts: Remind your child to look both ways more than once before crossing, for example.

Go over what they should 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. 

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

Accidents are the biggest risk your child is likely to face at this age. These safety strategies can reduce your child’s risk of death or injury.

  • Don't ditch the booster seat: Car accidents are the leading cause of death among kids. The best way to keep a child safe in the car is to keep them in a booster seat until they're at least 4 feet, 9 inches tall—a height most kids don't reach until they're between 8 and 12. 
  • Enforce safe play: This means making sure your child uses any safety gear that's necessary for the activity they're doing. For instance, if they're biking, they must wear a helmet that fits appropriately. If they can't swim yet, consider lessons. If they use a trampoline at home, a park, or a friend's house, make sure they practice trampoline safety.
  • Insist on proper sports equipment: If your child plays a sport, make sure they have the proper gear, such as a mouth guard, helmet, and knee pads. In addition, make sure their equipment fits properly and educate yourself about the signs of concussion.

Technology

Your school-age child is likely to show interest in the internet. Some of their friends may even have their own smartphones or tablets, or they may be talking about social media.

While there’s nothing wrong with kids enjoying technology under the watchful eye of an adult, the internet can be dangerous for kids who lack supervision. From mature video games to online predators, there’s a lot of content young children shouldn’t be exposed to. There are also other hidden dangers, such as junk food advertisers who market their content to children online.

In 2015, the AAP updated its screen time recommendations for kids. While in the past, the AAP recommended no more than two hours of screen time per day for school-age kids, it now recommends parents consider the positive and negative effects of electronics on children and use common sense when setting limits.

High-quality programming can be educational for kids. Bu, too much screen time can be harmful. The AAP cautions parents not to allow screen time to interfere with adequate sleep, physical activity, and other behaviors essential to health. To manage screen time:

  • Use parental controls: Limit which shows and video games they have access to.
  • Establish healthy limits: Don’t allow your child to have a TV in the bedroom and don’t allow them to play unlimited video games.
  • Encourage physical movement: Make sure your child spends a lot of time playing outside or engaging in face-to-face interactions with their peers.

School and Activities

Schoolwork becomes increasingly difficult as children age. 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. How much, or how little, to do is unique to your family.

Friends

At this age, 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.

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10 Sources
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