Vanessa Nzeh, MD, is an internal medicine and pediatrics physician who is passionate about patient advocacy, the integration of maternal and child health, as well as increasing diversity and inclusion in medical education.
Emily is a board-certified science editor who has worked with top digital publishing brands like Voices for Biodiversity, Study.com, GoodTherapy, Vox, and Verywell.
Once they enter their school-age years, many children seem ready to take on the world. But as they exercise their independence, "big kids" need their as parents much as ever. Grade school is an important turning point in children's physical and emotional development. Kids may be inclined to push boundaries while at the same time needing them to feel secure.
Learn best practices for protecting school-age kids' health and safety. We also share ideas for disciplining kids, helping them with school and social issues, and establishing good habits that can last a lifetime.
Colds, flu, stomach bugs, and other viruses—including COVID-19—can run rampant in schools. Cut down on sick days by teaching kids to wash their hands before and after eating or using the bathroom. Maintaining a healthy weight can also be a challenge: nearly 1 in 5 U.S. schoolchildren have obesity. Discuss nutritional and fitness strategies with your child's pediatrician if that's a concern for your child. Behavioral issues, which are more common in children ages 6 and 11 than any other age group, merit a visit to the pediatrician (or a child psychologist), too.
Kids go through astonishing physical changes in elementary and middle school. They'll grow about 2.5 inches every year until they hit a growth spurt in early adolescence. You'll start to see early signs of puberty, including pubic hair and the growth of sex organs, starting around age 8 or 9 for girls and age 10 or 11 for boys. They also get a whole new set of teeth! Between ages 6 or 7 and 12 or 13, children lose 20 teeth and grow back 28 teeth (32 counting wisdom teeth that may develop in early adulthood).
Kids need about 1,600 to 2,200 calories per day during their elementary years, depending on how active they are. According to MyPlate guidelines (which have replaced the Food Pyramid) fruits and veggies should make up half of their meals, and a balance of whole grains (brown rice, whole-wheat pasta) and lean proteins (chicken, fish) should make up the other half. Two to three servings of low-fat milk, yogurt, or cheese help children get essential calcium, which is key for bone growth, and Vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium.
It's normal—and healthy—for kids this age to eat four or five times a day. Since they are growing and active, they will be hungry between meals. In fact, snacks may account for one-quarter of their calories a day. Just make sure they are healthy, filling snacks. Good choices have a mix of carbohydrates and protein—think a whole-grain bagel with low-fat cream cheese, a banana with peanut butter, or a hard-boiled egg with carrot sticks.
One of the most effective strategies for this age group is boundary-based discipline, which includes setting clearly defined limits, communicating expectations frequently, and following through on consequences. Reinforcing good behavior with praise is also an effective way to improve behavior.
Children have the cognitive ability to understand the connection between actions and consequences between ages 3 to 5. But it's important to define exactly what your expectations are and what the consequences will be for not following them. Early and frequent communication with kids and consistent follow-through when they slip up are keys to making consequence-based discipline work.
Four-year-olds are starting to exercise their independence, which may inspire them to test limits. Kids at this age group can grasp expectations, so letting them know potential consequences for bad behavior—not getting their iPad for a day if they used it when not allowed, for instance—and then following through can be effective. For the same reason, time-outs in a quiet place where children can reflect on what they did wrong also work well.
Developmental stages are periods of childhood during which specific abilities, characteristics, or behavior patterns appear. The developmental stages of childhood are usually divided up into five groups: toddlers (1 and 2-year-olds), preschoolers (3, 4, and 5-year-olds), school-age kids (6, 7, 8, and 9-year-olds), tweens (10, 11, and 12-year-olds), and teens (13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18-year-olds).
An increasingly popular alternative to traditional school, homeschooling involves setting up an educational program for your child that allows them to learn in your own house. Parents who homeschool their kids say they do so because of safety concerns about school environments, dissatisfaction with the quality of instruction at school, or a desire to supplement the curriculum with religious teachings.
Boy scouts and girl scouts are great extracurricular activity choices for kids who enjoy nature and problem-solving. Children earn badges for certain accomplishments, like the mastery of an outdoor survival skill or a community service project. Research conducted by a Tufts University team in partnership with Boy Scouts of America’s Cradle of Liberty Council shows scouting helps develop positive character traits like hopefulness, helpfulness, and kindness.
Offered by both schools and private companies, kids' tutoring services help children excel in academic subjects outside of the classroom. Teachers usually suggest a tutor if a child needs extra support learning certain concepts. If your child has a diagnosed learning disability and you have developed an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) with the school, they are entitled to free tutoring if necessary. Kids from low-income households may also qualify for free tutoring without a specified learning disability under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
Developmental milestones are characteristics or skills that are typically acquired or achieved by a certain age. Developmental milestones typical of the early school-age years include losing teeth, being able to skip, learning to read, working cooperatively in groups, and forming friendships.
There are some child discipline methods with a track record of success in both research and the real world. They include positive discipline, which relies on praise to inspire good behavior; boundary-based discipline, which emphasizes clear and frequent limit-setting; and behavior modification, which leans on the consistent enforcement of both positive and negative consequences. There is no one right way to discipline kids, but there are wrong ways. Spanking them or screaming at them is not only ineffective, but can also lead to lasting psychological problems.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When and how to wash your hands. Reviewed June 26, 2019.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity. Updated September 21, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data and statistics on children's mental health. Updated March 22, 2021.
Nemours Foundation. Your child's growth. Updated October 2018.
American Dental Association. Eruption charts. 2021.
Nemours Foundation. Learning about calories. Updated June 2018.
U.S. Department of Agriculture. MyPlate: Kids. 2021.
Cleveland Clinic. Why dairy is an important part of your child’s healthy diet. Published December 28, 2020.
Stanford Children's Health. Nutrition: school age. 2021.
Sege RD, Siegel BS, Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. Effective discipline to raise healthy children. Pediatrics. 2018;142(6):e20183112. doi:10.1542/peds.2018-3112
Nemours Foundation. Disciplining your child. Reviewed June 2018.
American Academy of Pediatrics. Growing independence: tips for parents of young children. Updated November 2, 2009.
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). School Choice in the United States: 2019.
Wang J, Ferris KA, Hershberg RM, Lerner RM. Developmental trajectories of youth character: a five-wave longitudinal study of cub scouts and non-scout boys. J Youth Adolescence. 2015;44(12):2359-2373. doi:10.1007/s10964-0340-y
Health Impact Project. The Every Student Succeeds Act Creates Opportunities to Improve Health and Education at Low-Performing Schools. Published August 2017.
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. The growing child: school-age (6 to 12 years). 2021.
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