By Dr. Gerald Deskin, Ph.D.
Although children change constantly from birth through adolescence, no period is more dramatic, or sometimes traumatic as this very busy time of life.
Children's coping skills are put to the test as they are separated from their parents for six hours a day or more, for the first time. They need to learn new coping skills socially. How to get along with other children in a big school. They need to learn what really goes on at school and how to fit in. They need to learn how to be assertive and to get their way without being aggressive. They need to learn to handle success and failure both socially and academically. They need to learn behavioral self-control in new ways. They need to handle their developing sexual curiosity and eventually how to cope with puberty. They need to learn appropriate gender roles as to how a boy or a girl behaves in our society. They need to learn to cope with feelings of depression and stress. They need to learn about the consequences of lying and stealing. They may have to learn how to deal with sibling rivalry and possibly divorce, or how to act as an adopted child. They need to learn about making and keeping friends, as well as dealing with bullies. This is just a partial list children learn as they develop physically, they develop language and cognitive skills and learn to play like children.
During this period children have to deal with emotional ups and downs such as what to do when their feelings are hurt. They learn to handle competition in a positive way. They become concerned about failures in their school performance. As they grow they begin to accept more responsibility for what they do, rather than blaming others. They become more interested in issues of fairness. They develop emotional closeness with their "best friends." Towards the end of this period parents see more moodiness and irritability. These problems are not linear, in the sense that one ends and another starts. They co-exist so there is no simple way to describe a child unless all these areas and more are considered.
Problems during this period are made worse by certain problems that some children have, but not others. Learning problems are common in approximately 10% of children. These problems make children feel inadequate, as failures depending on how parents handle the problem.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is common among at least 5% of children. It is the single most common diagnoses in children. The recommendation for help includes medication and / or educational therapy. One problem with children with this diagnosis is that it often masks other problems such as anxiety and depression. Psychologists used to believe that children this young did not become depressed. We have learned that childhood depression is a common disorder that sometimes shows itself in hyperactive behavior or in children getting into trouble.
Children with special illnesses or needs may require specific consideration in school so as to prevent the feelings of inadequacy or failure that might emerge. For many children, life doesn't proceed smoothly and by the book, but requires a little extra support to continue to function well.
Coping with stress is a constant ongoing struggle for children until they master the skills of controlling their feelings and learning to solve their problems. These are the skills that children aged 5 to 11 have to learn both to survive and to accomplish the goals necessary to function in later years.
Adolescent storm and stress is the next stage of life. Then children need to learn how to cope with conflict with their parents and other authority figures, learning how to handle changes and disruptions in their mood swings, and learning to control their risk behavior. All of these skills are also prepared for during the ages from 5 to 11.
Suggestions for parents:
It is not only challenging for you to bring up a child during these years, it is also enormously challenging for the child too. Try to see the world from your child's point of view.
Learn to listen to your child without criticism. Your child needs your support to do his/her own thing rather that learning the solution from you.