Our 7-year-olds are in the midst of middle childhood, which, as a stage, presents plenty of challenges for both children and parents. Observation of our children during this time in their little lives reveals several universal milestones that truly mark the seventh year of life.
What's happening physically?
Perhaps the most obvious mark of a 7-year-old's physical development is the advancement of motor skills. Dr Robyn McKay, a therapist at Arizona State University and expert in child and adolescent development, says, "Around age 7, a child's balance and motor skills have improved enough that she begins to gain more confidence in her favorite physical activities." This means kids start delving into their interests a little more, sometimes pursing competitive sports or joining performance teams. "Exercise continues to play a major role in well-being, growth and physical development," says McKay. "Many children do not get enough exercise, so it's important for parents to encourage physical activity."
Of course, all kids are not the same and everyone develops at a different rate, so parents should avoid comparing their child's progress to another child's. "Parents may observe 'asynchronous' development, meaning that their child may be advanced in one area such as reading and language, and may appear to lag behind with regard to social skills or physical ability," says McKay.
What's happening in the brain?
The human brain is an incredible masterpiece, a fact that is further validated by the neurological development of 7-year-olds. "At the beginning of middle childhood, neural connections in the brain are being fine-tuned through a process called pruning, which increases the brain's processing speed and efficiency," says McKay. "The result is an increase in the ability to engage in complex thinking and planning."
Parents of 7-year-olds may marvel at their child's new ability to process information and communicate her own opinions. "Around this time, children become cognitively flexible and are able to reason, to solve problems and to think logically," says McKay. "Now that they're in school all day, they are being exposed to many different viewpoints, and they begin to be able to take another person's perspective."
What's happening socially and emotionally?
While parents are learning more and more about their children during this stage, 7-year-olds are also discovering more about themselves and the world around them. They are especially keen on the burgeoning social scene among school and neighborhood friends. "Children this age can usually identify feelings of pride and shame, and these two emotions seem to play an important role in self-concept -- how children feel about themselves," says McKay.
Even though they are blossoming on their own, kids need parental guidance during this stage so that they know how to self-regulate their emotions. "At this point, most children are figuring out socially acceptable ways to express emotion, including anger and frustration," says McKay.
Tips for Moms
As a child development expert, Dr McKay has plenty of experience with 7-year-olds and their parents. She offers the following tips for moms:
- Help your child identify her emotions. Being able to say how she feels (e.g., "sad" or "mad") and what she needs (e.g., "a hug" or "to be by myself for a while") are two very powerful skills that your child can learn.
- Teach her how to take a breath, count to 10 or take time out when she is feeling strong negative emotion. Role-model these behaviors yourself by getting comfortable with your own emotions.
- Help your child discover what's right with her. Focus on her strengths, her abilities and her talents. Building a strong self-concept now will help her in the future.
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