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Path to Adulthood

Written by Linda Lin 

Children go through many different transitions throughout their lives. From mischievous preschoolers needing guidance to independent teenagers always wanting to go off with their friends, it is often difficult for parents to keep up with the changes in their children. This article focuses on the development of school-aged individuals and aims to help parents better support their children’s physical, cognitive, and emotional growth.

Kindergarten to Grade 3

Children between the ages of 5 and 8 are like “little scientists”, according to the psychologist Jean Piaget (Meece and Daniels 129). Young students around this age are learning to represent the world in their own minds and, as a result, begin questioning everything they see. Like little scientists, children are exploring their environments and attempt to explain the why behind every event. Imaginations are running rampant at this age, and children often enjoy imitating the actions of those around them (Meece and Daniels 136). Furthermore, they are learning to see things from other people’s perspectives, and begin to gain basic understanding of numbers, patterns, and categories (Meece and Daniels 144).

5 to 8 year olds start to understand that it is possible to experience different, even contrasting, emotions one after another. In fact, as they develop, these children even begin understanding that emotions can occur simultaneously (Fortune, Kwatinetz, and Hanna).

Physically speaking, children in this age range are starting to show hand dominance and are improving their muscle control. Large muscle movements, like raising arms to catch balls, are becoming easier and more automatic, while precision skills, like using zippers and buttoning small buttons, are developing. Children’s writing becomes clearer and more uniform by age 7; fewer letter reversals are seen, and they begin to use lower case letters (Meece and Daniels 93).

Grade 4 to Grade 6

At this point in their lives, children are becoming more logical and can see objects as having more than one dimension. They can recognize, for example, that a ball is both red and circular, rather than solely one or the other. Unlike their younger counterparts who typically see only similarities between objects, these schoolchildren notice both the similarities and differences. They are also more organized, and can now classify items hierarchically. Abstract and hypothetical thinking, however, is still difficult for many in this age group (Meece and Daniels 146).

Emotional development is also taking place. Where younger children struggle with simply understanding emotional conflict, older students are learning the social contexts under which they can appropriately display their emotions. They learn, for example, to hide their negative emotions, like disappointment after receiving a distasteful present (Fortune, Kwatinetz, and Hanna).

Some important physical changes are beginning to take place in these children. While many are continuing to hone their motor skills and their sense of balance, early-maturing girls are starting to go through puberty. Physical signs of puberty include breast development, pubic hair growth, height spurts, and menstruation. Rapid weight gain is also an important physical aspect of this developmental stage. In fact, this latter is concerning for many young girls. Due to the Western preference for thin body types, many girls going through puberty feel a lowered sense of self-esteem and may begin dieting excessively to try and lose the fat they gain (Meece and Daniels 104). Boys, on the other hand, usually enter puberty two years after their female counterparts.

Grade 7 to Grade 12

Older students organize and classify their knowledge, using it to successfully solve a wide range of problems. Adolescents are capable of imagining things they have never experienced, and are consequently better able to reason and argue logically. By this point in time, adolescents’ cognitive skills are roughly equivalent to that of an adult – all they are missing is experience (Meece and Daniels 149).

Emotionally, however, adolescents tend to suffer a great deal of turmoil. Teenagers view issues from many different viewpoints as a result of their improved hypothetical reasoning skills. The complexity of their thoughts causes them to spend a lot of time contemplating their own feelings on abstract concepts like justice and equality. Hormonal increases can lead to irritability, impulsiveness, and aggression in boys, as well as heightened anxiety and depression in girls (Fortune, Kwatinetz, and Hanna). Peer relationships are especially important to this age group as they seek more support from peers and independence from families.

Physical development in adolescence consists mainly of the changes associated with puberty. Both genders are now either going through or have already gone through puberty. This development in girls was described in the previous section. In boys, puberty consists of testicular growth, pubic hair growth, height spurt, penis growth, as well as facial hair development and voice changes (Meece and Daniels 105). Like girls, boys also experience a dramatic increase in weight. This weight increase, however, is mainly associated with muscle growth. For this reason, boys are more likely to gain self-esteem and self-confidence after having gone through puberty, as opposed to girls, whose weight gain often leads to emotional distress (Meece and Daniels 105).

Works Cited

Fortune, Ronald, Mike Kwatinetz, and William A. Hanna. “Emotional Development.” Http://www.education.com/. Education.com, Inc., 2006. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.

Meece, Juditch L., and Denise H. Daniels. Child & Adolescent Development for Educators. Third ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, 2008. Print.

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