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How a child's "Self" emerges. What parents need to know Part 2

The Gradeschool Years

A second critical time in a growing child’s sense of “self” happens around the child’s age of 7-9 years old. The significance of this time takes place as children continue to explore their world as different from those around them. They have been with parents and now are off to school. They discover more and more about others being similar and dissimilar to “us”. “Us” here is defined as the family from which they have formed their worldview. They begin more and more to explore the idea that other people don’t have the same rules as “us”. Other friends may get to do things they don’t get to do. They may act in ways “we” aren’t allowed to. Neighbors and peers from school may talk using words that are different then what’s been normal at our house.

This is the beginning of a second time of exploration and trying out words, actions and interactions that challenge parent expectations. This is a crucial time for the child’s self to emerge. The all time parent child exchange at this time may go like this:

Derrick: Jacob gets to ride a three-wheeler motorcycle. Why can’t I?
Mom: Derrick, you know we don’t do that. You might get hurt.
Derrick: I’m not a baby anymore. I’m eight, besides Jacob is only seven. You never let me do anything.
Mom: Derrick, if Jacob jumped off a cliff would you jump off a cliff with him?
Derrick: Mom, that’s stupid! (stomping off to his room)

Like the toddler discussed in the previous article, Derrick is exploring and experimenting with a growing awareness of the world. His thinking is still that of a child dealing with conformity to parent expectations, yet doing, seeing, feeling and exploring how it is in life about each new thing he finds.

Keys for a child’s self to emerge at this age include:

1. Parents must not be threatened by questioning difference at this age. Be honest, open and willing to discuss what and why you believe what you do. Children, beyond your words will key in on how secure you are in what you believe, even in understanding differences.
2. While in toddlerhood distraction is a major tool, discussion must replace distraction.
3. Don’t personalize as defiance children’s questioning of beliefs. It’s how they explore differences.
4. Do teach what you believe and why you believe it. If you’re not sure why you believe something, examine it for yourself. Find the answer you can live with or change your belief.
5. Never crush exploration with anger or humiliation. You, as the parents, are their most secure guide to helping them understand life.

Remember to believe in them beyond their questions. Stay in tune with them and discuss differences they encounter as they explore their world.

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