When children throw temper tantrums, and get easily frustrated, many parents question  if they are just acting their age or if there is something they should be concerned about. While your child’s teachers had the benefit of studying child development in their professional training, it can be hard for parents to determine what behaviors are expected during the school-age years (6-12) and what behaviors might be “red flags” of a problem with behavior, attention or learning. 

The elementary and middle school years are a time of change. Academic demands ramp up and there are new opportunities to get involved in social life and activities outside the home. You might notice that your child is starting to develop the ability to think in a less concrete manner. As children progress through elementary and middle school, some common feelings and behaviors include:

  • Development of a social life outside of the family and greater independence from parents
  • Strong desire to be liked and accepted by peers (may be very sensitive to other’s opinions about themselves)
  • No longer exclusively focusing on one’s self (as in early childhood)—developing more concern for others and understanding their perspectives
  • Greater ability to engage in competition, but also to cooperate and share
  • Learning better ways to describe experiences and talk about thoughts and feelings
  • Becoming more purposeful: Thinking in advance about what they want and developing a plan to get it
  • Greater control over emotions and impulses

Remember, not all children develop at the same pace or in the same ways. Variations in the course of development are to be expected! However, unevenness or lags in the mastery of skills or behaviors should not be ignored. You may want to seek help if your child:

  • Has difficulty sustaining attention in work tasks or play activities
  • Does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores or duties
  • Does not pick up on other people’s moods/feelings (e.g., often says the wrong thing at the wrong time)
  • May not detect or respond appropriately to teasing
  • Has difficulty “joining in” and maintaining positive social status in a peer group
  • Has difficulty with self-control when frustrated
  • Has trouble dealing wtih group pressure, embarassment and unexpected challenges
  • Is falling behind academically because of behavior at school

In addition, the following characteristics may not apply for younger elementary school children (grades 1–4), but you may want to seek help if your older child (grades 5–8):

  • Fails to pay close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork
  • Has trouble knowing how to share/express feelings
  • Has trouble “getting to the point” (e.g., gets bogged in details in conversation)
  • Has difficulty setting realistic social goals
  • Has difficulty evaluating personal social strengths and challenges
  • Doubts own abilities and prone to attribute successes to luck or outside influences rather than hard work

If you’re worried about any aspect of your child’s behavior or development, don’t wait to discuss your concerns with your child’s teacher, pediatrician and if necessary, a specialist (such as a psychologist).

Article from National Center for Learning Disabilities

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