Every parent knows that each age and stage of child development presents new and uncharted territory. For Eight this is a time of multiple transitions. Eight is when your child quickly seems to be well on their way to becoming a unique individual with their own social group and interests. With Eight’s curiosity in figuring things out for themselves and near-constant energy, parents can get burned out! Eight wants nothing more than to please those around them and be accepted. They will be driven by their social groups and peers and have new found interest in connecting and playing with those peers. Invitations to play dates seem like a life or death matter! Parents may feel out of the loop and confused often, however Eight still needs you so much, if not more, than they need their friends. Eight looks to you for connection right now but is also becoming aware that you have your own work/life to attend to. Parents of Eight need to stay engaged, provide outlets for that constant energy and be aware of their child’s ability to navigate the social world both in real life and online. Being able to answer those complex questions often from the back seat is expected parenting for Eight.
Eight is a social butterfly! They are curious about people and love to learn and socialize at the
same time. Eight evaluates the behaviors of others, but is most critical of their own behaviors as they are developing a sense of self esteem in comparison to those around them. Eight craves praise, encouragement, and parental approval; they want to know what others think of them and hope that their caregivers hold them in high regard. What do you say about Eight when you think they are out of earshot? Eight will fish for compliments by putting themselves or their work down in the hopes that a parent will notice them. Eight has become increasingly aware that their parents are often too busy to give Eight their full attention. Practice active listening at least once a day to give Eight your full attention and make them feel heard. Creating a ritual time, like bedtime, snack time after school, or walking after dinner as times just for Eight to connect. Eight aims to please their caregivers, which goes hand in hand with the hope that Eight will receive positive feedback for their actions. Eight is also known to be critical of their parents, and the push-pull dynamic in the parent-child relationship can be challenging for many parents.
Eight’s brain is continuing to grow and many important markers occur at this age! The auditory cortex is developing between the ages of eight and eleven, which improves their speech and sensory-motor integration. This means that as Eight’s knowledge of language has solidified over previous years, and as their speech improves, Eight may be open to reading more books and reading aloud to parents. Eight’s cognitive processing and increased motor coordination often lead to the development of new skills at this time. For example, Eight may be able to better understand the logic components to many games and have a desire to play chess with a caregiver. Eight is eager to engage in activities they feel competent in, and will become defeated and self-critical in areas where they don’t show talent or achievement is challenging. Negative self talk at this time is often distressing to hear, focus on identifying the feelings behind the statements, don’t deny/counter the statements, rather help them focus on their feelings.
Eight develops improved organizational skills, which benefits their memory and ability to concentrate. In previous years, Eight categorized items by a single dimension, such as lining up toys by color. Eight is now able to recognize that it is difficult to categorize based on a single dimension and they will expand their organization of items to include multiple dimensions, such as arranging toys by color and shape. Similarly, as the ability to classify and categorize expands, Eight is better able to understand the differences between people, not only by gender or race, but to include differences in lifestyles, speech, and biological and social characteristics. Critical questions will pop up for Eight, if you find yourself uncomfortable with the question or don’t have the “right”answer just yet, it is ok to say “great thoughtful question, let me think on it and get back to you” or “that is a complex question, let’s talk about it after dinner so I can explain it fully.”
Eight’s interest in science and logic is really starting to take shape. Eight has an increased understanding of cause-and-effect relationship, which makes science experiments an area of interest at this time. It is common for Eight to start questions with “why” or “how” as they are trying to understand the reasons behind particular events. Thus their frequent interest in taking things apart and put them back together in order to understand exactly how they work. Eight’s ability to apply logic works best when paired with a hands-on or visual approach to the problem. You can help Eight apply logic by engaging them in a game of chess or helping them learn fractions by dividing up a pile of beans or sticks into parts. Encouraging them to be outside and to think about all the parts of nature the see.
Eight’s moral development is in a transitional stage. Eight starts in the “punishment and obedience” stage, where behaviors are based on whether or not a punishment or consequence will be enforced. Eight may act on negative behaviors when they believe they will get away with it, such as hitting a sibling when no caregiver is in sight. As Eight inches closer to Nine, they will begin to engage in exchanges with others where Eight’s needs are met in return for their actions. For example, sharing toys to make friends allows Eight to meet their social needs. Struggling with peer emotions and “not being a good friend” can be difficult for Eight to manage. Supporting them by being present and reflecting their feelings, can help. Try to avoid solving the problem for them, they can figure it out, they are seeking connection at this time.
Eight’s need to please is an excellent motivator at school, both educationally and socially. Eight is more responsible about their schoolwork than in previous years, but third grade is a difficult year for most Eights because teachers provide less directions than in previous years. Children are expected to learn more from reading and not all Eights are on the same reading level. Eights can easily use complex and compound sentences, and are expected to read and write simple paragraphs. Eight enjoys language and likes to talk, often and loudly, to express their ideas and experiences. Eight is also learning the nuances of language, such as slang, abbreviations, and exaggerations, and will try them out when speaking and writing. Eight’s experience of school is often focused on the fear of “missing out” on anything happening in the classroom or among friends.
Eight’s peer relationships become increasingly important as a support system. Eight makes friends easily and can navigate two-way relationships with more ease than in previous years. Eight tends to lean toward same-sex friendships and play groups, and many school-age children have unwritten rules of membership in peer groups. Differences in physical or personality characteristics, clothing, socioeconomic status, and aggressive behaviors are common reasons for exclusion from peer relationships. Discussions around inclusion and compassion for others is goal for parents at this time. Encouraging volunteer opportunities is an excellent way for Eight to develop these skills. Eight’s focus on developing skills that demonstrate their physical, social, or intellectual capabilities is driven by their acceptance into social groups. Helping Eight to identify their own unique strengths and limiting comparisons is important for Eight to see right now. Eight craves encouragement and praise from their peers and parents as a result of their efforts
Eight’s physical body will slow in growth at this time, and some Eights will show the beginning stages of puberty. Eight demonstrates a peak in activity levels and parents of Eight need to provide outlets for Eight to release the energy they have. This is especially important now that Eight is involved in more structured activities and has less time for free play. Since Eight has so much more energy, they like to get things done in a hurry and at times may be more accident prone. You can help Eight accomplish tasks more effectively by providing them simple directions and encouraging their capabilities. Avoid giving them a list of tasks you know they can do, instead give one directive at a time, giving them opportunity to feel successful before the next task is directed. Eight has acquired more refined perceptual motor abilities, which is the combination of our sensory and motor systems which allows an individual to receive information from multiple sources and make new connections (such as hand-eye coordination and eye-head coordination). Children at this age can use information from their eyes, ears, and arms or legs to move with coordination. This is why Eight is better at integrating the small and large muscle groups required for playing soccer, doing gymnastics, or skiing. Keeping eight active physically and emotionally is key for healthy Eights.
Eight is curious about sexuality and interested in exploring their body parts; touching their private parts and occassional masterbation are developmentally normal behaviors for Eight. Mimicking adult sexual acts or involving other children in their sexual behaviors by means of coercion are signs of emotional problems that need to be addressed by a professional. If sexuality is a taboo topic in your home, Eight may seek information from peers to answer their questions. Parents can help Eight learn the correct information by providing a variety of resources and books that address gender, puberty, pregnancy, and genital body parts that facilitate learning using both their auditory and visual senses. Strive to not make talking about sex taboo in the home. Eight is curious provide the information you want them to learn or seek out child mental health specialist to help navigate this stage. It is important for Eight to have privacy or personal space at home and at school. Parents and teachers can help by providing Eight with a locked drawer or locker to keep their personal belongings in.
Technology has changed the ways children learn and interact with others. Eight may connect with others through the use of technology, and doing so can have both positive and negative impacts on their social development. Providing Eight with technological tools and time limits can help them gain the benefits of socializing with others; however, not setting time limits can have a reverse effect and prevent them from developing face-to-face socialization skills. If your Eight has access to technology devices, it is important to address technology and online safety. Eight’s increased interest in bodies and sexuality may lead them to the internet to solve unanswered questions. Parents can assist in protecting their children from inappropriate material by using parental control applications and setting firm boundaries. Eight will grow up in a technological world, so learning how to navigate successfully and avoid the pitfalls now creates a healthy relationship with technology in their future.
Eight desires to be all grown up and at the same time desperately wants to be close. This can be a confusing time and Eight needs support and independence at the same time. Encouraging skills and recognizing the value in the lessons of failure are key. Helping them to remember to “free play” and spend time being creative in this way, will help them to emotionally regulate. Parents expecting the push-pull behaviors of your Eight growing and stretching will help keep the conflict at a minimum. It is hard to learn independence and the emotions that come with it. Ultimately, stand close, let them find their way back to you on their own terms, the cuddles that follow will be a beautiful reward for you both.
Adapted by D. Ray
The Great and Not So Great Eight pdf here