Children in this age group (the latency stage of childhood development) begin to demonstrate some characteristics that distinguish them from the previous stage including (among others): a focus on rules, black and white thinking, a reality (rather than fantasy) orientation, a desire to socialize in groups and the creation of social hierarchies. As with every stage in your child’s development, this time period also requires special consideration for effective discipline. Here are some suggestions for providing discipline and training for your six, seven or eight year old:
- Put ‘em to work. Now is the time to increase your child’s personal responsibility through the implementation of daily chores. While you may eagerly jump at the idea of having a little helper at your fingertips, don’t get too excited. You have your work cut out for you. First, you will need to adjust your expectations. Your children are not going to vacuum, wipe counters or fold laundry the way you would. Keep in mind that it is not the results, but rather the learning and the underlying principle that matters most. Do not criticize and do not, no matter how tempting, go along behind them and “fix” it. Secondly, you will need to do a little teaching. Don’t assume that just because they have seen you dry dishes a million times that they know how to do it or what to use. Take some time to demonstrate, model and encourage their efforts. One or two chore-type tasks a day (on top of the basics like making beds and picking up toys) is sufficient. Creating a “chore time,” where all family members are engaged in work of some kind, will encourage participation and contribute to a sense of teamwork.
- Give them a little perspective. During this developmental period, the self-focused mentality of toddlerhood returns, but with a slightly more mature “flavor.” This self-serving attitude is often seen in transitory friendships, incidents of lying, and blaming others. Any and all efforts to encourage empathy, consider the needs of others and make amends for wrongs will provide a helpful antidote to this “disease” of self-absorption.
- Tame the tongue. Somewhere during this developmental stage, you may notice that back-talk comes out of nowhere. Wise parents will address it promptly. Yelling back, engaging in debates or applying harsh, reactionary consequences will only add fuel to the fire. Disengage, and apply appropriate consequences in a matter of fact way. Discipline disrespectful words with the same conviction and consistency as if it were an act of physical aggression. You will do your children a service to teach them that their words have power and must be used carefully.
- Get them back on track. You may want to consider the use of a behavior chart. Charts are great for short term solutions to big-sized problems. If your child is struggling across the board, a reset button is necessary. A chart can be a great way to get him back on track. We prefer charts that allow children to earn back privileges that would be normally embedded into a regular day, such as regular bedtime, dessert, tv time, computer time, play time outside, etc. These “privileges” are earned with points from success in problem areas. Click here to learn more information about this type of behavior chart.
- Speak their language. You may find that discipline that deals in a “currency” that is meaningful to your child can be very effective at this age. This means that a loss of a valued privilege can go a long way in correcting a pattern of misbehavior. Remember to not just stop there. Lasting change is best achieved when positive corrective measures are included as well (for example: if your child demonstrates poor self-control with a sibling, you can remove the use of a favorite video game for a period of time but during that time play The Anger Game to reinforce the importance of self-control).
- Let them relax. This is an age when opportunities for joining clubs, taking after school classes and sports abound. Resist the urge to over-schedule your child in response to the abundance of opportunities. Many parents fear that they will miss some hidden talent or gift if they do not expose their child to every opportunity available. This is simply unfounded. One or two carefully selected after school activities are more than enough for this age where free play and unstructured time are at a premium but essential to healthy development.