Children between the ages of six and eight (middle childhood) will 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, increased independence, a desire to socialize in groups, a desire to please others, and an increased concern for others.
Here are some suggestions for providing discipline and training for your six, seven or eight year old. You will notice that they are not all geared around correction. Discipline is as much about training as it is about correction.
Give opportunities for personal responsibility
Now is the time to increase your child’s personal responsibility through the use of “family contributions” (ie: chores). Of course, you can create a teamwork atmosphere by starting this at younger ages, but at this stage, your child is capable of having tasks for which he or she is solely responsible. It will capitalize on their desire for independence and create a sense of mastery and competence.
Be sure to work with them the first several times to model, answer questions and help them understand what is expected. Encourage the effort, no matter the outcome. One or two chore-type tasks a day (on top of any basics you have established 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.
Encourage empathy and emotional expression
You can capitalize on your child’s increased concern for others during this developmental stage by finding ways to serve others. This can be through volunteering or by helping a neighbor. You can engage in discussions about the experiences of others with questions like, “What do you think it’s like for him?” or “How would you feel if that happened to you?”
You can incorporate this into your discipline by helping your child “make things right” when they have disobeyed or hurt someone else.
This is also a great time to increase their emotional intelligence as they are better able to identify and articulate their thoughts and feelings.
Address “back talk”
Some children start to use words and language that will test the boundaries of social relationships and norms. Somewhere during this developmental stage, you may notice that back-talk becomes common. Yelling back, engaging in debates or applying harsh, reactionary consequences will only add fuel to the fire.
The best way to address back talk is to say something like, “Wow. Those are some _______ (insert adjective here) words. You must have some strong feelings to say something like that. Let’s try that again.” Give your child a chance to re-do it. If he continues to speak disrespectfully, walk away and say, “We’ll try later. You may not speak to people like that.”
It is important that you don’t stop there. Your child needs your help. So when he is calm, go to him and say something like, “You said some hurtful things before. I say things that I don’t mean too but then I often feel bad about it later. That yucky feeling is God telling you it wasn’t right. How do you feel about what you said?” You can explore how he feels and what he can do to make it right. It might be helpful to role play how he would handle those strong feelings differently the next time he experiences them.
Our kids need to understand that words are powerful even though we can’t see them. If you practice apologizing to your kids when you mess up, they will model that behavior after you.
Correct with a purpose
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. But keep in mind that 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 an anger game (not an affiliate link) to reinforce the importance of self-control.
This is an age when opportunities for joining clubs, taking after school classes and sports abound. Developmentally, they want to be with peer and enjoy organized activities. It can be very easy to over-schedule your child. 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 untrue.
You do not need to fill up every hour of the day. Remember: boredom is the precursor for creativity and ingenuity. If your child complains that he or she is bored, you can simply say, “That isn’t a good feeling. I understand. I know that you can figure out what to do. There’s no rush.” One or two carefully selected after school activities are more than enough for this age group. Free play and unstructured time are essential to healthy development.