Brain Development in Older Kids Part I: What to Expect and When to Expect it
Children are not simply small-statured adults. (Just ask anyone who has tried to have a rational discussion with a four-year-old!) There is a lot of great information, both online and in books, regarding the early year milestones of infant and toddler brains. And there should be! After all, ages 0-3 is undeniably the time in life when the brain accomplishes the largest amount of physical growth and learning. But once they’re walking, talking, holding a pencil, and throwing a ball… what’s going on in their brains? What does the learning process look like? What should you expect for your older kids?
Preschool Age: 4-5
You’ve survived potty training – congratulations! What amazing accomplishments can you expect from your little one before they enter school? Independence in both action and thought begins to blossom during this time. They’re beginning to (very slowly!) realize they are not the center of the universe through playing with others and understanding others have different experiences or feelings. Their fine motor skills and ability to connect concrete and abstract thinking are developing more. Some of the manifestations of these incredible developments may include:
- Cooperative play
- Printing, drawing, coloring inside lines
- Following other leaders, as well as wanting to lead
- Socialize outside family
- Independent dressing
- Understanding and explaining own behavior
- Counting – not just higher numbers, but applying to real life (counting out napkins, etc.)
- Explosive vocabulary
- Sense of humor
- Enjoyment of music
Elementary Age: 6-9
As your child grows, they are developing a better sense of self, of rules, of comparisons, and of abstract concepts, like truth versus lies. Their physical coordination and skills are sharper. Their creativity is incredible. During these years, you may encounter the following outward expressions of the brain’s continued growth:
- Competitiveness. It could be against oneself (time me to see how fast I can tie my shoes) or against others (I’m the best basketball player at school). Competitiveness may also manifest as comparisons. They may begin to compare themselves, whether on skill or appearance, with classmates or friends.
- Argumentative. Your child could come across as argumentative, when in fact he is trying to be precise and follow rules or truth. For example, you say it’s 7:30 and he corrects you that it’s actually 7:28. Or you tell a new acquaintance your daughter is 8, then are immediately challenged by her that she is 8-and-a-half-and-don’t-you-know-anything.
- Fantasy v. Reality. The creativity at this age is an amazing thing to see unleashed. They may write songs or stories, make up dances, or paint in vivid detail. “Once upon a time” is par for the course in any story. But understanding the difference in fantasy versus reality begins to root. They can understand the Easter Bunny is not real, but the Grandma that lives far away is… even if they can’t see either.
- Aloneness. During this phase, they may begin to enjoy alone time. This may include playing in their room, reading, or making up play by themselves outside. Alone time is not necessarily loneliness or a sign of issues. It may just be the expression of a need to break from outside influence, overstimulation, or simply find comfort and confidence in being by themselves.
Hormones! That’s pretty much what you need to know about pre-teens (or tweens, as they’re often called). Their brains are in warp speed as they transition from children to adults. And while the outward physical changes are happening without a doubt, their brains are changing as well. Their senses of self are taking deep root, but so is the insecurity of wanting to belong. Some of the changes solidifying in the brain during this time include:
- Testing limits / boundaries. “Did Mom really mean don’t play that video game? And what will happen if I do?” Sometimes, children repeat phrases. The limit-testing of toddlerhood oftentimes reappears in pre-adolescence. Did you mean what you said? Will you follow through on the consequence? This may not be coming from a defiant place, but a desire to learn what happens when a limit or boundary, whether from a parent or an external force, is pushed or crossed.
- Morality. As their sense of self deepens, they will begin to have an acute sense of right and wrong, fair and unjust, awesome and icky. As they begin to process these adult concepts, their roles in morality will also begin to appear. Will they stand up for a bully, will they walk alongside the sad kid in the hall, will their approach be less involved?
- Approaching adulthood. The games and toys they played with will be set aside for “hanging out” with friends, spending more time chatting than playing. They will become more aware of their appearance, clothes, and opinions.
Enjoy the Brain Development
Yes, it’s a crazy thing to watch your formerly tiny baby grow into this person with opinions, a person who is fun to talk to. It’s amazing to see their abilities and personalities shine. But there is absolutely no question that so much is still developing within the brain at every stage. In fact, most experts concur that the brain is not fully developed until the mid-20s! Want to learn more? feel free to contact us at 888-549-5519 or open a live online chat on the lower right of this screen.