The Drive for Independence in 7- and 8-Year-Olds
Around first or second grade, children begin seeking more independence. Suddenly, your child thinks his outfits aren’t “cool” enough, and wants to walk home alone and stay home when you bring his sister to dance. He wants to go to bed later, too. While some of these changes are welcome, others require a new way of interacting and a new level of vigilance as your child ventures further into the world.
Most children enter Piaget’s concrete operational stage at around age 7, which is marked by an ability to think abstractly and make rational judgments about concrete or observable phenomena. Children learn how to weigh pros and cons, preview actions, and internalize cause and effect — which are all skills that foster the drive for increased independence. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Education, children perform best when they maintain strong parental connection while simultaneously expressing differing points of view.
Children at this age want to — and need to! — make significant decisions. Instead of closely supervising your child’s every action, focus more on guiding decision-making and creating room for reflection and mistakes. Some low-stakes ways to support independent choices include allowing your child to contribute to the shopping list and decide on family meals or outings. Allot a small budget for your child to purchase desired clothing or games, and encourage them to choose their own extracurricular activities. This increased sense of ownership — even a simple phone call to set up a play date — is vital to developing independence and responsibility.
5 Simple Starter Tips:
- Set concrete limits. Your child’s safety trumps any desire for independence.
- Present choices. This allows children increased independence, but still maintains parental authority.
- Listen actively and ask questions. Let your child know it’s okay to take time to think through or preview potential outcomes. For example, what might happen if he forgets to lock his bike at school?
- Your child should show indicators of responsibility and maturity along the way. Gaining independence and maturity is a gradual process. For example, allow your child to ride a bike to a neighbor’s house, then to ride around the neighborhood with buddies, and then to ride a bike to school with friends.
- Remain unemotional, showing empathy rather than anger. Your child is not trying to make you angry or drive you crazy. By working together and becoming a team, you can support her natural and healthy developmental drives for independence.
Michelle Anthony, M.A., Ph.D., is an expert in developmental psychology, a certified K-3 teacher, and co-founder of Wide-Eyed Learning, a company helping parents and kids connect.