The Social and Emotional Lives of 8- to 10-Year-Olds

Crushes and bullying are not uncommon during this age. Learn what else to expect when it comes to emotional development in children.

By Michelle Anthony, PhD



The Social and Emotional Lives of 8- to 10-Year-Olds

Eight- to ten-year-old children are still in what researcher Erik Erikson calls the age of Industry vs Inferiority.

Until partway through middle school, they are learning how to relate to peers, adjust to social rules, and evolve from free play to more elaborately structured interactions and expectations. For example, your child may describe elaborate recess games, where they can travel through time, see into the future, or tame magical creatures. 

It is through these social routines and rituals that children learn to enter the play, establish group membership, and then direct the interactions. Children this age frequently travel in groups, and interactions are often defined by elaborate fantasy play, interactive games, rotating leaders, and cooperative goal-setting where participants work collaboratively toward a shared outcome. 

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Social Interactions

On the flip side of the close bonds and friendships that form among this age group comes the increase in social cruelty and bullying. At around 8, children develop the ability to consider the intent behind an action or choice, along with the ability to take another’s perspective. As a consequence, children became capable of intentional meanness and social exclusion. However, in large part, most children this age will engage in such behaviors at one point or other.

They are not bullies, but rather individuals who are ineffectively trying to assert (expected) power within relationships in inappropriate ways. To effectively influence future choices and social outcomes, we can help 8- to 10-year olds learn the tools they need to engage in more positive social interactions. 

Seeking Independence

One component of social and emotional growth in 8- to 10-year olds is their desire for increased independence from parents and siblings, and their increased desire to be seen as intelligent and knowledgeable. As they struggle to find the means to appropriately individuate, they can, at times, seem willful or defiant. Children begin negotiating for what they want or arguing their point of view, at home and with peers, applying their more highly developed thinking skills, advanced language abilities, and increased concentration skills. 

Supporting children this age means actively listening to their goals and remaining on their side as they achieve them, while simultaneously maintaining necessary limits and boundaries. Thus, instead of controlling your child, you are guiding them to learn to control themself.

Some non-confrontational ways to do this:

  • Give your child a small budget to choose clothes that match their style.
  • Allow your child choice in deciding the family menu.
  • Give your child veto power when selecting activities. 

Recognizing your child’s need to pull away will also go a long way to keeping you on the same team. Allow peers to take on new importance. They provide a “mini society” your child can visit and experiment with while maintaining the safety net of a loving and supportive family to fall back on.  

Expect Crushes

In addition to a new emphasis on friends, “crushes” often make their appearance during these years. The feelings are not sexual; thus, same-sex crushes are common and say nothing about a child’s sexuality in adolescence. Invite your child to speak openly about crushes or other social musings, but respect his desire for a private life or his wish to try and work out his problems independently. To start the conversation, ask your child the kinds of games the boys and girls play together at recess. Getting your child talking about the kinds of play he witnesses or partakes in is the first step. Welcoming all sorts of emotional reactions to that play is the next step.

Your child is learning social roles and limits and the best person to help him do that, is you! 

Identifying and Managing Emotions

As is true in all aspects of development, how your child feels about their skills and competence in other developmental areas (e.g., how they are doing in school) affect how they feel about themself socially, and impacts what challenges they're willing to take on. In fact, parents may hear increased self-criticism during these years, a natural by-product of their child’s developmental advancements.

Children this age enjoy sharing their point-of-view and can more easily manage emotions to fit the situation. They are better able to select and adapt coping strategies to the variety of situations they now find themselves in. For example, your child may hold in their feeling of injustice until they gets home, or until they're alone with their friends. In this way, your child is able and ready to learn new ways of successfully interacting with both peers and adults, and benefit from adults’ continued efforts to connect with and guide them. 

Developing metacognitive skills (ability to reflect on their thoughts) lets children identify specific characteristics about their emotional selves and the abilities they possess (e.g., “I feel sad because”, or “I know I’m a strong swimmer because”). Being able to better preview actions and outcomes allows them to prepare for interactions and expectations. Children understand the importance of social customs (e.g., saying thank you), but may struggle to manage their emotions when they are overwhelmed by frustration or a series of personal setbacks. Your child’s ability to listen to reason has increased and they depend less on routines to provide a stable emotional state.

Children this age experience subtleties of emotion (e.g., disappointment, resignation, resolve, focus, etc.), and they can apply these new understandings to social relations with peers. Before the age of 10, children understand the role of conflicting friendships, and they can mend fences after an argument. Children now have a more stable basis for choosing friends: shared interests, ability to give and take, responsiveness to one another’s needs, and desire for positive qualities such as kindness or trustworthiness. 

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Social Skills
Stages & Milestones
Age 10
Age 9
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Elementary School
Child Development and Behavior
Social and Emotional Development