By the 4th and 5th grades, your child is expected to have consolidated her reading, writing, and information gathering skills. Developmental differences – academically, physically, and socially — are readily apparent, especially if kids are grouped by ability in school. Self-esteem can take a nosedive, particularly in girls, affecting academic performance. If your child lacks confidence, you may notice that she procrastinates getting started, or “forgets” to do an assignment. At the same time, social issues and peer pressure kick in.
This is the age of cliques and bullies. Whether your child is in the "in" or the "out" crowd (which can shift on a daily basis!), she needs to know how to stand up to put-downs as well as how to treat others with respect. Fortunately, your support and guidance can help your child through these potentially rocky times.
What your child needs most:
- A reality check. Kids this age think that one failure is a life sentence and the bad feelings they have will last forever. Help your child put self-criticism into perspective by reminding him of the progress he’s made. Instead of: "I messed up the math test. I’m never going to do well. I’m dumb," substitute “Okay, I didn’t do well on this test. I’ll talk to the teacher to see where I can improve. Next time, I’ll be better prepared.”
- Encouragement to try new things. Kids need to sample a lot of things to find out who they are, what they like, and where they want to focus their energies. But at this age, they may be afraid to try if they don't think they'll do well. A child may refuse to try out for the soccer team because he’s convinced that “everyone” at school is so much better than he is. You can’t force your child to dip his toe in the water of something new, but you can remind him of his strengths and the times when he thought he couldn’t do something, but finally did.
- A safe place to express opinions. Knowing how to communicate effectively takes practice. What better place for your child to do that than the security of his own home? Include your child in family discussions at the dinner table, in the car, while watching the news. Talk about what’s happening in the world and solicit his opinion.
- Praise for the effort, not the grade. Complimenting kids for being smart may seem like a no-brainer, but it can actually backfire. If your goal is to enhance competence, compliment the effort and progress made, not the performance. Kids who are told, “I can see you worked hard,” tend to seek out more challenging tasks. In the same vein, remind your child that she didn’t get a good grade on her book report because she was lucky. She got the good grade because she put time and energy into the paper — and deserves it!
- The chance to problem-solve. Action is the best antidote for feeling helpless. The child who thinks he has choices feels less scared and stuck. Give your child the opportunity to practice solving problems outside of school, and he’ll be better equipped to handle them inside. For instance, when a fight erupts with a sibling, challenge him to think of different ways to resolve the conflict. Keep the conversation going by responding, “That’s a good idea. Got any others?”
- A nudge in the right direction. If your child shows signs of being a procrastinator, you will want to help her face it head on. Kids often put off doing things because they’re afraid they’ll do it wrong. Simply getting started is often the hardest part, so show your child how to structure her time by setting small, reachable goals.
- Parents to count on. Not every child gets an A in conduct. Maybe he has a personality conflict with the teacher or is aggressive with other children on the playground. The trouble is that parents often find out about discipline problems late in the game. That's why it's important to stay alert to any difficulties. The moment you hear about an issue, get in touch with the school to set up a meeting. Keep an open mind, and don’t immediately assume that your child is in the wrong.