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Middle Childhood » Childhood Development

Social Development of Middle School Children

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A. Play

  1. Children's play at this stage is interactive with other children, or adults, and is governed by rules.
  2. At this age, children can distinguish reality from fantasy and the fantasy content of the play decreases. However, it is still possible to track a child's interest by observing the content of their play (i.e. cops and robbers, detective, teacher, etc.)
  3. Play is an opportunity to experiment with social roles and rules, and to learn and practice cooperation.
  4. Play is also a training ground for creativity and social development (i.e. trying on various roles, acting out troublesome issues), as well as cognitive development (i.e. exercising memory, strategizing, language skills)
  5. There is a rigid adherence to the rules of the game. It is not until early adolescence that children can agree to change rules of a game. This strict following of rules increases their impulse control. For this reason, board games and sports activities are used by teachers, and therapists alike to promote prosocial behavior such as turn taking, controlling aggression, fairness.
  6. Play increases the child's mastery over the body; some children in some circumstances enjoy the playing of the game more than the winning of the game.
  7. There are also emotional benefits to play:

a. Through play children can express fears and conflicts which are
     unacceptable for them to express in other ways.

b.Through play children can gain a sense of mastery over themselves and
    their environments.

c. Through play children can satisfy wishes through fantasy.


B. Prosocial behavior and social cognition. During this discussion, ask participants to imagine the impact an abusive environment has on these developmental processes. For example, physical aggression may not come under control in a home where violence is displayed frequently, and as a problem solver.

  1. During this age stage, children become aware of, and establish, rules for social interaction, which include the prosocial behaviors.
  2. Because the child's ability to take perspective increases at this time, the child can imagine and engage in actions which help others who are in trouble.
  3. Empathy contributes to prosocial behavior at this age.
  4. By the age of 5 or 6 children can accurately recognize the basic emotions (i.e.: happiness, anger, fear) in others. As the child grows older she becomes better at perceiving personal cues (i.e. facial expression, body posture, etc.) that indicate subtle and complex emotions.
  5. Negative behavior comes under internal control between the ages of 8 and 9, as adults punish it, and the child engages in positive outlets for aggression (i.e.; sports). Research

C. Development of Self Esteem

  1. Self esteem refers to the value, and feelings, whether positive or negative, that the child places on his qualities.
  2. At age 9 or 10, the child has a clear sense of self worth and competence in different areas. These feelings remain stable over the 10-12 year age range and are differentiated. For example, a 9 year old may feel good about his social abilities, but may feel badly about his math abilities. Research has shown that improving a child's general feelings about himself does not necessarily improve his feelings about specific areas, such as his math skills.
  3. Self esteem is connected to a child's sense of self efficacy and sense of control over his destiny. His perception of himself, what others tell him (overtly or covertly, verbally or behaviorally) about his qualities, and what he experiences in his environment contribute to his self-esteem.
  4. Low self esteem adversely influences children's school performance, peer relations, and their attempts to adapt to their environments. Low self-esteem has pervasive influence on the child's development, adaptation and interpersonal relationships. Some psychologists claim that childhood self esteem is the single most revealing prediction of mental health in later life.

D. Psychosocial Task: Industry vs. Inferiority

  1. The task for the child at this age is to find activities that he is good at doing, to identify his special competencies, to gain recognition and pride by completing tasks and producing things.
  2. The positive outcome of this struggle is that the child develops his popularity, his potential for leadership, his ability to exert control over his environment. He is therefore able to make positive contributions to those around him. His ability to be productive, self directing and accepted contributes to his self-esteem.
  3. The negative outcome is a basic sense of inferiority; the child may consider herself doomed to inadequacy and mediocrity. Often a sense of futility is connected to the sense of inferiority, and discourages the child from attempting new or difficult tasks.
Ask Dr. Susan