Social and Personality Growth: Age 7–11

Erikson's primary developmental task of middle childhood is to attain industry, or the feeling of social competence. Competition (for example, athletics and daredevil activities) and numerous social adjustments (trying to make and keep friends) mark this developmental stage. Successfully developing industry helps the child build self‐esteem, which in turn builds the self‐confidence necessary to form lasting and effective social relationships.

Self-concept in middle childhood

Most boys and girls in middle childhood develop a positive sense of self‐understanding, self‐definition, and self‐control, especially when their parents, teachers, and friends demonstrate regard for and emotionally support them, and when children themselves feel competent. When lacking in one social area, children in this age group typically find another area in which to excel, which contributes to an overall sense of self‐esteem and belonging in the social world. For example, a child who does not like math may take up the piano as a hobby. The more positive experiences children have excelling, the more likely they will develop the self‐confidence necessary to confront new social challenges. Self‐esteem, self‐worth, self‐regulation, and self‐confidence ultimately form the child's self‐concept.

Social cognition in middle childhood

As children grow up, they improve in their use of social cognition, or experiential knowledge and understanding of society and the “rules of life.” They also improve in their use of social inferences, or assumptions about the nature of social relationships and processes, as well as of others' feelings. Peer relationships play a major role in fine‐tuning social cognition in middle childhood. Members of a child's peer group typically come from the same race and socio‐economic status.

Noncompetitive activities among peers help children to develop quality relationships, while competitive ones help them to discover unique aspects of themselves. Thus, as children in middle childhood interact with their peers, they learn trust and honesty, as well as how to have rewarding social relationships. Eventually, teenagers' social cognition comes to fruition as they form long‐term relationships based on trust. Throughout these experiences, children come to grips with the world as a social environment with regulations. In time they become better at predicting what is socially appropriate and workable, as well as what is not.

Family relationships in middle childhood

Even though school‐age children spend more time away from home than they did as younger children, their most important relationships remain in the home. These children normally enjoy the company of their parents, grandparents, siblings, and extended family members.

Middle childhood is a transitional stage—a time of sharing power and decision‐making with the parents. Yet parents must continue to establish rules and define boundaries because children have only limited experiences upon which to draw when dealing with adult situations and issues.

This period is also a time of increased responsibility for children. In addition to allowing increased freedom (such as going unsupervised to the Saturday afternoon movies with their peers), parents may assign their children additional household chores (watching their younger siblings after school while the parents work). The majority of school‐age children appreciate their parents' acceptance of their more “adult‐like” role in the family.

Discipline, while not necessarily synonymous with punishment, remains an issue in middle childhood. The question, which has been debated in social science circles for decades, becomes one of discipline's role in teaching children values, morals, integrity, and self‐control. Most authorities today agree that punishment is probably of less value than positive reinforcement, or rewarding acceptable behaviors. Some parents choose to use both discipline and positive reinforcement techniques with their children.

Most families today require two incomes to make ends meet. Consequently, some children express negative feelings about being “latchkey kids” while both parents work. Children may question why their parents “choose” to spend so little time with them. Or they may become resentful at not being greeted after school by one or both parents. Straightforward and honest communication between parents and children can do much to alleviate any concerns or upset that may arise. Parents can remind their children that the quality of time spent together is more important than the quantity of time.

Friends and playmates in middle childhood

Friendships, especially same‐gender ones, are prevalent during middle childhood. Friends serve as classmates, comrades, fellow adventurers, confidantes, and “sounding boards.” They also help each other to develop self‐esteem and a sense of competency in the social world. As boys and girls progress through middle childhood, their peer relationships take on greater importance. This means that older children likely enjoy group activities such as skating, riding bikes, playing house, and building forts. This also means popularity and conformity become the focus of intense concern and even worry.

Similar to same‐age peers, friendships in middle childhood are mostly based on similarity and may or may not be affected by the awareness of racial or other differences. Intolerance for those who are dissimilar leads to prejudice, or negative perceptions about those who are different. Although peers and friends may reinforce prejudicial stereotypes, many children eventually become less rigid in their thinking about children from different backgrounds.

Many sociologists consider peer pressure a negative consequence of peer friendships and relationships. Those children most susceptible to peer pressure typically have low self‐esteem. They in turn adopt the group's “norms” as their own in an attempt to enhance their self‐esteem. When children cannot resist the influence of their peers, particularly in ambiguous situations, they may begin smoking, drinking, stealing, or lying if their peers encourage such behaviors.

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