Focused on Friends (or Frenemies!)
During their elementary years, it can seem like our children are only focused on friends (and frenemies!). We hear about what happened at recess or who they sat with at lunch. They come home with elaborate accounts of being wronged. It’s easy to begin to wonder what they are really learning at school!
In Montessori we always try to understand what is happening developmentally, so we can address children’s needs and offer the best forms of support. When we consider our six- to twelve-year-olds, it’s pretty apparent how they are intensely focused on peers!
As children approach the age of six, it’s easy to see the physical changes of middle childhood. Their hair becomes coarser. They lose that soft baby skin. Their first teeth begin to fall out. Their bodies become more stretched out. It is as if our children literally become rougher!
In addition, they have incredible physical stamina and can ride bikes, swim, climb trees, and play games from dawn to dusk. This newfound toughness means they are less likely to make a fuss over scrapes, bruises, or falls. Often neatness and cleanliness no longer seem to matter and we may find ourselves offering multiple reminders to comb hair, change clothes, brush teeth, or even take a shower.
A Focus on Friends
In addition to these physical changes, elementary-age children are also shifting how they relate to others. They are developing their moral compass during a time in their lives when their thinking is still pretty black and white. As a result, they are regularly trying to evaluate what is happening with everyone around them. This is when tattling can take center stage. When they come to report someone else actions, it’s often their attempt to figure out if the choices others made were right or wrong. Elementary children are trying to make sense of the rules, including how a group is organized: who leads, who follows, and what sacrifices need to be made.
In addition, elementary-age children begin to want to extend themselves beyond their family structure. This is when we start to see them separate from us as parents. They might walk ahead on the sidewalk or be reluctant to hold hands. What was previously a long goodbye at the start of the day shifts to a quick wave as they head down the sidewalk. They want to stretch beyond the bounds of home, and even past the school walls. They seem to constantly ask for playdates and sleepovers. Sometimes it can be hard to keep up with what is happening in their social world!
All of these shifts are part of normal development. In fact, it’s not just nice for elementary-aged children to be involved with their peers: it is essential for their social-emotional development. This is when children are trying to figure out who they are in relation to their friends.