Understanding Middle Childhood Development Back »

This article was written by Marilyn Rasmussen, former SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Development Specialist.


Just as you are feeling comfortable being around elementary-aged youth, you may find that they are changing again as they reach fourth grade. Children have mastered basic reading and writing skills and are poised to independently pursue things that interest them. 

Physically, children in grades 4 to 6 have improved muscle development, strength, balance and coordination, enabling them to do well at some physical endeavors, including sports.  They appear to have boundless energy, and do not like to stay in one place or with one activity for too long.  Growth continues to be steady through these years, but some individual children will have growth spurts, perhaps causing them to feel alienated from their peers.  This is more likely to happen to girls than boys.

In middle childhood, kids enjoy the sociability of groups or clubs, and develop a sense of loyalty to the group. There is a preference for spending time with members of the same sex and a tendency to follow culturally approved gender roles in the things they do and say.  They are beginning to understand the benefits of a give-and-take relationship with others rather than only meeting their own immediate needs. 

Although children in middle childhood enjoy both cooperation and competition, comparisons (winners and losers) may have the effect of eroding self-confidence.  Positive self-concept can be fostered through comparing one’s own past performance to present performance.  It is fostered through a feeling of competence.  Youth at this age need to see their efforts in any type of activity recognized.   Attempts at independence are often characterized by back-talk and disobedience or disrupting the group.  Kids have a strong need to feel accepted and worthwhile, and to this end, they enjoy interaction with and approval of older youth or teens. 

Children in this stage of development think less concretely and begin to think more logically and abstractly.  Intellectual pursuits are becoming more self-determined and exploratory. During middle childhood it is important for adults to intentionally provide opportunities for the youth to make decisions and to problem solve.   In middle childhood, kids are easily motivated to try new things, but be aware that their interests may also change rapidly.

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