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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Your School-Age Child’s Behavior: What to Expect and When to Be Concerned

From NCLD.org - The National Center for Learning Disabilities

By Kaleigh Dumbach-Fusco
September 9, 2013

Your nine-year-old just can’t seem to deal with frustration. When he struggles with a homework assignment or doesn’t get his preferred cuisine for dinner, he breaks down into a tantrum. And he sure does get into a lot of arguments with his little sister.

It’s certainly frustrating for you as a parent, and you ask yourself: Is he just being a nine-year-old, or is this something I need to be concerned about?

Many parents ask themselves this very question. While your child’s elementary school teachers had the benefit of studying child development in their professional training, it can be hard for parents to determine what behaviors are expected during the school-age years (ages 6–12) and what behaviors might be “red flags” of a problem with behavior, attention or learning.

The elementary and middle school years are a time of change. Academic demands ramp up and there are new opportunities to get involved in social life and activities outside the home. You might notice that your child is starting to develop the ability to think in a less concrete manner.

As children progress through elementary and middle school, some common feelings and behaviors include:
  • Development of a social life ouside of the family and greater independence from parents;
  • Strong desire to be liked and accepted by peers (may be very sensitive to other’s opinions about themselves);
  • No longer exclusively focusing on one’s self (as in early childhood)—developing more concern for others and understanding their perspectives;
  • Greater ability to engage in competition, but also to cooperate and share;
  • Learning better ways to describe experiences and talk about thoughts and feelings;
  • Becoming more purposeful: Thinking in advance about what they want and developing a plan to get it;

  • Greater control over emotions and impulses.
Remember, not all children develop at the same pace or in the same ways. Variations in the course of development are to be expected! However, unevenness or lags in the mastery of skills or behaviors should not be ignored.

You may want to seek help if your child:
  • Has difficulty sustaining attention in work tasks or play activities;
  • Does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores or duties;
  • Does not pick up on other people’s moods/feelings (e.g., often says the wrong thing at the wrong time);
  • May not detect or respond appropriately to teasing;
  • Has difficulty “joining in” and maintaining positive social status in a peer group;
  • Has difficulty with self-control when frustrated;

  • Has trouble dealing wtih group pressure, embarassment and unexpected challenge;

  • Is falling behind academically because of behavior at school.
In addition, the following characteristics may not apply for younger elementary school children (grades 1–4), but you may want to seek help if your older child (grades 5–8):
  • Fails to pay close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork;
  • Has trouble knowing how to share/express feelings;
  • Has trouble “getting to the point” (e.g., gets bogged in details in conversation);
  • Has difficulty setting realistic social goals;
  • Has difficulty evaluating personal social strengths and challenges;
  • Doubts own abilities and prone to attribute successes to luck or outside influences rather than hard work.
If you’re worried about any aspect of your child’s behavior or development, don’t wait to discuss your concerns with your child’s teacher, pediatrician and if necessary, a specialist (such as a psychologist).


Kaleigh Dumbach-Fusco is a program associate for NCLD. She is passionate about writing and advocating for educational opportunities for all children, and is thrilled that NCLD allows gives her the opportunity to do both. She holds a BA in education and urban studies from Columbia University.


NESCA FAQ: What will an evaluation tell me about my child?

The purpose of neuropsychological evaluation is to provide much deeper knowledge of a child’s inherent strengths and weaknesses, in order to better understand the challenges that the child may experience in meeting developmental demands, and the strengths that he or she may call upon to compensate. Once the child’s learning profile is understood, specific recommendations can be made for direct interventions and supports at home and at school to assist the child in functioning to full potential. Results of the neuropsychological profile are often used to make specific diagnoses and to provide parents with information about their child’s level of functioning relative to same-age peers.

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