This article discusses normal development of school-age children, from first grade until adolescence. Maturation of the central nervous system and associated pathophysiology is addressed here.
- Freud theorized that a school-age child has an established superego, and had overcome unconscious Oedipal urges through development of defense mechanisms; the child is going through the latency phase, the 4th of the 5 stages of psychosexual development. The child has yet to reach the sexually mature genital stage of adolescence.
- Erikson, in his theory of psychosocial development, associated the age between 6 and puberty as the time of industry vs. inferiority conflict, with competence being the corresponding virtue.
- Piaget's theory of cognitive development assigns concrete operational stage to school-age children.
While Freud considered latency somewhat of a dormant period, blood levels of sex hormones begin to rise around the age of 7 in girls and 9 in boys, peaking during puberty. While gender identity solidifies by the age of 3, gender/sexual preference begins to emerge in 8-9 years-old children. This is also the time when children tend to have same-sex friends, and tease or avoid peers of opposite gender, often because of fear of "cooties." In just a few years, before puberty, some form of admiration of the opposite gender emerges; it is often directed at "teen idols" in movies and entertainment.
Cognitive and moral development
Piaget's ability to perform concrete operations involve thinking logically about things and events, as well as increasing mastery of classification and understanding of conservation.
- Classification is the ability to group objects based on similar features, but more broadly includes the skills of serialization (e.g. ordering peers by height), composition (e.g. mixing primary colors and predicting the result), and understanding of reversibility of these operations.
- Conservation is an understanding that an object remains the same despite change in shape or some other difference in appearance. Conservation is often confused with, but is very different from object permanence, an understanding that infants develop before the age of 7 months. Conservation of number is mastered early, often at the age of 6. Conservation of volume and substance (pouring liquid in a different-shaped glass, or splitting a clay ball into smaller balls) comes next. Conservation of weight is harder to grasp, and that understanding often emerges by age 9; conservation of area is an even more advanced skill.
- Further, decentration is an ability to imagine and understand others' point of view, with the classic test of arranging objects on a table and asking a child sitting on one end of the table to figure out how the examiner, sitting on the opposite end, sees the objects.
The moral development of the school-age child was described by Piaget as the stage for the interpretation of rules. The child moves beyond the understanding of egocentric rewards and consequences and begins to grasp the concepts of general rules of authority, justice, and fairness.