Focus Area 2: Youth Development
2. The Middle Childhood Years: Ages 6 to 9

Many consider ‘youth’ to be an age group that begins at age six. It’s also very common to refer to this age group as ‘children.’ For your training, we’ll use the terms ‘children’ and ‘youth’ interchangeably for individuals between six and nine years of age (the middle childhood years).

Middle Childhood brings many changes in a child’s life. At this stage, children will start to want a little more independence from family as they are going out on their own now; starting school, making new friends, and becoming involved in outside activities.

Each age in the middle childhood years tends to have its own unique characteristics. For example:

  • Six-year olds can be a bit bossy and demanding
  • Seven-year olds tend to worry and take life seriously
  • Eight-year olds tend to be enthusiastic and outgoing
  • Nine-year olds are independent and rather rebellious

Additionally, youth in this age group are often well-behaved and want to fit in. They won’t always tell you about difficulties unless they feel you have the time to listen without being put under pressure. For this reason, they often may be the last to get attention at home or in other multi-age settings.

While these are big generalizations, you will probably spot these qualities easily if you work with youth in this age group.


The middle childhood years are a time of continual physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development. 

Remember that developmental channels can be thought of as specific categories within each developmental stage. And each stage has specific tasks and milestones for youth to achieve. 

Social/Emotional Development

During the middle childhood years, you see the gradual development of social skills and an increasing ability to relate to the outside world at school and with friends.

Social/Emotional milestones for children in the middle childhood years include:

  • Becoming more responsible
  • Having some understanding of rules at 6 years of age, at 7 years of age they may want to add some rules of their own
  • Starting to like team games (8 years of age)
  • At 8-9 years of age beginning to understand another person’s view of things
  • Starting to be more careful of their belongings at about 9 years of age
  • Liking to win at games but not yet able to lose cheerfully
  • Telling lies or stealing on occasion. They may not yet have fully developed the adult understanding of right and wrong
  • Liking school unless they have some problem there
  • Having problems with friends, which most children do from time to time

At different ages and according to personality, children in these years are likely to be full of bravado and over-confidence. Conversely, some may be full of grave doubts about themselves.

While children of six and seven share activities and enjoy each other's company, it is usually not until they are eight years old that they begin to be capable of truly imagining what it is like to be the other person and forming sustained friendships.

Children in this age group have a great desire to fit in and be accepted by their peer group. In fact, some degree of peer group acceptance is essential for their self-esteem. The challenge is that peer group values are sometimes both rigid and superficial but cannot be completely ignored.

Additionally, many at this age want to play with children of the same gender and sometimes will stereotype members of other genders, based on cultural norms they’ve been exposed to. This is common.

At this age, they also have lots of energy and, because of their sometimes narrow and rigid emphasis on sticking to 'the rules', their efforts to play together in a group can easily go astray.

Physical Development

Youth in the middle childhood years have high energy levels. Associated with physical development, a child will:

  • Be able to draw a picture of a house and include the garden and sky
  • Be able to ride a two-wheel bike
  • Like to climb and swim
  • Be able to throw and catch a ball

Children between six and nine years of age place great emphasis on developing their own physical ability. Being able to do handstands, hit the ball, ride fast, etc. often carries considerable status within the peer group. And children of this age really appreciate an adult watching their efforts with a realistic and encouraging attitude. 

Cognitive Development

Children between six and nine years of age are often very excited by and genuinely interested in the outside world. Cognitive development in these years has a lot to do with feeling settled and supported in their efforts to try new things and to extend themselves.

They have beginning skills in reading, writing, and math, as well as the capacity to express relatively complex ideas. By nine years of age they are sometimes already developing preferences for certain subjects at school or have particular areas of interest. This often includes absorbing information with enthusiasm and frequently remembering remarkable details about subjects that interest them.

Their thinking processes are very much subject to their emotions and self-esteem. If their self-esteem is low, they may be reluctant to try new tasks for fear of failing.

Similarly, if they are worried or unhappy, they will not concentrate or think properly. Generally, they won’t be able to do so until their worries are sorted out.

Associated with developing understanding at this stage, a child will:

  • Like to collect things (e.g., stamps, games, cards etc.)
  • Understand that the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and similar images are not real (typically around about 7-8 years of age)
  • Be able to tell the time
  • Begin to have some understanding of money (6 years of age)
  • Read to themselves
  • Start to be able to plan ahead
  • Know their left hand from their right 

Speech/Language Development

By seven years of age a child should be speaking clearly and easily in the language used at home. This includes being able to express a range of ideas and describe complicated happenings.

Sometimes a child will still have a lisp or 'bump' in their speech as they mature from baby speech. If it is getting in the way of clear speaking, the child should see a speech therapist.

Associated with speech and language development, a child will:

  • Know the different verbal tenses (past, present, and future) and use them correctly in sentences
  • Like to tell jokes and riddles
  • Be confident using the telephone at 8 years of age

Additionally, many children at this age will begin to enjoy reading a book on their own.

Relationships with Caregivers

It’s important to know that the relationship a child has with their caregivers will have a major influence on their development. As youth move into the middle childhood stage, the role of the parent changes. Other adults now have much more contact with the child and will begin to have an influence on their development.

The child will begin to recognize that some of the adults act differently and expect different things of them than their parents. While the parents are in less contact with the child, they still play a big role in their development and often act as the mediator for the child and the new adults in their life. This is a big change for both the adults and the child. Since you will have a role in this, it is really important for you to be aware and sensitive to the concerns of parents and caregivers.

Promoting Achievement of Milestones in Middle Childhood

As a youth worker, you can play a role in helping middle childhood youth achieve significant milestones of development. For example, you can provide children in this age range with:

  • A variety of computer, board, and word games
  • Simple building kits, children's tool kits, dolls, and opportunities for play
  • Bats and balls

You also should be providing them with opportunities to:

  • Listen to a radio/CD player
  • Help in the kitchen and to make simple recipes (e.g. cookies)
  • Join sporting or other clubs
  • Read, including them joining the library

And because youth in this age group thoroughly enjoy having adults pay attention to them, don’t forget to join them in these activities!

To promote achievement of milestones, notice what hobbies interest the child and encourage participation in those activities. Also, remember to encourage children in the middle childhood years to explore any games even if some may be seen as ‘only for girls’ or ‘only for boys.’ 

Summary for the Middle Childhood Years

The primary development channels for middle childhood years are:

Social/Emotional Development:

  • Wants to fit in with their peer group
  • Starts to form closer friendships at about 8 years of age
  • Likes to play with same gender friends
  • Needs adult help to sort out arguments and disagreements in play
  • Can be a bit brash and bossy while at other times may be timid and uncertain

Cognitive Development:

  • Good thinking skills, which will depend on them being relatively free from worry
  • Will read to themselves
  • Will take a lively interest in certain subjects by age nine

Physical Skills:

  • Runs, jumps, skips, hits a ball, climbs, and swings
  • Places an emphasis on physical achievement
  • Enjoys playing team games by 8 years of age
  • Sometimes misjudge their ability before 9 years of age


  • Speaks fluently and describes complicated happenings
  • Reads out loud
  • Knows different tenses and grammar 


Working with youth who are between the ages of 6 to 9 gives you great opportunities to support their healthy development in fun ways, with genuine connection:

  • Listen to their stories
  • Encourage them in a realistic way
  • Watch them in their physical endeavors
  • Give them a little individual time each day

Children between 6 and 9 years of age have many social and emotional issues to work out at school and within peer groups. Sometimes they need adult help to resolve problems that arise. As a youth worker, what you can do is:

  • Help them negotiate their way through the peer group 'rules' (e.g. what they 'have' to wear; what is acceptable to take for lunch).
  • Help them come to some sensible compromises between family values and peer group values.
  • Provide adult guidance and assistance to keep their play positive.
  • Point out that boys and girls are capable of doing lots of the same things; boys don’t just do 'boy' and girls don’t just do 'girl' things.

It is important to give them your time, to listen to them and take an interest in them. These are the best and most helpful things you can do for youth during the middle childhood years. Examples are:

  • Read to them - this is special for youth at any age.
  • Don't let them watch too much television/videos/DVDs or have too much computer screen time.
  • Don't be too intimidated by the famous phrase "everyone else has seen/done it!"
  • Provide small and special fun times in the week's routine.
  • Provide daily encouragement that is realistic.
  • Don't let them worry about 'grown up' matters too much (like bills and adult relationships).
  • Don't program their time too much. Youth in middle childhood need time to play, and to just ‘be.’
Shout-out to self-care: INDULGE YOUR INNER CHILD!

Life as a grown up can often cause us to let go of the simple, silly, fun things we used to enjoy as a kid. Here’s your chance to let your childish imagination override your adult inhibitions. Just take a break and do something that simply delighted you as a child – color, color outside the lines, draw, dance, hop, skip, (not for exercise, just to feel your body moving freely, for fun!). Read your favorite childhood storybook again. Play a simple game like Candyland. Give yourself a dress-up day to make believe. Make a pillow fort. Blow some bubbles. You’ll be a better adult by making time now and then to take care of your inner child. And it’ll remind you how important it is to play. Have fun!

Reference Sources
1 This section was adapted from “Child Development 6-9 Years”, Women and Children’s Health Network (Government of South Australia)
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