Physical & Cognitive Development in Middle Childhood

Generally defined as ages 6 to 12, middle childhood includes the elementary school and early middle school years 2. Children undergo enormous developmental changes during these years, from physical growth to new cognitive skills. They must adapt to increasingly demanding expectations from parents, teachers and friends.


Developmental psychologist Erik Erikson divided human development into eight stages, each marked by a central crisis that must be resolved for healthy development to continue. The crisis of middle childhood is industry versus inferiority 2. School is the center of the child’s world, and he feels a strong a need to prove that he can accomplish tasks on his own. Navigating expectations, successfully completing projects and working through conflicts with friends are ways in which the child develops self-confidence. If your child is unable to successfully complete these tasks, he might be at risk for feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem.


Physical development during middle childhood is highly individualized 2. Some children experience rapid growth spurts while others grow more slowly. School, sports and other activities provide opportunities to develop both gross and fine motor skills. According to the National Institutes of Health, such physical abilities as endurance, balance and coordination vary widely between children 1. Many children experience the onset of puberty during this time.


According to the National Network for Child Care, children’s cognitive abilities develop rapidly during middle childhood 2. They learn to express themselves in increasingly complex ways. They can plan ahead and evaluate different courses of action. They still think in black and white terms, but are increasingly resistant to following rules that do not make sense to them. The NIH points out that same-sex friendships are very important to children during this period. Through their friendships, they learn to understand others’ points of view and find compromises. They also learn to give and receive emotional support during times of stress.

Seeking Help

Although variations in development are normal, children who are significantly ahead of or behind their peers should be evaluated by a professional. Some psychological and physical disorders initially manifest during middle childhood, and early intervention typically yields the best results 2. If you are concerned about your child’s development, bring up your concerns at his next pediatrician appointment. Depending on the situation, the doctor might refer your child to a specialist for further evaluation.

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