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Grandparenting School Age Children

Nurturing Your Grandchildren From Ages 5 to 9


Birthdays are major events for school age grandchildren.

Birthdays are major events for school age grandchildren.

Photo © Laurie Haffelfinger

Grandparenting school age children is an adventure! Every day they are learning and growing in so many directions. Their primary theater of discovery is school. The venue where they will learn so much is a mixed blessing for grandparents as it also leaves them less time to spend with you. With a little persistence and planning, however, you may get taken along on some of their voyages of discovery.

Children make huge strides developmentally from the ages of 5 to 9. The changes in their bodies are obvious as they grow. The changes in their minds and hearts are not so obvious. Here’s what to expect as your grandchildren grow.

Cognitive Development

During these years most children learn to read, write in cursive and do basic mathematics, as well as gaining a wide variety of knowledge and acquiring other skills.

What Grandparents Can Do

You’ll want to support your grandchildren’s academic endeavors in every way possible. You may be drafted to help with homework and projects, or you may want to visit their schools during open house, or go to performances. For the most part, though, you can leave the formal education to the schools under the oversight of the parents. That means that you are in charge of the fun part of learning! The sky’s the limit, but games, construction toys, crafts, word play and imaginative role play are just a few of the activities that will challenge their brains while generating some laughs. Speaking of laughter, researchers have found a positive relationship between cognitive maturity and the ability to enjoy jokes and riddles, so don’t be afraid to get silly!

Physical Development

Growth from 5 to 9 is fairly steady. The big growth spurts will come later. Children’s bodies tend to take on a slimmer appearance, and the legs lengthen in proportion to the rest of the body. Average height gain is a little over two inches a year, with a corresponding weight gain of about six pounds a year, although variances are normal. Children will also improve greatly in motor skills and coordination, gradually acquiring skills ranging from tying shoes to riding a bicycle to catching a small ball. Some girls will begin to show the earliest signs of puberty during this period, although the average age for this development is ten, with boys being about one year later.

What Grandparents Can Do

The most important thing grandparents can do for their grandchildren’s physical health is to encourage them to use their bodies. Because most grandparents don’t have the hectic schedules of the parents, they have time for long walks, games of catch and other diversions that will get the grandchildren off the couch. Grandparents who aren’t able to participate in a lot of physical activity can still provide the most important component—an audience. With you on the sidelines applauding, your grandchildren will try keep trying to sink that basket or do that cartwheel, and they’ll be building stronger bodies all the while. The emphasis should be on enjoying what their bodies can do rather than how their bodies look. Grandparents can also support and model healthy eating habits.

Emotional Health

At 5, most children still have difficulty seeing a viewpoint other than their own. By the age of 9, most will have developed empathy for others as well as a better understanding of themselves. Children 5 to 9 still rely primarily on their families for values, but that will begin to change during the tween years, when peers become increasingly important.

What Grandparents Can Do

School-aged children have just entered an unkinder world, where their peers are often ready to laugh at a stumble and their teachers spend a considerable part of their time pointing out what they are doing wrong. It’s a necessary rite of passage, but it is also hard on kids’ self-esteem. What they need most from parents and grandparents is unconditional love. It’s good to let grandkids know that you are proud of their good grades or their prowess in soccer, but it’s more important to let them know that you love them no matter what. Since most grandparents are not charged with correction and discipline, they are in a position uniquely suited to provide that unconditional love. Grandparents should schedule one-on-one time whenever possible, so that each grandchild gets the clear message that he or she is special. Often grandchildren become picky about physical signs of affection. They may allow hugs but not kisses, or they may not want you to be demonstrative in front of their friends. Grandparents will still be able to find ways to express their love.

Character Formation

School-age children usually respond well to advice and instruction about honesty, healthy living and proper interactions with others. They won’t always make the right decisions, due to immaturity, but they usually have a desire to do the right thing.

What Grandparents Can Do

Parents are the primary conduit through which children should learn kind, ethical and moral behavior. Grandparents are great reinforcers, however, and can even fill in the blanks that sometimes occur due to parents’ busy schedules. A situation where your beliefs differ from the parents’ needs to be handled with care, but nothing bad is likely to come from grandchildren observing their grandparents living according to a certain set of standards, even if it is not the one observed in their own home. The most potent contributions that grandparents can make is to provide a model of kind and ethical living while engaging in an ongoing dialogue about the ways in which humans behave to each other.

Edward L. Schor, M.D., The American Academy of Pediatrics. "Physical Development Through Puberty: Caring for Your School Age Child: Ages 5-12." Excerpted from Caring For Your School Age Child. Bantam. Accessed: March 9, 2009.

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