Eight-year-olds can be summed up in three words – complex, capable and (usually) chattier than in previous years. This is an age when physical differences in size and maturity start to really be noticeable. Eight-year-olds are a whisker away from adolescence so it’s time to put processes in places such as sleep habits, effective communication and personal hygiene as they move into this next phase of their lives.
This age group is starting to look outside their immediate family for cues and information to complete the picture they’re forming of themselves. In the early years as a parent, you were the main influence. Now they take their cues from their peers and others outside their family, as well as you.
1. Help them follow their strengths and interests
Peer comparison is subtle but impactful, causing some children to change their interests, activities, toys and passions to match those of their peers. You can’t stop peer influences but you can help your eight-year-old find their strengths and gently nudge them in those directions.
2. Be ready to talk about their worries
You may discover a new willingness to talk with you that reflects their wider vocabulary, more sophisticated thinking and a broader world view. The latter may account for the fact that fear of spiders and other creepy-crawlies is now replaced by concerns about global warming, and common natural disasters as things that keep them awake at night.
3. Some like it scary
Your eight-year-old may gravitate to scary themes, just a few years after she was worried about monsters living under the bed. They may be drawn to movies and books that offer suspense, shock and more than a touch of horror. Peer pressure is a factor as well, as they often watch movies together. Regardless, be mindful of the subject matter they watch and read as horror and gore designed for a teen market isn’t suitable for an eight-year-old.
4. Give them responsibility
Your eight-year-old needs to feel a sense of mastery, so it’s time to give over plenty of responsibility (if you haven’t done so already). Resist thinking for your child and allow consequences to teach and remind, not in a disciplinary sense, but in terms of learning simple lessons that lead to more personal responsibility. This is challenging as a child in this age group, can often forget to do the basics such as unpack her bags, clean her teeth and feed the dog. The use of visual reminders such as notes on the bench, leaving the toothbrush on the sink and help rosters makes life easier for this busy, and organisationally-challenged age group.
5. Raise the bar
If overindulgence has been a theme of your parenting until now, then consider changing to avoid brattiness or worse, in adolescence. Expect them to help every day without pay, don’t give them everything they want even though you may be able to afford to, encourage them to work through problems and discuss how their behaviour impacts on others.
6. Be unimpressed by hurtful behaviour
You may find that your eight-year-old will move from delightful to devil in an instant. This seems to be an age when “I hate you” is directed at a parent more than just about any other. As hurtful as it may feel your child may mean it momentarily but she generally hates what you have done rather than you. An outward attitude of nonchalance (even though you may be livid inside) is usually the best way to extinguish this type of response.
7. Give them more privacy
Don’t be surprised if you see a sign on their bedroom door with “Kids only. Adults keep out!” This age group loves segregated play involving one gender, one age group or some other type of grouping. This type of play provides kids with a sense of independence and segregation from adults in preparation for the real thing when they move to break away from their family of origin in the teen years.
8. Be prepared for a defiant streak
It’s common for eight-year-olds to assert their independence by defying your wishes at times. You may find that suddenly everything is you suggest is ‘stupid.’ Stay calm and nonchalant. A ‘whatever’ attitude followed by an expectation that they do as you wish – if reasonable – is perhaps your best approach.
For an inexplicable reason whining seems to reach its zenith with this age group. If your child engages in this unique form of parental torture move to put a stop to it before it becomes a lifetime habit. Some ways of breaking the habit include – making your child aware; withdrawing your attention or cooperation; or simply leaving the area when they whinge.
9. Avoid bedtime battles
Bed-time battles often emerge as this age as children want to stay up and spend time in the adult world. It can take some cajoling for eight-year-olds to go to sleep. Many eights-year-olds are anxious worriers, and like adults, the minute their heads hit the pillow they start thinking and worrying about their day. It helps to set aside some time for talk during the day so they can share their worries and thoughts.
10. Aim for busy, but balanced lifestyles
Many eight-year-olds have full calendars of after school activities, which is commendable. For many, children sport is the main after school activity –it’s healthy, fun and teaches children about teamwork, as well as promoting personal confidence.
If your child is not sporty then look for alternatives such as Lego Clubs and Scouting that offer non-sporty kids immense social and personal benefits. If your child is resistant to join a suitable group then persevere until you find the activity that fits him or her. Eight is a great age to explore different options before the complications and awkwardness that comes with adolescence become another factor to negotiate.
Enjoy your time with your eight-year-old
Make the most of this year with your eight-year-old. They are definitely at an interesting, engaging age – in many ways easier than raising seven and nine-year-olds. This is the prime age to challenge them to be mindful of others, take on more responsibility and put processes in place that will assist their journey through adolescence. As always take a genuine interest in their world, listen to what they have to say and simply enjoy being in the company of your eight year old.
This is an excerpt from my Outstanding Eight Year Olds eguide. This unique parenting guide gives tips, tricks and techniques to help you make the most of this opportunity year. There’s an e-Guide for age group from 2 to 15-year-olds that will help you stay one step ahead of the parenting curve. Find out more at the Parenting Ideas bookshop