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Your 6-Year-Old Child: Behavior and Daily Routines

A snapshot of a typical first grader's day-to-day life

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Siblings looking at tablet computer in bed.
Per Breiehagen/Taxi/Getty Images

As 6-year-old children increasingly move toward independence, engaging in activities without mom and dad and socializing with friends, such as at birthday parties and play dates, routines at home will take on a greater significance.

Six-year-old children, like adults, are individuals, with distinct interests, abilities, and experiences. While it's not possible to say what all 6-year-olds are like, here is a general overview of what you can expect to see in a typical child at this age.

Diet
Parents of 6-year-old children can expect their kids to be interested in dinner conversation and be able to have the attention span and self-control to sit for most of the meal. This can be an ideal age to reinforce those table manners that 6-year-olds may not have been able to consistently put into practice when they were younger.

Six-year-old children may also be interested in helping prepare dinner, such as by helping tear lettuce for a salad or taking a basket of bread to the table. They may also love to participate in helping choose food for the menu, and will be able to help set the table.

Some 6-year-olds may continue to hold on to their picky eating habits while others may one day decide to venture into new foods and flavors (possibly inspired by friends and peers from school). Either way, this will be an excellent age for parents to begin steering kids into healthy eating habits. They can offer and encourage kids to try new dishes -- ideally ones comprised of healthy vegetables -- and even use what kids are learning about other countries at school as an opportunity to incorporate healthy foods, such as Asian or Latin dishes, into dinnertime menus.

One thing parents may want to watch out for is children being influenced by their peers to want unhealthy foods such as soda, candy, and other junk food. Talk about how healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and lowfat milk, are "growing" food, and consistently reinforce the message that junk food is only for occasional treats.

In short, parents of 6-year-olds can set many healthy habits and patterns such as choosing healthy foods, sitting down to dinner together as a family, and establishing good table manners -- skills that will become important for children to have in the years to come.

Sleep
Children this age need anywhere between 10 to 12 hours of sleep at night, although some kids may need less or more, depending on individual requirements. The challenge for parents, though, will be how to fit in homework, after-school playdates and activities and family time after school so that kids go to bed on time. One way might be to filter out the things that can compete for a child’s attention, such as TV and videogames and restrict such activities to weekends.

Nighttime routines and good sleep habits will become more significant as children fall into school routines, and need to be well-rested and ready for school in the mornings. Many 6-year-olds are learning to read, but will still enjoy being read to at bedtime. If he’s able (and interested), you can take turns reading to each other.

Behavior and Discipline
As 6-year-old children become more independent and increasingly begin to want more control over the things that affect them such as what they wear and eat or how they spend their time, behavior problems can sometimes surface. They may naturally try to test limits and boundaries as they explore their newly-developing identities as bigger kids. For parents, this can mean dealing more with typical 6-year-old behavior problems such as defiance or back talk.

At the same time, 6-year-olds are still young children who haven't yet left behaviors such as tantrums and whining behind them. Typical of this age, parents can expect to see some regressive behavior alternating with more "big-kid" abilities, such as being able to concentrate and listen quietly for a longer period of time at school or handling more complicated chores at home.

With love and consistent discipline and guidance, parents can help their 6-year-old child weather the changes that can affect behavior. By being patient and giving your child room to make mistakes even as you are clear about your expectations for good behavior, you will help your child overcome behavior problems at home and at school.

Chores
Six-year-old children will be able to ready, willing and able to handle more responsibilities, both at home and at school. Children this age can be given age-appropriate chores, such as sweeping the floor and helping clear the dishes from the table after meals at home. At school, 6-year-olds will be able to handle acting as line monitors or helping the teacher hand out assignment sheets.


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