Like many phases of child development, the period of 6-year-old development is characterized by contradictions. A 6-year-old child will have his foot more firmly in the big-kid years. At the same time, he will still experience the insecurity that comes from stepping more into the big wide world without the constant comfort of mom and dad. As he increasingly experiences school, play dates, birthday parties, and other activities without a parent, he may want and need more attention and comfort at home.
Six-year-olds will become more aware of emotions -- both their own as well as those of others. They may understand sophisticated concepts such as how to be careful about not hurting someone’s feelings by, say, saying something critical about them directly to that person.
Confidence and Insecurity
For many 6-year-olds, the center of the universe will, for all intents and purposes, still be them. Six-year-olds will regale others with stories about themselves, and will naturally expect others to be as interested in them as they are. They will be proud of their accomplishments and talents, and will want to share their artwork, physical abilities, and other things about themselves that they feel make them stand out and be special. It will be up to parents to guide children and teach them about the fine line between confidence and boasting.
At the same time, they will feel insecure, and will want praise from others. Six-year-olds may want to do things perfectly, and may be hard on themselves if their performance isn’t as good as they wanted it to be (if they lose at a game or can’t seem to get a picture to look just the way they wanted it to, for instance). They will want to fit in, and will want their friends at school to approve of the things they do. Six-year-olds may have a hard time accepting criticism or admonishments, and may be more sensitive to discipline.
Much of this insecurity will stem from a 6-year-old’s natural move toward independence. Parents can help by being aware of this push and pull, and can help their child feel better about forging ahead more on their own by providing a comforting atmosphere at home where kids can feel secure in daily routines and reassurances of love and understanding.
Inflexibility and Preferences
Six-year-olds will often see things as black and white and will express strong opinions about things. They may go from elation about something to absolute unhappiness if something doesn’t go their way. They may see something as good and something else as bad, and will have trouble seeing the middle ground.
This kind of thinking is common for 6-year-olds, who are trying to organize and categorize the world around them. Pigeon-holing something into a category can help 6-year-olds make sense of it, and it can help them feel like they can master unknown and new experiences. Parents can help by gently steering kids toward nuanced thinking, by suggesting that they see things from other points of view -- a skill they will naturally acquire as they grow older.
Six-year-olds may begin to express a desire for privacy when they dress or undress (although many will still enjoy bath time with a parent close by and will ask mom or dad to wash their hair). Children this age may begin to get curious about their own bodies, gender and sex, and you can expect questions about where babies come from.
Six-year-olds are increasingly engaging in activities without their parents. But as they transition toward increasing independence, they will rely more on the security of home, routines, parents, and friends. Predictable routines such as nighttime rituals, after-school activities and regular play dates with friends will be important for 6-year-olds; for them, these regular activities and relationships will provide the security they need as they encounter unfamiliar challenges and experiences.
Children this age may also increasingly express a desire to choose their own clothes, wash themselves, and comb their own hair. Parents can help encourage this independent self-care and offer some guidance and help (by letting kids wash themselves and “helping” at the end or suggesting a sweater and tights if it’s too cold to go to school in just a favorite frilly skirt, for instance).
Separation anxiety may still be an issue for some 6-year-olds, but it will become less intense as children naturally form stronger bonds with friends and teachers at school and become accustomed to spending more time away from home.