With a firm grounding in most academic concepts, an ability to think abstractly, and a well-defined social network, the upper elementary child now turns her attention to understanding and developing a sense of ethics and morality.
Lower elementary children typically have a healthy respect for rules and authority as long as they have been consistently presented and reinforced. However, the lower elementary child often lacks the ability to accept exceptions to the rule or use moral judgment outside of a predetermined set of rules.
By upper elementary ages and on into middle school, children begin to notice and accept the more gray areas of morality and begin to formulate opinions and beliefs about upholding their own sense of right and wrong. This can be an incredibly complex process; hence the need for purposeful parenting that addresses these concepts and helps the child navigate this new territory.
Children of this age are also identifying themselves within a community; whether it is their school, church, or athletic programs, children begin to really develop a sense of responsibility for their contribution to the groups and communities in which they are involved. They learn what it means to become a contributing member of a team and what happens when someone on the team does not uphold their responsibilities. They also pay attention to the leadership of each of these communities and how the behaviors and choices of the respective leaders impact the community as a whole.
Conflict resolution takes on a whole new meaning now that children of this age are able to think more abstractly. Due to their experience, they can begin to project and anticipate what others are thinking or feeling, and so it is an important time to help the child discern if what they are feeling is guided by their own difficult emotions or by drawing real conclusions about the situation at hand.
Paraphrasing is an excellent skill to teach your child at this point, especially with regard to conflict resolution. Much of the social conflict in the world often stems from something as simple as a miscommunication. Actively listening and learning to paraphrase what you hear others saying, repeating it back to them for clarity, is an easy way to clear up any miscommunications, before they hurt feelings and breed resentment.
I used to teach in an upper elementary Montessori classroom and anytime we had a conflict within the classroom community, we would always try to use the phrase, “What I hear you saying is…” This gives the other party the opportunity to confirm or further clarify what they intended to say, keeping the lines of communication open to bridge better understanding of one another and bring conflict to true resolution.
Children of this age also become more aware about what is going on in the world and what has already transpired in history. Inviting your child to keep up with and discuss current events, in an age appropriate manner, is a great way to explore these events and will also encourage conversations around context, morality, and ethics. This is also a great way for children to learn to think critically about sources of information. They can learn to differentiate between fact and opinion and the appropriate context for each of these with regard to world and community events. It is during this stage that they begin to explore the hierarchy of government and who holds the power to create policies and change that impact the communities of which they are apart. These concepts are complex and children can benefit from a purposeful parent that helps them navigate the new information objectively.
One thing our children never lose is their attunement to the adults in their lives. The adolescent may not outwardly mimic their parents as they did in toddlerhood, but you can be sure they are picking up on what the parent or caregiver is modeling and they are likely also expressing it, even if only indirectly. As the parent, your response to world or community events greatly informs the picture your child is drawing around their role and responsibility to society.
More in the purposeful parenting series by Bonnie McClure: