Relationships with school-age children

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Key points

  • A warm and responsive relationship with you is key to your school-age child’s development and wellbeing.
  • Relationships with school-age children might change when they start school and their world gets bigger.
  • Keep listening and talking, doing everyday things together, giving positive attention, and sharing activities and family rituals.

Warm, stable and responsive relationships are fundamental to children’s development and wellbeing.

Your child will become more independent when he starts school, but family relationships are still the biggest influence on his development. That’s because your child’s relationship with you helps him feel secure and gives him confidence. This security and confidence is important as your child meets new children, tries new things and takes on new responsibilities when he’s ready.

Your relationship with your school-age child: what to expect

Your role as a parent is just as important as ever, but your relationship with your child might change once she starts school.

For example, your child might love to be independent, but he still needs lots of your love and attention. He’s proud of being a ‘big kid’, but he wants your approval. He might be easily embarrassed, self-conscious and even self-critical, so he’ll need your help to focus on the things he does well.

Your child might not tell you as much about her day as she used to – maybe because it’s hard for her to tell you everything that’s happened in a day.

But your child still needs to know you’re there and ready to listen when she’s ready to talk.

On the other hand, your child’s language, thinking, emotions and physical skills are rapidly developing at this age. This means that you might sometimes have quite deep conversations, or start sharing hobbies like sport or music. This can give you lots of opportunities for tuning into your child’s interests, ideas, thoughts and feelings.

Peers and school friends might start to become more important in your child’s life, particularly as he moves towards the middle-primary years. School friendships give your child a sense of belonging and help him learn and practise social skills like sharing and negotiating. But if friendship problems come up, your child will turn to you for help. Your child’s secure and safe relationship with you helps him manage the ups and downs of making and losing friends.

And your school-age child might start looking for adult role models outside the family – for example, a favourite teacher. But she’ll still look to you for guidance or want to know what you think about these people.

Building a strong relationship with your school-age child: tips

Children of all ages need parents and caregivers who are warm and responsive, who pay them attention, and who make them feel safe. Here are some ideas to help you keep building this kind of relationship with your school-age child:

  • Give your child plenty of positive attention by showing warmth and being interested in what she’s doing. One way to do this is by asking follow-up questions when your child starts talking – for example, ‘Really? That’s funny! What did the teacher say then?’ This keeps the conversation going.
  • Make time to share things you both enjoy, like cooking or kicking a ball at the park. This can also give you a chance to find out more about your child’s likes and dislikes, his worries and his frustrations.
  • Avoid asking your child lots of questions about school when she gets home. She’ll probably be tired and hungry. When you sense that she’s in the mood to talk about school, simple, positive and specific questions can get her talking – for example, ‘What projects are you working on at the moment?’
  • If your child asks about tough topics, answer honestly, in language that he can understand – for example, ‘To make a baby, a sperm from a man and an egg from a woman join together’. If you encourage open communication now, your child learns that he can always talk to you.
  • Set some positive family rules to guide how your school-age child treats you and other family members. Rules that say exactly what behaviour you expect can help everyone in your family get along better – for example, ‘We say “please” when we ask for something’.
  • Share regular family meals. Family meals can strengthen your family relationships and your child’s sense of belonging.
  • Keep up family rituals like birthday celebrations, family movie nights or bike rides on the weekend. Rituals create shared memories and build family relationships and bonds.

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