A Parent's Guide to 7- and 8-Year-Olds

How to Nurture Your Child’s Growing Independence

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Height Predictor. Photo by Getty Images

By the time your child is 7 years old, he'll have spent a good deal of time away from you—at school, day camp, maybe even a sleepover or two. He'll have made friends other than the playdate pals you set him up with in preschool and will be eager to develop his own identity—one that allows him to be separate from the rest of the family. His peers will begin to influence everything from the games he plays to the clothes he wants to wear.

It's also around 7 or 8 years old that a kid will begin to understand abstract and logical thinking, and his moral values will begin to take shape. By the end of this period, he may even show signs that puberty is just around the bend.

In other words, a child in early grade school will be coming into his own. And that's a good thing, even if it makes you feel a little weepy when you realize your baby is growing up. But don't worry: He still needs you and will for some time to come. In fact, one of your most vital tasks as a parent will become obvious during this stage—nurturing your child's independence. Here are some areas in which it's especially important and easy to do this. 

At Mealtimes

Early grade-schoolers are notoriously finicky about food. The boy who once gobbled down every Brussels sprout set before him may suddenly swear he hates them. The girl who was always perfectly happy to drink water with her afternoon snack may start begging for soda.

Chances are these sudden shifts in appetite have less to do with a child's taste buds and more to do with wanting to fit in with his peers. To help make sure your self-sufficient 7-to-8-year-old is nourished properly, here are some things you can do. 

  • Keep only good stuff around on a regular basis—and make it easy for your child to see and reach. Fill the fridge with cut-up fruit and veggies, yogurt, milk, and cheese for snacks, and designate chips, soda, and sweets as special treats. Store them where your child can't easily see them. At meals, use the portions recommended by the Choose My Plate guidelines and put at least one nutritious food on the table you know your child will eat. This could even be a couple slices of whole-grain bread and a jar of peanut butter for making a sandwich. Discourage him from filling up on milk or juice before meals. If his tummy is full of fluid he won't feel much like eating solid food. 
  • Make mealtimes as happy as possible. Don't try to make your child eat when he isn't hungry, or force him to eat something he doesn't like. And never use food as a bribe or reward when you want him to do something or punish him for not eating. Steer the table talk to pleasant topics; save the discussion about that note from his teacher for after dinner. 
  • Give him some freedom. Even if he asks for the same ham sandwich in his lunchbox every day or the only green thing he'll go near is broccoli, as long as he's got plenty of energy and is growing normally, you really don't have to worry too much about what he's eating. In fact, most kids who are 7 or 8 years old (and even older) don't eat a balanced diet every day, but over the course of a week or so will manage to get the full variety of nutrients. If you're really worried about your child's nutrition, a check-in with the pediatrician should put your mind at ease. 
  • Set a good example. He may be a big kid, but your child is still looking to you for guidance. In other words, eat as you want him to eat. Even if he doesn't follow suit at the time, he'll be influenced by your choices. The same goes for exercise. If you're active, your kid will be, too. Make it a family affair when you can. Suggest a bike ride or a trip to the bowling alley or to the park to walk the dog.

    Around the House

    At the age of 7 or 8, most kids are eager to take on some responsibilities of their own. Even if your child already makes his bed and keeps his room clean, he'll likely welcome some age-appropriate chores that are more "grown up," like being the designated dishwasher emptier or in charge of the recycling.

    If you can, come up with different options for him to choose from. He'll be more likely to follow through on doing something he picked. It's usually not a great idea to pay a child for doing his chores. Better to consider his housework his contribution to family teamwork. Instead, shower him with praise for finishing his tasks.

    Positive reinforcement will boost his self-esteem and encourage him to stick with those.  

    However, around 7 or 8 is a great time to start teaching a child about money by giving him an allowance. It doesn't really matter how much, but one reasonable way to calculate a child's weekly stipend is to give him a half dollar to a whole dollar per year of age—between $3.50 and $7 for a 7-year-old. Managing even this small amount will help your child learn the value of money and the importance of saving.

    Out and About

    Early grade school is an ideal time to help a child learn to watch out for his own safety. He may not be spending time alone for awhile yet, but it doesn't hurt to prepare him for when he does.

    • Don't ditch the booster seat. A kid who's itching to assert his independence may beg to stop using one. Unless yours is big for his age, though, don't give in. Car accidents are the leading cause of death among kids, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The best way to keep a child safe in the car is to keep him in a booster seat until he's at least 4 feet, 9 inches tall—a height most kids don't reach until they're between 8 and 12. 
    • Enforce safe play. This means making sure your child uses any safety gear that's necessary for the activity he's doing. For instance, if he's biking, he must wear a helmet that fits appropriately. If he can't swim yet, consider lessons. 
    • Teach street smarts. Remind your child to look both ways more than once before crossing, for example. Go over what he should do if a stranger approaches him. Make sure he knows not to get into a car with someone he doesn't know, even if that person claims you said it would be okay. 
    • Oversee screen use. At the age of 7 or 8, a kid should not be able to surf the Internet without supervision. Pre-approve any computer games and movies your child wants to watch, and know what he may have access to at his friends' homes.
    • Go over with your child what to do in an emergency—when to dial 911, what to say to the dispatcher. 

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