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November 4, 2013
by LuAnn Pierce, LCSW

Development Part 2: The Preschool to Puberty Years

November 4, 2013 04:55 by LuAnn Pierce, LCSW  [About the Author]

By this stage, children have developed some very important skills and virtues. Their language skills are developing quickly. Coordination and muscle control should be improving as they become more active. They engage in more group play where they begin to learn skills like sharing and taking turns.

3 – 6 years

Children at this stage are learning important social and cognitive skills. Those in pre-school and day care are learning to work and play in small groups. Others may be involved in play groups, community activities and family activities. These group experiences are very important to a child’s development.

Historically, girls were not included in group sports. There was concern that these girls were missing out on opportunities to develop critical skills learned in sports or other group activities. These include leadership, teamwork, competition skills and others.

As gender roles changed and more women entered the workforce, the stereotype of little girls preparing to be homemakers and boys preparing for the workforce shifted. We now know it is critical to prepare children of both genders for the workforce, as well as household management and child raising. 

Erikson believed that children this age learn to coordinate their impulses and act on plans successfully to develop the virtue of purpose. If this stage is not successfully completed, children may develop feelings of guilt.

Children begin to use some reasoning skills by age three, and understand a few abstract concepts,  like what to do when you are hungry or tired. By age four, they engage in make-believe, recognize colors and many objects. By age five, children can usually count to 10, know their age and understand concepts such as yesterday, today and tomorrow. Most children attend Kindergarten at age five, thus beginning a long career of schooling. Fine motor skills such as holding a pencil, coloring inside the lines and writing become a focal point.

The decisions you make now as a parent will impact your child for a lifetime. If you learn to use discipline effectively at this age, your job as the parent of a teen will be much easier. And, your teen should experience less problems as a result of learning good behavior and self control as a child.   

With regard to discipline, it is important to remember that the role of the parent is to teach, guide, protect and direct. Children need clear and consistent rules and consequences. Parents often lose sight of the fact that discipline is about teaching kids what we want them to do, and correcting their behavior when they fall short. Arbitrary rules that are only enforced by one parent and ignored by the other (or the sitter, grandparents, etc.) only teach children to manipulate and play one adult against another.

Consequences and responsibilities should be based on the child’s age. Time-out is one of the most often used techniques for young children. The rule of thumb for time-out is one minute for each year of age. Children need to know exactly which rule they violated when they received consequences. Before they leave time-out, the adult should ask them what they did wrong, why it was wrong and what they should do differently the next time.

Ideally, consequences should also be logical, meaning ‘they fit the crime’. If your child hits someone, after a period of time-out, the child should be required to make amends by apologizing. If there is a problem between your child and another, they may need adult assistance to identify the problems and talk it through.

The goal of consequences is for the child to learn something, and hopefully make a better choice the next time. This process teaches the child what behaviors are expected, and right from wrong. The desired end result of teaching children through rules and consequences is for the child to internalize this information to guide his/her actions in the future. This results in self control vs. external control aka avoiding punishment.

Savvy parents realize that their control over a child is limited to the time the child is in their presence (if even then). If a child internalizes the desired behavior, they are more likely to make the right choice without the threat of  punishment.

Initially children do what their parents want for one of two reasons: fear of punishment or a desire to please. The motive for behavioral choices changes as a child’s moral development progresses. However, those who are allowed to manipulate and sidestep the consequences of their actions often experience behavioral problems later. In the words of Frederick Douglass, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

6 – 12 years

Many changes occur in cognitive development at this point. Kids begin to understand the concept of time, have more logical reasoning and some may begin to use abstract thought, although that usually develops later.

Erikson believed that children this age are comparing their abilities to those of others their age, and seek validation of their abilities from adults to develop the virtue of competence. This is a critical time in the development of self esteem which is derived from doing a good job. It is very important that kids this age are given age-appropriate tasks so they can gain a sense of mastery and feel good about their abilities.

Parents and other adults can aid in this by offering positive reinforcement for a job well done, and using mistakes as teaching opportunities. By telling kids what they did right, and instructing them on how to correct any mistakes, they have the opportunity to correct it and gain mastery of that skill.

Discipline for kids in this age range should follow the same logic as for younger ones. The time-outs are based on age, and consequences are logical. If the rule is ‘Please walk inside the house’ and the child runs while inside, the consequence may be time-out and to return to the front door to walk through the house when the time-out ends. This is a reminder of what is expected.

There is no need to make him/her walk thought the house 10 times – if the consequence is applied consistently, soon s/he will remember to walk when inside the house. It is helpful to word the rules in terms of the behavior you want, not what you don’t want. Remember, you are teaching them what you want them to internalize. ‘Put your toys away at the end of each day’ teaches your child what you want them to learn.

Another very effective parenting technique for kids age six and above is the family meeting. In a family meeting, parents and kids talk about what rules are needed, why they are important and what consequences make sense for violations. It is believed that involving kids in making the rules and deciding on logical consequences results in better adherence to the rules. In general, when kids (teens and adults) understand the reasoning behind the rules, they are more likely to follow them. Answering the ‘why’ when a child or teens asks with a thoughtful, honest answer will net better results.

Read about the previous development stage here.


Barton, Gavin B. "Career Success and Life Skill Development through Sports." Diss. 2011.Http:// Web.

USA. Colorado State University Extension. Office of Engagement. 10 Tips for Successful Family Meetings. By R. J. Fetsch and B. Jacobson. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 10 Tips for Successful Family Meetings. Web. 17 Aug. 2013.


About the Author

LuAnn Pierce, LCSW LuAnn Pierce, LCSW

I am a clinical social worker, therapist and writer. Currently, I offer online therapy and coaching services to people in Colorado and Wyoming. As a provider for the CO Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and the National MS Society, my expertise in counseling people who have disabilities and chronic illness is considerable. I have written for,,,, and contribute to several other online health and mental health sites.

Office Location:
19th & Dahlia
Denver, Colorado
United States
Phone: 303-910-2425
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