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Ages and Stages

Child Development - Age 6

While some 6-year-olds are just preparing to enter kindergarten, the majority have successfully adjusted to "real" school, and are now ready to conquer first grade as they thrive on new friendships, figure out how the world works, and become independent.


Trying to make a generalization that applies to all 6-year-olds is like trying to make one about all adults--it is next to impossible to do, given they are unique individuals with a wide range of personalities, talents, and issues. However, there are some general milestones that most 6-year-olds reach some time during the year, including:

Increased poise, coordination, and stamina. While some are truly skilled at shooting baskets or scoring soccer goals, just about all 6-year-olds are able to hop, skip, jump, and throw and catch a ball.

Developing reading skills. Most 6-year-olds can read, especially if they have already finished their year in kindergarten. But the challenge doesn't stop there, as they work on reading harder words and longer books.

Tying shoes and buttoning buttons. Children are usually capable of both tying their own shoes and buttoning their own buttons before the age of 6.

Telling right from wrong. Children at this age can not only tell right from wrong, but also care more about doing the "right" thing. But they may still be prone to telling tales and doing things they're not supposed to do.

Six-year-olds are often easier to get to sleep than they used to be, probably because they are tired out from school and other activities. However, many may seem to be grouchier in the morning. Waking during the night is much less common, perhaps because children this age do not take naps, and a typical night's sleep is almost 11 hours for the average six-year-old. Bedtime stories may be the child's favorite time of the day. Even if your six-year-old is an accomplished reader, don't feel that you need to give up reading to him at bedtime, since this is an activity you can do together (and that he's likely to enjoy) for many years to come.

Let your child be the guide in choosing and encouraging physical activity. Be aware that the physical and interactive skills needed for team sports such as soccer and baseball are not usually fully mastered by a majority of children for another year or so. If she shows interest, be sure to teach your child the rules of the game and help her to enjoy team sports, but consider also letting her try out sports such as swimming, skating or dancing -- activities in which she can "compete" against herself. Activities such as hiking are a wonderful way to spend time together (without a television), get some exercise, and learn about nature all at the same time.

Children often try several sports or activities before they find the right one. The secret to introducing your child to athletics and exercise is simple: have fun! There are many ways that parents can make physical activity a positive experience for their children early on, including:

•Don't insist that your child join a team just because you may have.
• Try to downplay the competitive nature of many sports. Children shouldn't be pressured to perform.
• Make sure your child isn't participating in a particular sport just to please you.
• Remember that play at this age actually is supposed to be all fun and games. Don't commit your child to an adult's exercise schedule. A six-year-old may still not be ready to enjoy an hour-long tennis lesson, but 30 minutes on the court is likely to be a blast.


While it's not a good idea to spend all your time as a parent comparing your child's abilities to those of other 6-year-olds, it is helpful to keep an eye out for any potential problems your child might be having and discuss them with your child's doctor. Consider talking to the pediatrician if your child:

• Doesn't play well with others, is unusually shy, or excessively aggressive
• Is not sleeping well, or has frequent nightmares
• Is having trouble reading or writing
• Is frequently fearful, clingy, or sad
• Has any issues when it comes to using the toilet


It is also important to pay attention to whether or not your child seems to be behind on her language skills. A 6-year-old's speech should definitely be intelligible to those outside the family. Sentence structure also should be good, and tenses usually correct. That said, experts estimate that 10 to 20 percent of all children at this stage will have a speech or language problem, and, if left untreated, speech and language problems can lead to school failures. The good news is that many of these problems can be corrected with treatment lasting less than two years. Be sure to bring it up with your child's doctor if you find yourself describing your child in these terms:

• "No one can understand him but me."
• "She uses only a few words."
• "He didn't begin talking until he was 3."
• "She speaks in phrases -- she doesn't use sentences."
• "He can't say 'l' or 's' sounds"