Middle Childhood; Psychosocial Development

An Expanding Social World

     Theories of School-Age Development

     * Freud: Psychosexual development is in a period of latency.
     * Erickson: The school-age developmental task is resolving the crisis between 
Industry (master cultural values) vs. Inferiority.
     * Developmentalists are concerned with the acquisition of
          * new skills (learning theory).
           * self understanding (cognitive).
            * social awareness (socialcultural). 
    * Epigenetic systems: Responding to genetic mechanisms, the maturing brain & body produce
          * greater intellectual focus (selective attention).
           * rationality (concrete operational thought).
            * physical hardiness (slowed growth & increased strength).
             * motor skill.
    * A reality that is universal: Age 6 is the the time for more independence & responsibility. 

      Understanding Others

    The emotional development of school-age children depends on advances in social cognition 
(understanding the social world).

      Older children:

    * understand the motivation behind & the origin of various behaviors.
     * can analyze the future impact of whatever action a person might take.
      * recognize personality traits & use them to predict a person's future reactions.

They can focus on motives, feelings, & social consequences.

The Peer Group

Ψ  Perhaps the most influential system for developing the self-concept is the peer group.

Ψ  The "Culture of Children" is another name / label for the peer group.

        •  The "culture of children" may include deviancy traning  when children show each other how to avoid adult 
        restrictions. Some consequences of this are harmless, others are not.  

         *  A peer group typically has special norms, vocabulary, rituals, & rules of behavior that flourish 
without the approval, or even the knowledge of adults.
        *  Many of the norms & rules of a peer group implicitly encourage independence & some even 
demand "distance" from adults.
        * Friendship is valued over acceptance by the entire peer group.
        * signpost: Having a best friend who is not the same age or sex correlates with being rejected or 
ignored & being unhappy.

The Rejected Child

    Aggressive-rejected children are actively rejected by their peer group because of their aggressive 
confrontational behavior. They
        *  remain oblivious to their lack of acceptance.
         *  overestimate their social competence.
          *  are implosive, immature, & likely to misinterpret social situations.
    Withdrawn-rejected children are actively rejected by their peer group because of their withdrawn, 
anxious behavior. Most are aware of their social isolation. Their low self-esteem
        *  reduces academic achievement.
         *  disrupts family relationships.
          *  make then vulnerable to bullying.
    Well-liked children assume social slights are usually accidental & not intended for harm. They seek 
compromise when dealing with social problems.

                                  Stages of Moral Development 

Kohlberg's levels & stages of moral development:

Level 1. Preconventional (Self-Interest)

    * Stage 1: The Stage of Punishment and Obedience "Might makes right"
    * Stage 2: The Stage of Individual Instrumental Purpose & Exchange "Look out for number one"

Level 2. Conventional (Social Approval)

    * Stage 3: The Stage of Mutual Interpersonal Expectations, Relationships & Conformity "good girl" & "nice boy"
    * Stage 4: The Stage of Social System & Conscience Maintenance "Law & Order" 

Level 3. Postconventional (Abstract Ideas)

    * Stage 5: The Stage of Prior Rights & "Social Contract" or Utility
    * Stage 6: The Stage of Universal Ethical Principles "Principled Conscience"

In more detail:

Ψ  Kohlberg's theory of moral reasoning is a stage theory. In other words, everyone goes through the stages 
sequentially without skipping any stage.

Ψ According to Kohlberg most children have a preconventional morality, & most adults have a conventional one. 
Kohlberg estimated that only 20 to 25% of the adult population attains the postconventional level of morality.

Ψ  Movement through these stages are not natural, that is people do not automatically move from one stage to the 
next as they mature. In stage development, movement is effected when cognitive dissonance occurs ... that is when 
a person notices inadequacies in his or her present way of coping with a given moral dilemma.

Ψ  According to stage theory, people cannot understand moral reasoning more than one stage ahead of their own. 
For example, a person in Stage 1 can understand Stage 2 reasoning but nothing beyond that. Therefore, we should
present moral arguments that are only one stage ahead of a person's present level of reasoning to stimulate 
movement to higher stages.

    The first level of moral thinking is that generally found at the elementary school level. In the first stage of this level, 
people behave according to socially acceptable norms because they are told to do so by some authority figure (e.g., 
parent or teacher). This obedience is compelled by the threat or application of punishment. The second stage of this 
level is characterized by a view that right behavior means acting in one's own best interests.

    The second level of moral thinking is that generally found in society, hence the name "conventional." The first stage 
of this level (stage 3) is characterized by an attitude which seeks to do what will gain the approval of others. The second 
stage is one oriented to abiding by the law and responding to the obligations of duty.

    The third level of moral thinking is one that Kohlberg felt is not reached by the majority of adults. Its first stage 
(stage 5) is an understanding of social mutuality and a genuine interest in the welfare of others. The last stage 
(stage 6) is based on respect for universal principles & the demands of individual conscience.

Criticism of Kohlberg's Stages    

    •  The philosophical emphasis on justice & psychological emphasis on reasoning are too narrow & restrictive. 
    •  Does moral reasoning necessarily lead to moral behavior?  Kohlberg's theory is concerned with moral thinking, 
    but there is a big difference between knowing what we ought to do versus our actual actions.
    •  Does Kohlberg's theory overemphasize Western philosophy?  Individualistic cultures emphasize personal rights 
    while collectivistic cultures stress the importance of society and community. Eastern cultures may have different 
    moral outlooks that Kohlberg's theory does not account for. 
    •  Kohlberg's conception of moral development is based on thinking & logic, not on feelings for others. Surely feelings 
    can not be neglected. 
    •  Critics have pointed out that Kohlberg's theory overemphasizes the concept of justice when making moral choices. 
    Other factors such as compassion, caring, & other interpersonal feelings may play an important part in moral reasoning. 
    Gilligan feels that Kohlberg's theory has gender bias & does not consider the "morality of care" only the "morality of justice." 


     Bullying occurs more frequently among boys than girls. Teenage boys are much more likely to bully others 
and to be the targets of bullies. While both boys & girls say others bully them by making fun of the way they 
look or talk, boys are more likely to report being hit, slapped, or pushed. Teenage girls are more often the 
targets of rumors & sexual comments.

     Bullying is the repeated, systematic effort to inflict harm through
        *  physical attack.
        *  verbal attack.
        *  social attack (exclusion - public mocking).
          Bullying was once ( wrongly ) thought to be an unpleasant but normal part of a child's life.
          Every country has bullies & bullying seems to be all pervasive in middle childhood.
        *  Bullied children are anxious, depressed & underachieving.
        *  Bullied children have damaged self-esteem.
        *  Bullies often have popularity & school success.
        *  Bullies often become more hostile, challenging, & in trouble.

     Bullying is often a warning sign that children and teens are heading for trouble & are at risk for serious 
violence. Teens (particularly boys) who bully are more likely to engage in other antisocial/delinquent 
behavior (e.g., vandalism, shoplifting, truancy, & drug use) into adulthood. They are four times more likely 
than nonbullies to be convicted of crimes by age 24, with 60 percent of bullies having at least one 
criminal conviction.

Coping With Problems

Family Support

A functional family nurtures school age children in five essential ways. The are
     1. meets basic needs by providing food, clothes, & shelter.
      2. encourages learning.
       3. develops self-esteem.
        4. nurtures peer friendship.
         5. provides harmony & stability.

Family Style
Open - values contributions from every family member, including children
Closed - one parent "runs the show", best in "hard" times.

     Family Structure is defined as the legal & genetic relationship between adults & their children. 
Two points follow
     1. Structure does NOT determine function or dysfunction. (a dysfunctional family is one where the relationships 
     among family members are not conducive to emotional & physical health). 

     2. Harmony & stability are particularly appreciated by school-age children.

Assessing Stress
    The Likelihood that a problem will adversely affect a child depends on three factors. They are
     1. how may other stresses the child is already experiencing.
      2. how much the stresses affect daily life.
       3. how many protective buffers & coping patterns are in place.

    If a child has to do the following, he or she is being heavily stressed in daily life due to a dysfunctional parent.
        *  Care for themselves.
            *  Contend with the adult’s dysfunction directly.
                *  Care for siblings.
                    *  Keep friends away from the house

Focus on Competency

     If a child has several crucial strengths reasonably good development can be attained even in the face of 
serious problems. Those important competencies follow.
        *  social skills
        *  academic skills
        *  creative skills
    Social support is another important element - ideally a strong bond with a loving & firm parent can see a 
child through. In middle childhood more potential sources of social support are available. 
(from teachers, peers etc.)


A stress-free childhood is NOT necessary to a happy life.

     Research shows that as children grow older, they develop ways ( coping skills ) to deal with stress. Help 
them find the resources they need to do so.


     Divorce may NOT harm children if there is a stable family income.

Key Questions:

1. How does the child's understanding of other people change during the school years, & what difference does this 
make for the child?
2. How does a child's self-understanding change from the preschool years through middle childhood?
3. Why are peer relationships particularly important during the school years?
4. What characteristics distinguish the society of children from the larger adult society?
5. How are the two types of rejected children different?
6. What are some of the consequences of bullying, for the victim and for the bullies?
7. What were the particulars, & the effects, of the anti bulling program that was implemented in Norway ?
8. What are the five essential ways a functional family nurtures school age children?
9. How can school-age children be helped to cope with the stress they encounter as they develop?
10. Why is divorce difficult for children, & how may its impact be reduced? 
11. In your experience what were your specific individual & family characteristics? What cultural & community factors 
helped you cope in middle childhood? What factors tended to have the opposite effect?
                                                       Robert C. Gates