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Cognitive Milestones in Child Development ~ Ages 6 – 12

As a child matures, his/her cognitive function matures as well.  Ages 6 to 12 years are rife with major cognitive milestones.  Below are some of the most significant cognitive milestones for this age range and how parents can enhance healthy cognitive development in these areas.

Refinement of gross and fine motor skills

Refinement of motor skills may sound more like a development of muscles than cognition; however, in reality, it involves the development of both muscles and cognition.  A child will have much improved gross and fine motor skills throughout this age range.  This affects balance (think: standing on one foot without tipping over), penmanship (think: the handwriting of a 6-year-old as compared to the handwriting of a 12-year-old), and a host of other physical abilities.

To enhance a child’s healthy development of gross and fine motor skills, parents can enroll the child in dance, gymnastics, or martial arts classes; teach the child yoga; play sports and physical games (i.e., hopscotch) with him/her; draw, paint, sculpt with him/her, etc.

Hormonal Changes

As with the refinement of motor skills, hormonal changes are a combination of biological and cognitive development.  As a child proceeds from 6 to 12 years of age, his/her brain will “tell” his/her body to produce more gender-specific hormones (i.e., estrogen and testosterone).  His/her voice will change.  S/He may develop acne.  S/He may experience emotional changes.

Parents cannot enhance, per se, this development.  However, parents can educate their child about the changes that s/he should expect, minimize the challenges associated with these changes (i.e., begin seeing a dermatologist), and lovingly and patiently reinforce existing boundaries when emotional outbursts occur.

Gender role development

With hormonal changes comes gender role development.  A child will come to identify more strongly by his/her gender.  Sexual attraction develops.  Socialization, personal habits, and a host of other changes manifest related to the gender with which the child associates him-/herself.

To enhance a child’s healthy development of perceived gender role fulfillment and rejection, parents should encourage their child to develop positive gender role models; discuss expectations and boundaries regarding the child’s evolving socialization, personal habits, etc.; and lovingly and patiently reinforce boundaries when transgressions occur.

Ability to establish classifications

Within this age range, a child will refine his/her ability to establish classifications.  For most parents and educators, this manifests in a variety of ways, most notably social stratification.  It is in these years that a child will identify peers as popular, nerdy, brainy, and a host of other descriptives that aid the child in placing the peers in the social stratification.

To enhance a child’s healthy development of classification skills, parents can encourage kindness, empathy, and understanding toward others who are perceived as “different” or “less than”.  Parents can emphasize that all people have goodness within them.  If the child classifies him-/herself in a low social stratification, parents should work to improve the child’s self-esteem by emphasizing the goodness and strengths of the child.

Mental health disorders

Many mental health disorders begin to manifest in this age range.

Parents cannot enhance healthy cognitive development in this respect, but parents can be responsive if they observe early signs of mental health disorders.  By prompt and effective intervention, disruption to the life of the child and the family (caused by the mental health disorder) can be minimized.

Intellectual development

Within this age range, a child will develop a greater cognitive capacity for reasoning, memory, self-knowledge, big-picture thinking, and an understanding of cause-and-effect relationships.

Parents can enhance this skill development by the following techniques.  Parents can speak with their child about their own parental flows of logic on age-appropriate subjects; in doing so, the child becomes aware of reasoning and its potential application to his/her daily life.  Parents can engage the child in memory games, aided by mnemonic devices, to make expanding the child’s memory fun.  Parents can ensure that their child is exposed to a well-rounded variety of influences, encourage the child to discover his/her skills and interests, and ask inquiring questions of the child to encourage the child to understand his/her own interests and motivations.   Parents can speak with their child about how their actions affect other people, animals, organizations, the planet, etc.  As the child progresses from age 6 to age 12, the child will become increasingly able to conceptualize cause-and-effect relationships and exhibit big-picture thinking.

As a child matures from ages 6 to 12, his/her cognitive function matures as well.  The significant cognitive milestones noted above characterize this age range.  Due to the significance of these milestones, parents are well advised to enhance healthy cognitive development in these areas as much as they reasonably can.

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