School-Ager Set Point

The school-age years can be very busy with a flurry of activity for kids and added responsibilities for parents as they try to keep up! Depending on the age and temperament of your child, the school years can be both challenging and exciting, all at the same time.

Consider a school-age child who is curious, energetic, and ready to explore everything offered in and out of school time! For every child like this, we can also find a child who is more cautious, who finds the busyness of school overwhelming, or even overstimulating.

It is a fine dance for teachers, parents, and family members to provide the appropriate amount of stimulation, education, and opportunities all while supporting individual differences of kids.

Routines continue to be a valued asset for school-age kids, who need at least 8 or more hours of sleep, and healthy nutrition coupled with plenty of time for play. Spending time outdoors can provide both opportunities for play and additional exercise. Riding bikes, exploring a nature preserve, or hiking with friends are a few things that school-age children may like to do.

Routines help kids to know what to expect and when to expect them. So, for school-age children, knowing what time the bus arrives to pick them up can help them decide how early to get up and get ready while leaving time to eat some breakfast. For the school-age child who is sleepy in the morning, their routine may look different and that is ok. Perhaps they sleep a few minutes longer and choose to eat breakfast at school.

Knowing and respecting the individual differences of all kids and families can help everyone plan for and enjoy a successful school experience.

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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Lori Korthals, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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How To Talk with Kids about COVID-19

We are parenting in an unprecedented time, and that means our kids have unprecedented questions and concerns. Knowing how much to tell them is seriously tough. What is appropriate to tell my three year old? And what am I supposed to tell my school-ager who wants to go over to a friend’s house? And how do I talk with my teenager about all rumors they have heard floating around?

Well at The Science of Parenting we focus on sharing research-based information that fits your family. So we have put together some trustworthy resources that guide you in having these tough conversations with your kids. Check them out below (and look for more information on our COVID-19 webpage for parents).

Centers for Disease Control and PreventionTalking with Children about Coronavirus Disease 2019 General tips for talking with our children based on the most current facts we have about the pandemic

Department of Family Science from the University of Marylandthese pages provide parents with specific questions to ask and words to use based on your child’s age.

Zero to Three Answer Your Young Child’s Questions about Coronavirus
This website provides specific language parents can use to answer questions that young children may have.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (free download of PDF on the right side) – Talking with Children: Tips for Caregivers, Parents, and Teachers During Infectious Disease Outbreaks
This resource looks at how children of different ages may be reacting to the outbreak and provides tips for talking with each age group.

Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

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Responding to Everyday Emotional Reactions in School Age Children

boy refusing to eat food

You know those moments when your kids have mild negative emotional reactions – like when your school age child whines about doing homework, gets in your face to MAKE you look at something, or has a little attitude about cleaning up a mess? These little emotionally charged moments aren’t a huge dispute, and they don’t mean that your child doesn’t respect you. It’s just a brief second where your child’s negative emotions just got a little ahead of them.

But how should we handle these little moments of anger or sadness or attitude? A recent study in the journal Family Relations explored this question!

Sometimes parents might gravitate toward a negative verbal response to these little moments – we might be critical of our child’s behavior (“you shouldn’t whine”), make negative statements about it (“grow up”), or verbally dismiss what our child said (“too bad”). But this study found that these parent negative verbal reactions actually increased the likelihood of children to do MORE negative behavior (whether it be whining, attitude, or whatever else).

On the flip side, some parents might try to offer some emotional support to their child. This is sometimes called emotion coaching – where you take the opportunity to validate your child, label the emotion, and help them problem solve (which is something we really work on with our younger children, right?) Previous research has suggested that supportive statements from parents can help decrease negative reactions from a child, but this study did not find a relationship between the supportive statements and these everyday type of negative interactions with school age children. The researchers suggest that maybe these supportive statements are more helpful with bigger outbursts rather than the everyday mild negative reactions.

Wait – if we aren’t responding negatively AND if being emotionally supportive doesn’t seem to make a difference in changing our child’s response, what are we actually supposed to do? Well according to this study, ignoring these little emotional reactions in our school age kiddos may be our best bet!

So next time you’ve had a long day, and your elementary age child is pushing your last button with that mild little negative emotional response, remember to just ignore it (which, I mean, at the end of a hard day sometimes it’s easier to ignore it than to engage in a emotion coaching type of situation anyway – parent win!). Ignoring your child’s little negative response may just give them the chance to practice their own emotion regulation skills!

Source: Sperling, J., & Repetti, R. L. (2018). Understanding Emotion Socialization Through Naturalistic Observations of Parent–Child Interactions. Family Relations, 67(3), 325-338. Retrieved from

Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

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Dogs, cats, chickens, hamsters

I considered myself a lucky kid. I grew up on a farm with lots of space for animals. Pets were just a normal part of life. The fish, turtles, and hamsters shared our home. The cats occupied the back steps while the chickens and dogs roamed the yard.  They were our companions and playmates. It was never a question if we were old enough to have a pet; they just kept coming!

But for most parents these days, the question of when to get a child a pet is worth some discussion. One point for consideration is what is your purpose for having the pet. Is it for companionship and play? Or do you want your child to take responsibility for part or all of it’s care?

Let’s start at the beginning. Babies aren’t old enough to handle or take care of pets. Toddlers want to touch and grab pets. As the kids grow into the preschool age years, they are able to better understand how to handle a pet and fill the water and food dishes. I suspect that the “I wanna dog” (or whatever) gene really kicks in during the elementary years.

The good news is that school-age kids are old enough to assume some pet chores and can play with the pets responsibly. The bad news is that this age children may have short attention spans and change their minds often. So that dog wanted now may be not so much fun three months later. Preteens and teens have the capabilities to be responsible. But they are also getting into the “busy” years and pets will have to compete for their time. To keep your dog happy and healthy, there is an exercise dog toy that you can get.

As children progress through the elementary years, their desire for a pet often solidifies into a more earnest wish. While they may be capable of assuming some pet chores and playing responsibly, the challenge lies in their evolving interests and attention spans. What once seemed like an exciting prospect may lose its appeal after a few months. However, for families committed to providing their furry friends with the care they deserve, introducing engaging and stimulating activities, such as exercise dog toys, can be a solution. These toys not only keep dogs physically active but also mentally stimulated, catering to the pets’ needs even when the initial enthusiasm wanes.

For those who find themselves deeply passionate about fostering a healthy and happy relationship with their pets, exploring a career in dog grooming can be a rewarding endeavor. As preteens and teens navigate their busy years, the responsibility of caring for pets can evolve into a valuable skill set. Becoming a dog groomer allows individuals to merge their love for animals with a fulfilling profession. For those interested in pursuing a career in dog grooming, exploring educational opportunities can provide essential knowledge and hands-on experience. To embark on this exciting journey, visit, where you can find valuable resources and information to kickstart your path in the world of pet care. So, take the first step towards a rewarding career in dog grooming and witness the transformative bond that can be forged between groomer and pet.

So, no matter your decision as to when to add a pet to your family, realize that  as the parent you have the final responsibility for its care and well-being.

Note: Check out the ASPCA web site for some good thoughts about the right pet for your child’s age.

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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