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Middle Childhood: Between Early Childhood and Adolescence

When I first began studying and teaching developmental psychology, I didn't have much interest in this period, and, neither, it seemed, did many other people. We can't even decide on what it is called. Some textbooks call it "later childhood", others refer to the period following early childhood as "middle childhood". Some textbooks state that this period extends from ages five to eleven, others say six to twelve.


 One of the phrases most likely to annoy me is "Scientists have proven" or "Psychologists have shown". As you will learn in your college career ­ if you haven't already ­ you are required to provide citations to specific reference sources that you used when you make blanket statements like this. That is only a small part of what irritates me, however. The larger part is that these statements are often followed by something far from proven, and, in many cases, dead wrong. A common case in point is the statement

"Psychology has proven conclusively that 80% of development occurs before age three."


 Aside from the grammatical incorrectness of an inanimate field (psychology) proving anything, there is:
A) Not conclusive proof ­ lots of articles argue one way or the other about the importance of early experience. When the early-experience-as-critical-period phase was just getting started, Clarke and Clarke wrote a book on the myth of early experience. Among other points, they noted that, while it is true that there is a correlation between children’s early environment and later development, there is also a correlation between their early environment and later environment. A child who was abused or neglected at age two rarely finds him or herself in a perfect home environment at age nine (unless the child was adopted). Unfortunately, children who are living in poverty at eighteen months of age are often still living in poverty at age ten. So, how can we say with certainty that it is the early childhood period that caused their reading delay, learning disability or behavior problem? The answer, according to the Clarkes, is that, obviously, we cannot.

IS MIDDLE CHILDHOOD REALLY BORING? Infants grow at an astounding rate. They learn to walk, grasp and to recognize their parents and other special persons during infancy. Children learn language and develop a concept of self in early childhood. Adolescents try our souls - they experiment with drugs, kill themselves or others at an alarming rate. In contrast, middle childhood is seen as somewhat boring. They just sort of plod along. Freud called this the "latency period", between when children are fascinated with their genitals (the phallic stage at ages three through seven) and when they are showing interests in the opposite sex, during adolescence. During the latency stage, children suppressed their sexual feelings. He didn't say much why this should be so. I have heard some Freudians say it is because so much else is going on during this period that  there is not time to be distracted with sexual feelings. What sorts of something else is going on?

For a hint, follow the link below to the
Middle Childhood Article from Developmental Psychology Netletter (notice that they say on this page that middle childhood extends 7-12 years.) Bright Futures is a collaboration of several government and corporate health-related organizations.


Click here for the Bright Futures home page. You may want to look at their other information on middle childhood or other developmental periods from infancy through adolescence. I like this page because it provides lots of practical information in a straightforward manner.

Bright Futures: Middle Childhood: Bright Futures in Practice contains chapters explaining what characterizes middle childhood and what is necessary to successfully move into adolescence.

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