Raising a school-age child and mental health (ages 6 to 8)

At ages 6, 7 and 8 a whole new world opens up for you and your school-age child.

This can be both an exciting and stressful time.

Your child has new school routines, teachers and classroom peers. They might also be trying out new behaviours and ways to express themselves.

These are signs of your child’s growing independence. There’s lots you can do to support their social and emotional development.

This includes tuning into your own mental health and wellbeing.

When you look after yourself, you also help your child relate well to themselves and others.
Illustration of children at school looking at a world globe

Understanding your school-age child

Your school-age child is making new friends. They’re also forming relationships with teachers and other adults.

As well, they’re:
  • considering their own achievements
  • taking on more responsibility
  • realising actions have consequences
  • seeing things from another's perspective.
Visit the Emerging Minds website to learn about typical development for school-age children.

Sense of self

A child’s sense of self is shaped by their thoughts and feelings about themselves as they interact with others and the world.

Once they start school, your child's identity continues to develop through experiences outside the family.

You can build a solid foundation for your child’s sense of self and self-esteem by:
  • helping them manage their emotions
  • giving them meaningful tasks to complete so they can feel competent and confident
  • supporting friendships and relationships with their peers
  • creating opportunities for personal challenge
  • building a good relationship between school and home.
Visit the Raising Children Network website to learn more about fostering children's self-esteem.

Sense of right and wrong

Your school-age child is beginning to develop their reasoning about right and wrong.

You might notice they have a growing sense of fairness – that’s part of this development. You might also notice that they begin to question rules more or want to take part in making them.

You have a crucial role to play in helping your child develop their sense of right and wrong. You can also help them understand consequences.

You can encourage the values you want to see in your children by:
  • being a role model for the values you want to see
  • talking to them about your beliefs and values.


Fostering communication skills

Good communication skills help set your child up for strong, respectful relationships. It also helps them feel they can ask for support when they need it.

It’s important to model effective communication skills so your children can learn from you.
  • Take notice of the times your child does talk. Use these times to get a conversation going.
  • Make talking part of your everyday routine. Listen without getting distracted.
  • Try to have meals together, as often as you can.
  • Let your child talk about whatever interests them (even if it isn’t the most exciting topic for you).
  • Talk about your interests and the things that make you happy with your children.
  • Communicate through actions, as well as words. Show affection in the way your child likes.
  • Let your children know that they can talk to you about anything. This will help as they become more independent.
  • When managing conflict, listen carefully. Rather than blaming, explain your own feelings and views (“I’m disappointed that…” or “I’m upset that …”).
Visit the Raising Children Network website to find out how to teach children conversation skills.

Managing emotions

As they learn new social norms, it’s natural for your school-age child to experience more complex emotional situations.

You can help your child understand and manage their emotions by:
  • observing and asking about their feelings, such as “You seem sad. Are you?”
  • planning ahead with your child for a new or tricky situation
  • praising them when they do well and encouraging them when they don’t
  • allowing them to make decisions so they know their feelings and thoughts matter
  • giving them responsibilities (for example, chores) so they feel a sense of accomplishment.

Talking about difficult emotions

If your child is having ongoing difficulties with their emotions, encourage them to talk about it.

It can help to talk while your child is engaged in a calming activity, such as drawing.

Listen carefully. Find out if their moods are a reaction to a particular situation or a more serious and ongoing concern.

If you’re worried about your child’s mental health, seek early support.

Find out the signs of anxiety and depression in children.

Scary stuff in the news

Our phones, TVs and social media feeds are constantly feeding us news.

This helps us stay informed. It also means children may see or hear upsetting news in the media.

Monitor what your school-age child is seeing and reading so you can manage any anxiety or fears. Support them to understand what’s happening.

Here are 5 tips:

Be aware of what children are taking in.
  • Help them understand what they’ve come across.
  • Provide plenty of reassurance.
  • Focus on the helpers (for example, emergency workers and volunteers).
  • Take care of yourself.

Visit the Raising Children Network website to learn more about the impact of distressing news events.

Conflict with siblings

Sibling conflict and rivalry is natural and can happen at any age or stage.

In families where children feel they are treated fairly by their parents, rates of sibling rivalry are lower.

Remember that being fair doesn’t mean treating children equally. When dealing with sibling conflict:
  • stay calm and talk to them
  • acknowledge how your children are feeling in the moment
  • aim to get to the root of the problem (try to avoid the blaming and finger-pointing)
  • tailor negotiation and rewards to each child’s need.
Conflict between siblings can be frustrating. It’s also an opportunity to teach skills in conflict resolution and negotiation.

Check out the Raising Children Network website to find out more about handling sibling fights .

Encouraging independence

As they enter their school years, your child starts to assess themselves. As well, they compare their own performance to others.

They also might take the time to see where they fit in a group.

While some children are confident trying new things, others need a bit more encouragement.

Here are some tips to encourage independence:
  • be positive about their friendships, especially ones they’ve made themselves
  • establish clear limits and boundaries (talk about and update family rules and rituals together)
  • let your child make mistakes (try to avoid taking over)
  • help them to challenge their self-critical thoughts (draw attention to their strengths and progress they’ve made in challenging areas)
  • provide enough supervision to ensure they’re safe from harm – to themselves and other children.


Creating opportunities for personal challenge

Undertaking personal challenges will help build your child’s confidence.

You can help by identifying opportunities that are appropriate for your child’s age, abilities and maturity. You also need to consider your own comfort level.

It may be useful to ask yourself (or to discuss with other parents) these questions.
  • What risks have you let your child take in the past?
  • What was the outcome?
  • Would you encourage your child to take a similar risk again?

Strategies for personal challenge

There are many ways you can teach your child to challenge themselves.
  • Encourage your child to ‘have a go.’ This shows them how to try new things.
  • Give your child opportunities to experience ‘everyday’ adversity, such as losing in a game.
  • Encourage free play to help them explore.
  • Help your child practise reframing any negative self-talk when things don’t go well.
  • Help your child develop strategies to deal with difficult situations.
  • Explore activities for adventure or growth.
  • Teach your child how to gradually extend themselves. Start with a small challenge and build on it.

Risk in play

Adventurous play is a great way for your child to test their limits and develop confidence.

It can also show them how to try new things and tolerate failure, which can contribute to their resilience.

Watch this video by Raising Children Network to learn more about risk in play and child development.


For school-age children, having friends creates a sense of belonging.

Quality friendships can help build a child’s self-esteem and confidence.

Primary school children learn important life skills through playing with others. These include getting along with others, resolving conflict and solving problems.

There are many ways you can teach your child the skills to make friends.
  • Be a good role model for friendship skills. Show your child how to be kind, listen and co-operate with others.
  • Talk to your child about the qualities that make a good friend (for example, kindness).
  • Create opportunities for your child to meet and play with friends outside school hours.
  • Help them discover that peers who might have different interests can still be a friend.
  • Help your child navigate disagreements or conflict. Explain other perspectives and work together to solve the problem.

Supporting the transition to school

Starting school is a major milestone in your child’s life.

Your child might feel excitement or anticipation at starting school or they might feel fear or anxiety.

A successful transition to school is important. It can have a positive impact on your child’s adjustment to school life and be protective for their mental health.

Visit the Raising Children Network website to prepare your child for starting school.

Check out the myGov website to learn more about starting primary school.

Refusing to go to school

Some young children may become anxious about going to school.

Your school-age child might become reluctant to leave the house in the morning. They might show distress, cling to you or cry at drop-off.

Some reasons for a child’s reluctance to attend school include:
  • anxiety
  • low self-esteem
  • difficulty forming friendships
  • difficulty forming friendships
  • bullying
  • negative experiences at school.
This is different from a child’s occasional protest about not wanting to go to school, which is normal.

If you child’s reluctance to attend school is regular and disruptive, it’s important to collaborate with the school to support your child.

Your child might need additional support for their anxiety about attending school. For professional help, a GP or pediatrician can be a good place to start.

You can go to the Parenting Strategies website to download strategies for responding to school reluctance or refusal.

Seeking support for your school aged child

For many children, school-age is often when learning difficulties and challenges managing emotions start to appear.

Here are some practical steps to take if you’ve noticed your child is struggling.
  • Speak with their teacher or school counsellor to share information, gain insights and discover strategies to support them.
  • Start by having a conversation with them about how they’re feeling.
  • If your child’s change of behaviour lasts for more than a few weeks and is interfering with their daily life, speak to a health professional such as a GP.

Get urgent support

If you’re worried about your child’s mental health, get help as soon as possible.
Call 000 in an emergency.

Looking after your mental health and wellbeing

Your child’s early years at school are likely to bring new challenges for both you and your child.

Building a strong relationship with your child while allowing them space to learn independence isn’t easy.

Remember that there’s no such thing as a perfect parent and that you’re also learning with your child.

If you’re struggling with your mental health and wellbeing, it’s important to get the support that’s right for you.

This could include talking to family, friends or a healthcare professional.

Take the anxiety and depression test (K10).

Look after your mental health with our Wellbeing Action Tool.

Get mental health support.

Supporting someone caring for a preschooler

If you know a parent of a preschooler who’s stressed or struggling, asking how they’re doing is a good start.

Use these tips to talk to a parent you’re concerned about.

Further resources

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