At this age, children are becoming far less egocentric and are beginning to be able to more reliably see things from another’s perspective. They are also becoming more social beings; they begin to adopt a more social ‘world view’, becoming more genuinely interested in others and in the world around them.
Children during this stage become more interested in friendships and can name one or two friends, although friendships tend to be opportunistic and can change frequently. They begin to understand that not everyone sees the world in the same way that they do, and demonstrate the ability to take turns and share. However, these new abilities can break down under pressure, so children of this age will still need to be supervised during cooperative play.
It is normal at this stage for a child to use their developing language skills to interact socially, ask questions of others, and lead imaginative play, rather than just to demand things from adults. They are increasingly interested in the world around them, and questioning is very common.
Children at this age are able to more reliably distinguish between what is imaginary and what is real, although they will still enjoy engaging in ‘make believe’. While imaginary play is still important, their play is more elaborate and less repetitive than in earlier years. For example, a child of this age might play more cooperatively and interactively with friends, as opposed to the parallel play1 that characterises younger children. In imaginary play, children are likely to allocate roles to themselves and their friends and act out characters from books, television or movies. Play can be used as a means to ‘try out’ different role and gender identities.
During this stage, children begin to move away from defining themselves in concrete and absolute terms (e.g. ‘I’m the best runner’), and move towards understanding themselves in more dimensional ways (e.g. ‘I’m the best runner but I’m not the best at drawing’).
A child of this age will normally agree to follow the rules in home and school settings, although they might expect to have input about the ‘fairness’ of rules and the order in which household tasks are done. They are beginning to develop their own internalised sense of right and wrong – a sense of ‘conscience’ – but may need support to consistently apply this in situations that rely on cooperation and sharing.
This is an age where learning difficulties and difficulty in emotional regulation start to emerge, with the increase in social and learning expectations introduced by the school environment. During this stage, there is an expectation that children will have mastered the foundational gross and fine motor skills necessary to take part in educational activities. Unidentified delays in these areas can cause a child to feel frustrated with the kind of activities that others enjoy.