Piaget and How School-age Children Express Feelings

25 Sep

Once upon a time the renowned child psychologist Jean Piaget studied his own children as they progressed from the preschool to the elementary school periods.  We can learn a lot from Piaget if we take his observations of their mental processes and apply them to how children ages six to 12 deal with feelings — how they express various feelings and what the attendant behaviors are.

Piaget called the years from six to 12 the “concrete operational period.” Intellectually, these were the tasks he saw school-age children performing at this stage in their lives:

  1. Decentering: That is, the ability to change perspective — to see a different side to an object or a problem. Unlike the preschool child, this older child no longer feels that s/he is the center of the universe.
  2. Reversibility: That is, the ability to undo something that you have done earlier; for example, “taking back” a chess move.
  3. Conservation: That is, the ability to recognize that the mass of an object remains constant despite its being in different shaped containers or forms; for example, water poured into different containers or a ball of clay formed into different shapes.

Now — on a feeling level — decentering may mean that the school-age child no longer locates a feeling in another person or object. Thus the child begins to acknowledge his/her feelings as his or her own.

Correlating emotional development to Piaget’s history of intellectual development would also address reversibility. The school-age child begins to recognize that feelings may be described in the past, present, or future. This means that feelings may be amended by new knowledge, by one’s physical state, by better communication, and a host of other factors.

Parallel to intellectual and emotional development, the school-age child also develops the ability to think in a more sophisticated way about moral issues. The parent whose judgments had previously been absolute now becomes just one source of knowledge about right and wrong among other sources, such as teachers, community leaders, and peers. Moral judgments are beginning to be pluralistic, and these youngsters are learning to resolve conflicts in a number of ways, none of which may be termed the “absolute answer.”

If you have children in this age group, I hope the above is helpful as a background understanding from which to enjoy and communicate better with YOUR children!

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