This guide is intended to provide some context into what you might expect for neuro-typical five-year-old development. Milestones and development are different for everyone.
Knowing what to expect as your child grows can reassure you that your child is on track developmentally and helps you identify any concerns early enough to make a difference. Children develop at their own pace and may skip over some milestones, while others take more time.
Kids do tend to follow some patterns when it comes to their growth and development. They reach milestones in how they play, learn, speak, act, and move. These milestones are behaviors that emerge over time, forming the building blocks for growth and continued learning. Developmental milestones are things most children (75% or more) can do by a certain age. There are four main categories of these types of tasks and skills: language, social and emotional learning, cognitive skills, and physical capabilities.
Your healthcare provider will help you understand whether your child is experiencing delays and how to address them. This is why regular visits to health care providers for all growing children are so important, even if they are not sick. Regular health visits are a chance to check your child’s development. They are also a good time to catch or prevent problems.
What to expect at age six
Ages 6-8 are sometimes called middle childhood. For many, parenting gets a little easier by middle childhood. School-aged children don’t need as much hands-on, constant care as they used to.
That said, your 6-year-old will need your support and guidance as they come into regular contact with a much larger world at school and beyond. It’s normal for children to struggle as they adjust to school and their expanding social lives in their seventh year of life.
Middle childhood is a critical time for children to develop confidence in all parts of their lives – and they do so through their family, friends, school, hobbies, and play. Friendships in particular become more and more important at this age.
The pace of your child’s physical, social, and mental skills may seem to go into hyperdrive as their word expands. Knowing what to expect as your 6-year-old grows and matures can reassure you that your child is on track or alert you to potential concerns. Keep reading to learn how you can love and support your rapidly-developing 6-year-old.
The major developmental milestones for 6-year-olds
Age 6 language and communication milestones
There are many ways that language and communication skills develop in the 6th year of life. Even if your child is slightly delayed in a few of these areas, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have a speech or language delay. If you are concerned your child’s language skills have been slow to develop, ask your child’s teachers and healthcare provider about having a speech and language evaluation.
By age 6, your child may be able to
- Follow a series of 3 commands in a row.
- Speak with correct grammar most of the time.
- Describe their favorite television show, movie, story, or other activity.
- Read some simple words (sight words).
- Give someone else directions.
- Ask questions to get information.
- Use sentences with an average of 4-5 words.
- Maintain the topic of conversation and take turns speaking.
Age 6 social and emotional learning milestones
While temper tantrums and meltdowns may happen less frequently, your 6-year-old is still learning to process big emotions and feelings – albeit in less obvious ways. You may observe them
- Starting to have body awareness and beginning to compare themselves to others.
- Learning to express themselves (and their emotions) well through words.
- Focusing less on themselves and showing more concern for others.
- Understanding and internalizing moral rules of behavior (right/wrong; good/bad; excellent/terrible).
- Understanding that they can feel two emotions at the same time. Example: I like Jenny but hate the nickname she gave me.
- Developing a sense of humor – 6-year-olds love simple jokes, funny books, and rhymes.
Age 6 cognitive skills
Your child’s brain is exploding with new knowledge this year – on average, a 6-year-old learns 5-10 new words daily. However, they may become tired or frustrated when they are having difficulty mastering a new skill in school. Make sure to reassure them that making mistakes is an important part of learning and help them learn to name the emotions they are feeling.
By age 6, your child may be
- Starting reading, spelling, and doing simple addition and subtraction.
- Beginning to understand cause-and-effect relationships.
- Learning to write.
- Starting to grasp the concept of time.
- Able to write their first and last names and short sentences.
- Able to distinguish between fantasy and reality.
- Able to identify the past and the present.
- Understanding that similar items can be grouped together
Age 6 physical and motor skills
Your busy 6-year-old might seem like they are in constant motion, but they are practicing and learning how to coordinate their movements, build their agility, and improve their eye-hand coordination.
Your child at age 6
- Is developing the ability to skip.
- Can jump rope.
- Can catch a ball.
- Can draw a picture of a person with at least eight body parts.
- Can dress themselves but may still need some help with difficult buttons or laces.
- Can tie their shoes.
- Can walk heel-to-toe.
There will be big differences in height, weight, and build among children of this age range. Remember that your family’s genes, nutrition, and activity level affect how and when children grow.
Vaccines for 6-year-olds
At 4-6 years of age, your child should receive vaccines to protect them from the following diseases
- Diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough (pertussis) (DTaP) (5th dose)
- Polio (IPV) (4th dose)
- Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) (2nd dose)
- Chickenpox (Varicella) (2nd dose)
- Influenza (Flu) (every year)
Healthy eating and activity for 6-year-olds
- Prioritize serving breakfast, even if it has to be “on the run.”
- Take advantage of big appetites after school by serving snacks with variety and protein such as fruit and nuts, vegetables and hummus, yogurt, or cheese and crackers.
- Serve your child a well-balanced diet with lean protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.
- Kids this age can have up to 16-20 ounces a day of cow’s milk or a fortified soy or pea milk. No sweetened or flavored milks of any kind are recommended. If your child eats a varied diet, milk may not be necessary.
- If whole fruit isn’t an option, 100% juice might be okay. A small amount (4-6 ounces of juice) in this case is an alternative to whole fruit when necessary. Avoid food and drinks high in sugar, salt, and fat.
- Baby teeth start to fall out around age 6 to be replaced by permanent adult teeth. Make sure you are assisting with brushing and flossing twice a day, with regular dental care at the dentist based on your child’s needs. Children don’t have the dexterity to effectively brush independently until about age 8.
- Your 6-year-old should get at least 1 hour of physical activity every day, ideally outdoors. Inactivity in school-age children is linked to a risk for obesity and heart disease in adults.
- Make physical activity part of your family’s daily routine by taking family walks or playing active games together. Getting children outside for unstructured play is great for their imaginations and their bodies!
- If your child is interested, sports, dance, or other types of healthy movement can be beneficial.
- Your child should get between 9-12 hours of sleep every night. Lack of sleep can cause behavioral problems and make it hard to pay attention at school.
Keeping your 6-year-old safe
- Depending on your child’s weight and height, it may be time to adjust your carseat’s position or move to a booster. Every seat has specific instructions, so it’s important to check your manual or their website to stay current and safe. Car seat safety is based on height and weight, not age!
- Teach your child how to cross the street independently (looking both ways, listening for traffic), but help your child cross the street until age ten or older.
- Make sure your child always wears a helmet when riding a bike (even one with training wheels), scooter, or skateboard. Also, don’t allow your child to ride in the street.
- Always supervise your child around water, and consider having your child take a swimming class.
- Teach your child what to do in an emergency, including how and when to call 911.
- Protect your child from secondhand smoke, which increases the risk of heart and lung disease. Secondhand vapor from e-cigarettes is also harmful.
- Gun safety: If you have a gun, keep it unloaded and locked away. Ammunition should be locked up. If your child has playdates at other houses, always ask if their family owns a gun and how it’s stored.
- Discuss appropriate touch. Teach them about private body parts that other people, except for their parents and healthcare provider, should not see or touch. Tell your child to tell you if someone asks to look at or touch their private parts, is ever asked to look at or touch someone else’s, or is asked to keep a secret from you. Use correct terminology for body parts like “penis” and “vagina.”
After age 5, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend a certain number of hours of screen time according to a child’s age. Instead, it emphasizes the importance of parents or guardians setting consistent limits for screen time and the types of media viewed. In addition, parents need to make sure that your child’s screen time does not take the place of sleep, physical activity, or other healthy behaviors. High quality programming is a great alternative to short clips or Youtube videos.
- Have ongoing communication about digital citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.
- Don’t let your 6-year-old go online without supervision. You wouldn’t let them have a play date without an adult present, right? The social skills they bring to the online world are the same ones they have (or don’t have) in real life.
- Wait to introduce your 6-year-old to virtual worlds – they are still learning the difference between the imaginary and real worlds.
- Use parental controls when necessary to limit the content your 6-year-old watches.
- Try keeping devices in a central location (like a charging station in the kitchen). Having a designated device parking lot makes it easier for you and other family members to keep track of your 6-year-old as they play online.
- Review all apps and sites yourself before you let your kids use them and download them.
Conversation starters and parenting hacks for your 6-year-old
Questions to ask your 6-year-old:
- If you won $500, what would you do with it?
- If you wrote a book, what would it be about?
- If you could make three family rules, what would they be?
- What do you feel grateful for today? Cultivating gratitude in school-aged children has been shown to help children be more thankful and happier.
Ways to help them grow and develop:
- Allow your child to help with meal planning and preparation. Giving your 6-year-old opportunities to master skills like cooking will develop a sense of competence.
- Develop a family attitude toward body positivity. Avoid weight teasing of any kind, and focus on health and wellness instead of physical appearance or weight. If you have concerns about their weight, discuss these with their pediatric provider without them present.
- Continue reading to your child. As your child learns to read, take turns reading to each other.
- Reinforce rules and set appropriate limits. At this age, it’s normal for kids to test the boundaries of established rules.
- Playing simple table games that rely on chance rather than skills such as cards, dominoes, and tic-tac-toe. Playing these games helps your 6-year-old develop an understanding of rules.
- Teach by speaking out loud to yourself (so your child will hear) about a problem and how to resolve it. Example: My library book is due tomorrow, and I don’t want to pay a late fine, so I will return it early today when we are out doing errands.
- School-age children should participate in family chores, such as setting the table, putting dirty laundry in a laundry basket, or feeding pets.
- Keep close communication with teachers, other school employees, and parents of your child’s friends, so you are aware of possible problems.
You might have noticed that by age 6, many kids are becoming more independent from their parents. They will try to show how big they are. Kids this age are working to understand more about what “big people” do — discoveries that make them feel both confident and confused and can even lead them to do things that might be dangerous or wrong.
Parenting a 6-year-old takes patience and empathy. Try to understand that your child is still a big little kid — not yet a master at self-discipline and self-control. Prepare yourself (and your child) for the inevitable mistakes or slip-ups. Then, you can both learn from their mistakes. Power struggles are common with 6-year-olds, so make sure to pick your battles, and give them plenty of “yes” moments.
Resist the urge to compare your child to others or to some “standard” you’ve heard about. Remember, all children are different and unique, especially your 6-year-old.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- Astill RG, Van der Heijden KB, Van Ijzendoorn MH, Van Someren EJ. Sleep, cognition, and behavioral problems in school-age children: a century of research meta-analyzed. Psychol Bull. 2012;138(6):1109-1138. doi:10.1037/a0028204.
- “Child Development.” MedlinePlus. National Library of Medicine. April 14, 2016. https://medlineplus.gov/childdevelopment.html.
- COUNCIL ON COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA, Hill D, Ameenuddin N, Reid Chassiakos YL, Cross C, Radesky J, et al. “Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents.” Pediatrics November 2016; 138 (5): e20162592. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-2592.
- “How Much Sleep Do I Need?” CDC. March 2, 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html.
- “How Much Physical Activity Do Children Need?” CDC. June 3, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/children/index.htm.
- Knorr, Caroline. “Parents Ultimate Guide to Parental Controls.” Common Sense Media. March 9, 2021. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/articles/parents-ultimate-guide-to-parental-controls
- Lamberg, Erica. “6 Lessons in Body Positivity to Teach Children By Age 5,” Parents. January 12, 2021. https://www.parents.com/kids/problems/body-issues/lessons-in-body-positivity-to-teach-your-child-by-age-5/
- McGuire, B. “Digital Citizenship: What it is, how to teach it, and the resources you need,” American College of Education. January 8, 2019. https://www.ace.edu/blog/post/2019/01/08/digital-citizenship-what-it-means-how-to-teach-it-and-the-resources-you-need.
- “Middle Age Child Development (6-8 Years Old.” CDC. February 22, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/positiveparenting/middle.html.
- “Milestones for 6-Year-Olds.” C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, University of Michigan Health. May 27, 2020. https://www.mottchildren.org/health-library/ue5723
- Munshi, Datti. “How to Practice Gratitude and Improve Your Family’s Mental Health.” American Academy of Pediatrics. September 29, 2021. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Building-Resilience/Pages/how-to-practice-gratitude.aspx.
- “School-aged Children Development.” MedlinePlus. October 20, 2020. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002017.htm.
- “School-Aged Child Nutrition.” Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Johns Hopkins. 2022. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/schoolaged-child-nutrition.
- “Vaccines at 4 to 6 Years.” Vaccines for Your Children. CDC. February 25, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/by-age/years-4-6.html
- “What Are Some Basic Gaming and Social Media Rules for Elementary Schoolers? Common Sense Media. July 6, 2022. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/articles/what-are-some-basic-gaming-and-social-media-rules-for-elementary-schoolers.
- “Your Child’s Checkup- 6 Years. Nemours Health. April 2021. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/checkup-6yrs.html.