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Your guide to age eight

This guide is intended to provide some context into what you might expect for neuro-typical eight-year-old development. Milestones and development are different for everyone.

You may have heard the saying “bigger kid, bigger problems.” Your eight-year-old might make you want to say this. As they grow bigger, life can become complicated for 8-year-olds navigating the transition from early to middle childhood. Their push for more independence may bring some conflict, but the good news is that they are also a ton of fun to hang out with as they learn and explore all the world has to offer.

Eight-year-old brains are still relatively immature, meaning that while they may be thinking complex thoughts, they are also easily distracted and unable to follow your directions. Another example of their brain immaturity is how their growing sense of awareness causes fear and anxiety. So they still need your help to make sense of things when they don’t understand tough topics so that they don’t become afraid or anxious.

Eight-year-olds’ emotional mood swings can be challenging for parents and kids, especially once puberty hormones enter the mix. While they want to be treated as grown-ups, at the end of a huge meltdown or rough day, your 8-year-old still wants to be comforted. Some frustrated parents have been known to call this time the “extreme eights,” but not to worry, this helpful guide will give you the information you need to weather the “eights” with confidence and successful parenting.

The major developmental milestones for 8-year-olds

Age 8 language and communication milestones

Usually, kids will understand more vocabulary words and concepts than they can express. If you are concerned your child’s communication skills may be deficient or slow to develop, ask your child’s teachers and health care provider about having a speech and language evaluation.

By age 8, your child may be able to

  • Follow more commands in a row than they could at age 7.
  • Know more than 3,000 different words.
  • Have a stranger understand their speech nearly all of the time.
  • Spell frequently-used words correctly.
  • Begin sentences with capital letters and attempt to use punctuation.
  • Create rhyming words.
  • Identify letters, words, and sentences.

Age 8 social and emotional learning milestones

It is normal for your 8-year-old to make mistakes as they fine-tune their social and emotional skills. Look for teachable moments where you can help your kids do better.

You may observe them

  • Showing more independence from parents and family members.
  • Emotionally needing to have friends
  • Understanding other people’s points of view more clearly.
  • Being more concerned about their appearance and even requesting a specific hairstyle or clothes to wear.
  • Being more cooperative.
  • Experiencing peer pressure.
  • Needing alone time or a break from social situations.
  • Better able to handle emotions such as anger, frustrations, or disappointments.
  • Looking for a hug or other physically comforting gestures from you or other caregivers during stressful situations.

Age 8 cognitive skills

It is normal for school to become more challenging for all 8-year-olds as the academic load increases. However, school struggles could be a sign of a learning disability, attention problems, or being bullied. Talk to your child’s teacher about your concerns so that your child can get the help needed to learn to love learning and school.

By age 8, your child may be

  • Listening attentively in group situations.
  • Able to summarize a story they have read correctly and completely.
  • Enjoying reading for pleasure, hooray!
  • Reading grade-level books fluently.
  • Using abstract thinking and symbols in complex math problems.
  • Adding and subtracting numbers in the 1,000’s.
  • Understanding fractions.
  • Able to tell time and show a better understanding of how long time increments are (i.e., the difference between 20 minutes and 2 hours).
  • Able to focus longer on a single task.
  • Able to count backward.
  • Able to correctly list the days of the week and months of the year.

Age 8 physical and motor skills

Age 8 is when physical and motor skills become more precise and fine-tuned. You’ll be amazed to watch your child deftly make jewelry, hit a baseball, land a cartwheel, or play a stringed instrument. But unfortunately, more independence and less adult supervision can put 8-year-olds at risk for injuries from falls and other accidents.

Your child at age 8

  • Will have more fluid motor skills, and you will notice them turning, spinning, and jumping more smoothly and with more coordination.
  • Should be able to dress and groom themselves completely.
  • Can play with a ball and throw it with strength and accuracy.
  • Will have improved muscle strength and endurance and become more skilled at athletics.
  • Will have smaller and neater handwriting with all letters the same size.
  • Can learn how to play a musical instrument.
  • Able to cut out irregularly-shaped objects with scissors.

Vaccines for 8-year-olds

If your 8-year-old is up to date on all of the recommended vaccines, there are only two additional vaccines they may receive this year. They are:

  • Influenza (Flu): Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine every year.
  • COVID-19 (boosters as directed by the current CDC recommendations)

If your child missed a vaccine, now is a good time for them to catch up. Make an appointment for a catch-up vaccine so that they can be protected against any of the following diseases: Tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough (pertussis) (Tdap), Hepatitis A (HepA), Hepatitis B (HepB), Polio (IPV), Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), and Chickenpox (Varicella).

Healthy eating and activity for 8-year-olds

  • Serve your child a well-balanced diet with lean protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese or fortified soy beverages.
  • Encourage your child to eat a variety of fresh, canned, frozen, or dried fruits — rather than fruit juice.
  • Aim to provide a variety of vegetables, including dark green, red, and orange, beans and peas, starchy, and others, each week. Avoid food and drinks high in sugar, salt, and fat.
  • A healthy after-school snack can help kids focus on homework and give them the energy they need for active play, sports, or other after-school activities — Pack healthy snacks for kids who aren’t coming home right away.
  • If you have an early dinner time, skip the afternoon snack and try offering the salad or vegetable you make for dinner earlier to take the edge off their hunger.
  • Your 8-year-old should get at least 1 hour of physical activity every day.
  • Encourage your child to spend unstructured time outdoors. If they’re interested in dance, sports or another activity, this is a great time to think about enrolling them.
  • Your child should get between 9-12 hours of sleep every night. 

Keeping your 8-year-old safe

  • Keep your child in a belt-positioning booster seat in the back seat until they’re at least 4 feet 9 inches (150 cm) tall. Kids usually reach this height when they’re 8–12 years old. Check your booster seat for height and weight guidelines, and always reach out to your pediatric provider with questions.
  • Help your child cross the street until age ten or older.
  • Make sure your child always wears a helmet when riding a bike, scooter, or skateboard. Also, don’t allow your child to ride in the street. Injuries are the biggest threat to your child’s safety in the early school years.
  • Always supervise your child around water, and consider having your child take a swimming class.
  • Protect your child from secondhand smoke, which increases the risk of heart and lung disease. Secondhand vapor from e-cigarettes is also harmful.
  • Know where your child is and which responsible adult is present. Make plans with your child for when they will call you, where you can find them, and when you expect them home.

Screen time

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not have specific screen time recommendations for children over five years. Instead, they advise creating a family media plan with your 8-year-old to help set expectations. Regularly review your family media plan and your child’s screen time. Make sure online play is balanced with offline play and other activities that are good for your kid’s physical, emotional, and mental health.

  • Reminding your 8-year-old that not everything they read or see on the internet is true or real, and that commercials and ads are often not “true.”
  • Teach them not to talk to strangers online and to tell you if a stranger tries to talk with them online.
  • Remember parental controls can keep your 8-year-old from watching what they aren’t yet ready to watch or see.
  • Install parental permission notifications and review all apps, sites, and shows your child is requesting before allowing them to download or watch them.
  • Regularly check the browser history to see what websites your child visits.
  • Teach your child never to share private information online, and check in on their activity regularly and without warning.

Conversation starters and parenting hacks for your 8-year-old

Questions to ask your 8-year-old

  • What three words best describe you?
  • What made you really proud today?
  • What do you think parents or teachers can do to help stop bullying?
  • If you could write a different ending for the book you are reading right now, what would it be?
  • Why do you think some kids smoke or take drugs?
  • What is your biggest worry?

Ways to help them grow and develop

  • Develop a family attitude toward body positivity. Having a comfortable relationship with their bodies is the foundation for healthy sexuality in later years.
  • Don’t forget about family dance parties for fun movement! When you ask your child to help you come up with a dance for a particular song, they’re bonding with you and moving their body.  
  • Continue reading to your child, even if they are reading independently. Create a reading-friendly home and be a role model by reading yourself. Talk with them about the books you are reading and ask them about their books (see questions above).
  • Reinforce rules and set appropriate limits even if your 8-year-old is becoming more independent or trying to push boundaries.
  • Kids who do chores learn responsibility and gain valuable life skills that will serve them well throughout their lives. In addition, doing chores helps children feel more competent and like they are a part of a team.
  • Keep close communication with teachers, other school employees, and parents of your child’s friends so you are aware of possible problems.
  • Help your child be a positive role model by standing up to bullying behavior. Even if your 8-year-old is not the victim of the bullying, teach them how important being an upstander is –  they can stick up for a victim, offer support, or question bullying behaviors. Role play this and other tough scenarios at home. Bullying can have harmful and long-lasting consequences for children.

All children, especially some 8-year-olds, seem to have an endless craving for information. Their questions can be surprising, exhausting, and even upsetting. When you feel put on the spot, it’s okay to stall for time, so long as you follow up. Try saying: “That’s a good question. I want to make sure that I have the right answer for you. Can we talk about it more when you come home?” Never get upset at your child for raising any topic.

When you are ready to answer their questions, give them only small bits of information at a time. It is easy for adults to over-explain. Instead, try starting with, “What have you heard about [the topic of the question]?” so you know where your child is starting from. Don’t be afraid to talk to your kids about tough topics like peer pressure, bullying, drug use, and sexuality. Find age-appropriate ways to answer your child’s questions without adding to confusion or fear.

It’s important as parents to ask your children questions from time to time. Presenting your 8-year-old with thoughtful questions can help expand their views and make them more open-minded. In addition, you can learn more about them and how to ease or guide their transition from the “extreme eights” towards their tween and teenager years.

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team


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