The years in between toddlers and teenagers, ages 5 to 12, are supposedly the peaceful ones, not in a physical sense, as children of this age are often very boisterous and noisy, but peaceful in an emotional sense. By this I mean that they have negotiated the difficulties of establishing themselves in the world as separate little beings, and haven’t yet hit the turmoil of adolescence.
These latency years are a time when children can settle down to explore their worlds more, their thoughts and feelings, their friends, the adults around them. They are generally busy, keen and interested. They are not fully developed in their powers of abstract thought, so need to use the world around them in a concrete way to help them to make sense of it. Children of this age will play games with clear rules, will collect objects, such as conkers or the latest card collection. They establish their own sense of order to help them to make sense of the world.
However, these years are not without their anxieties. Some children are still working through earlier anxieties. Also, in the middle of these latency years comes a time when children begin to form their identities, and begin to see themselves in relation to a much bigger world; often, they become aware of their mortality. These are huge realisations to have, and while many children manage them, some need a little more help, especially if their early years weren’t as smooth as one might have hoped. Nightmares can occur at this time, also obsessional behaviour, fear of dying, separation anxiety – all of these behaviours are anxiety based.
How can we help children to manage these anxieties and to enjoy these peaceful years in the heart of childhood? Children at this age still need to play. The act of playing, albeit in a more organised way than previously, will help them to process their new-found discoveries in a safe way. They will act out all sorts of feelings in a simple game of ‘stuck in the mud’ – feeling alone, rescued, thought about, befriended, part of a team, victorious, lost and so on. If your child appears to be upset and can’t express it, then play, painting, singing, stories, sport etc. can all help with processing feelings that can’t be sorted out with a conversation alone.
Social lives are also important at this age. This is when children really develop proper friends, as they move away more from their parents. Many children relish this new area of their lives, but some struggle with it. If your child struggles in this area, invite other children over. If this proves to be problematic, be present during the play, structure it, make it fun, help your child to play, then in time you can take a backward seat. Not all children develop at the same time, and some develop in certain areas more than others. During this in between age, the differences are often apparent, particularly between boys and girls. It is quite normal for them to dislike the other sex at this age. Don’t worry; as parents of teenagers know all too well, it soon changes!
The latency years are in many ways the peaceful, golden years, when life seems more straightforward. Make the most of them, and enjoy the playing. If your child needs that extra bit of help during this time, it is time worth investing to strengthen for the adolescent years ahead.
 1914 Freud S. On Narcissism
Dr Angela Evans
Child & Adolescent Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist
Member of the Association of Child Psychotherapists