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Normal Developmental Tasks of Children in Middle Childhood

Kalter, Pickar & Lesowitz (1984) indicate that divorce-engendered conflicts and disruptions in socio-emotional functioning are best ameliorated through early intervention; and repeated intervention at each developmental stage when new tasks need to be accomplished.  The HURT to HOPE Divorce Adjustment Program has been structured to address these age-appropriate developmental challenges, as well as the psychological tasks  children of divorce need to accomplish.



In middle childhood, children’s thoughts and feelings are predominantly family-focused, although their world of social relationships is expanding through extra-familial educational, recreational and religious involvements.  Parents are of central importance and whether the family is happy or not profoundly influences how children feel about the world and their place within it.

Children begin to develop a sense of moral rightness couched in fairly concrete terms.  Behaviors, events and people are perceived as either right or wrong.  When this way of thinking is applied in a divorce situation children are confronted with loyalty conflicts.  Initially they need to see one parent as right and the other as wrong, one parent as blameworthy for the divorce / separation event, and the other parent as a victim.  They are also aware of their parents making moral choices.  As they do not, as yet, have the cognitive skills to fully understand the reasons for these choices, they are left with feelings of frustration, anger, and of shame and embarrassment at their changed family structure and circumstances.

A developmental challenge in middle childhood is learning to problem-solve, which if accomplished successfully, gives the child a feeling of pride, competence and control.  Divorce may disrupt this developing sense of industry and competency.  Children may focus inward and narrow their intellectual and social horizons, thus making it difficult for themselves to understand others’ perspectives and to experience meaningful peer relationships with their friends. HURT to HOPE focuses on teaching children the mastery of problem-solving, and children’s group involvement encourages them to see things from other group members’ perspectives.

Other developmental tasks at this age are the accomplishment of good interpersonal skills, and a greater sense of self-identity.  The development of the child’s self-esteem is particularly vulnerable at this age as the child begins to develop a sense of themselves apart from family relationships, and becomes influenced by feedback from friends, teachers and significant others.  How well family relationships are functioning can have a negative, positive or concurrent effect in terms of the developing self-esteem.  Children now have the cognitive capacity to see things from their own and a friend’s point of view, and they can appreciate the inherent pleasure and value of friendship.  Children in middle childhood begin to infer more from people’s internal states and thoughts than they did before.

Thus children in middle childhood are particularly supported by an intervention that fosters group participation and peer relationships, as well as a strong focus on their own and others’ internal states – how they are feeling!



Kaltar, N., Pickar, J & Lesowitz, M.  (1984).  School-based developmental facilitation groups for children of divorce: A preventative intrvention.  American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 54, 613-623.

Clarke-Stewart, A. & Friedmann, S.  (1987).  Child Development: Infancy through Adolescence. New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc.