Peer Relationships For the Six to Eight Year Old

I have fielded quite a few emails and questions from mothers in my community about this issue, so I finally thought it was time for a blog post on the subject!

The question I get is from mothers who live in a neighborhood with lots of other children zooming about, and how the six year old girl or seven year old boy is all of the sudden very obsessed with playing with these neighborhood friends every minute.

This, by itself, may not be such a problem (I am sure those of you who grew up in neighborhoods, just like me, remember the “neighborhood gang” fondly), but what is happening in these cases is that the six and seven year old is picking up bad language, is acting surly towards their parents, is protesting vehemently when any kind of limit is set forth regarding not being able to go out and play.  Sometimes the neighborhood children are at these mother’s doors the moment the school bus rumbles away.  Sometimes the children of the mothers writing me are just waiting to play and staring at the neighborhood children’s door waiting for any signs of someone being home and therefore ready to play!  Does any of this sound familiar?

I am all for community, but I do feel in this situation one needs to have boundaries for one’s child.  Possibly very strong boundaries.  The peak of this behavior truly can be the seven year old boy and six year old girl, and since children under the age of 9 are prone to “emotional excess”, they may need your help in balancing things out.

I can recommend several things:

1.  Make it clear that playing with friends is dependent upon being nice within the family.  We don’t take the ugly out of the house. Smile 

2.  Some afternoons are “family only” or family outing kind of afternoons.  And after our outing or playing at home, gee, it is time for dinner and getting ready for bed.  We can play with friends tomorrow.  Six to eight year olds are still very little, and the world will not stop turning if they do not play with peers all the time. 

3.  Communicate with the neighborhood children’s parents and work out a sign or signal that your children are available to play whether it is the garage door being up, children being outside, front door open with just screen door shut, etc.  Sadly, sometimes the reason the children are at the door the moment the school bus rumbles away is because there is no one home at their house.  Sometimes this has to be confronted between the adults of the families as well.

4.  Plan things for the children to do before you they move into  free play – I have had success in the past with juicing lots of oranges by hand, taking turns rolling and cutting out gingerbread men, setting up obstacle courses, etc.  In this way we can all work on using kind words, taking turns, using good manners, including all children, before we go off to play on our own.

5.  Look carefully at the children your child is playing with and your child’s behavior afterwards.  There may need to be limits on how often your child plays with particular children, or where they play.  Some friends just play better together outside.  I find this to be especially true with eight year olds who will often take on the “persona” of the oldest child in a grouping and emulate that behavior, so again, limits are key.

6.  Know the families of the children your child is playing with.  Do try to ensure that if your child goes to a neighbor’s house that you know that family well, and that the playdate will not just turn into a screen fest when the children should be out and expending physical energy in the afternoon. 

7.  Do take the time to arrange play time with children of families that have similar values to yours.  Build that community, and pick the activities outside of your home that involve these children.  It may be easier to hang around with the children in the neighborhood (no driving to a park or whatnot), but as children grow they are able to tolerate going out a little bit more, and if your child never spends any time with the children you want to be that child’s community, the children that live closest will always be ranked as better friends in the eyes of the child.

These are just a few suggestions; I would love to hear your experiences in the comment box!

Many blessings,

16 thoughts on “Peer Relationships For the Six to Eight Year Old

  1. I loved this! Thanks for sharing. This is our first year homeschooling, so sometimes the guilt sets in when my daughter asks to go play with the neighbors and we really don’t have time. The truth is, though, that we are with other kids so many days of the week, that sometimes I don’t want her going anywhere! It’s ok not to have to be entertained all the time and she is quite good at playing with her sister or reading quietly. I think one or two real playdates a week is plenty. Of course, they play with the neighbors much more in the summer when the weather is better and we can do activities outside.
    Having one child with mild special needs, I am hesitant to allow my kids to go to new neighbors’ houses. Instead, I will arrange special activities or playdates several times at our home until I am sure it is going to be a good match. We’ve had some neighbor kids who really enjoy coming to do “school” with us when we are doing art or baking. We also have little craft parties where they each invite a friend or two. I do make an effort to arrange playdates ahead of time with families we know who aren’t in the neighborhood, too.

  2. Thanks for this post Carrie, it is very timely for us. We have just moved into a cul-de-sac where my 7 year old daughter has a friend in her class at school and she is constantly haranging me to play there or riding bikes outside their house! Luckily we are at a Waldorf school so as parents we are on the same page but I think boundaries definitely need to be set. These ideas will really help.

  3. oh, Carrie, thanks so much for this. it so spoke to me. After we corresponded, I put your wise words into action and we have started to enforce very clearly defined limits on the amount of “neighbourhood play” our 7yr old boy can have (essentially, one day at the weekend) – although the first few days were tough, we perserved with enforcing kindly, and now the limits are generally accepted, he is much calmer, generally better behaved and our relationship has become much closer. In particular, him being around more has provided the opportunity for him to confide in us about some difficulties that he has been having with some of his classmates (who aren’t the neighbour children) – I think that may have contributed to his desire to be out playing all the time – he has a good relationship with the local children that he is not currently having with his peers at school. However,, now that we are aware of the problem, we are all working together to deal with it, which is a much better thing in the long term.

    So, I would definitely agree with all that you have written (no change there then!) and would add that although there may be some initial protestations as you change the status quo, the children will soon learn to accept and in time, thank you for establishing these boundaries, and everyone in the family will benefit.

  4. Thank you for another great post. Neighbourhood play is not an issue for us at the moment but we are lucky that our 6-year-old daughter has some good friends from school who live nearby, and they have regular playdates. We have got to know the families who have similar parenting values to us which is a real blessing. My question is about how others set boundaries when friends are round. Recently DD’s friend came round and was behaving in a rather obnoxious way (refusing to share, saying rude things about DD’s toys etc) and it was upsetting DD. This was actually very untypical of this child, and I wondered if something was up (hunger/ tiredness/ impending illness etc – I tried to cover the bases!). I felt like I needed to set some boundaries with this child but felt uncomfortable about how to do it – I worried she might feel picked on if I ‘sided with’ my DD – but DD needed my support. We resolved the issue by setting a timer for toy-sharing and ignored the rude comments, but I wondered if I should have said more about this as I wouldn’t have let DD behave in this way without saying something. Do other people find this tricky?

  5. This is great advice. I think I needed that gentle reminder about boundaries. I struggle at times with this issue, with my seven year old boy and the neighborhood kids.

  6. Thanks Carrie, as always you’ve hit a spot that rings to the heart for me. My oldest daughter is five, yet we experience all of the things you’ve mentioned about the six-year-old and have since she was four. We live in a very urban low-income neighborhood that has it’s share of violence, so the only real safe place to play is in our courtyard that we share with 11 other families. Three of these families have children (girls-7,8,9yrs old). Because my daughter has always been a bit mature for her age, they’ve “accepted” her into their play group. While these aren’t troubled children, they do come from families where the values differ greatly from ours. It’s hard to say she can’t play with them, since it’s literally right outside our backdoor. When weather is nice, the windows are open, and she hears them and wants to go out. When our back door is open, they’re out there asking for her almost daily. I do not feel like homeschooling suffers because of this play or I’d be much more strict about it.

    I’ve tried to establish our family’s rules-back door open, it’s OK to come ask, but it’s more like MY daughter can’t get enough time with them. The parents know we homeschool and try to be respectful of that, but I just don’t like the “play” itself that occurs. She has many other friends that homeschool and share our values, and we do see them about twice a week, but there is so much time that we are at home that it becomes very hard to deal with.

    My husband says I should just relax-that we both had neighborhood friends on the block that we played with when we were kids. I tell him, “That’s what I’m afraid of…” Not only that, she’s 5 and we were 10.

    Any thoughts?

  7. We recently moved from a small neighbourhood with plenty of kids. The children played together daily roaming from house to house up and down the lane. We were in a small quiet town, so this felt safe, however I often felt like I had lost my family.

    We are now living in a more urban setting and the option for roaming is no longer there. At first this was difficult for the children as they were used to so much social interaction, however very quickly they settled into own new home and daily rhythm. The are much more calm and settled than they have been in years.

    I feel I have reined in my children and reclaimed my family. We are back on track! And through it all the children still have dear friends from our previous neighbourhood. A win-win all round!

  8. Carrie.

    Thank you for this post. Can you please write more about this age group’s relationship with peers?

    What about an almost 7 year old boy, happy, go-lucky, dreamy sort who NEVER asks for playdates with friends, is VERY content to play with little brother all day every day?

    We live in a very small town with no other homeschooled children his age. The schooled children we have known for a long time but we are kind of on the outside being homeschoolers and not using childcare/daycare. The few friends I have kept him connected to do not share our values wrt screen time etc. – and if there are more than two kids he is always excluded (not knowing their school games or how to play video games etc.). Granted he has never mentioned feeling any exclusion, I just see it and it bothers me.

    I feel he will soon need a few good friends that he can connect with and not feel like an outsider….. have I waited to long to help him out of our nest?

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  10. Hello everyone and thanks for inviting comments. I have a problem and need some help. I am a stay-at-home dad and would with a 7 year old daughter and 5 year old son. My 7-yr old daughter has generally not been invited to play with neighbors across the street primarily due to an age difference – the other girls are 9 and 11. Last summer, they actually said to my daughter that she is too young to play with them. But since Christmas, she has acquired a couple of neat toys, namely a trampoline and scooter and suddenly the girls come and call for her asking specifically if Hannah can come out and play on ‘scooters’. What then happens is that the neighbors dominate her toys and after a while simply leave to go home and don’t invite her with them. Our family moves State every couple of years (we’re not military) and so we don’t know many people and my daughter is a bit desperate for friendships. The neighbors only come over together, never by themselves, and they don’t invite my daughter to do things with them, so I really feel they are using her for her toys. I should also add that this has only been going on for about a month, so I don’t want to rush in there prematurely, and I wonder if the older kids will grow to like my daughter and invite her to do other things somewhere down the line. My gut instinct says they won’t but I hate to step in and tell them they’re not welcome and effectively kill any possibility of them playing with her in the future. I really don’t know what to do or say and would really appreciate some suggestions. Surely there is a practical and diplomatic solution.

    • hi louis,
      Sorry to be so late in responding to this, I do hope you see this. My thought would be to invite the nine year old over at an individual time and have something very structured for them to do, with free play on the toys being the last thing after a true activity – art kit, baking something, something where you are very pleasant and involved and something that breaks up that pattern of showing up together and jumping onto all the toys. What a lousy situation, but I think one that could be rectified for at least the younger of the two ages you mentioned. Do you know the parents of these children at all? That could be another place to start, inviting the parents over for something so it is two families getting together and such.
      Many blessings, thanks for being here!

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