5 Things Elementary-Aged Kids Don’t Need

Young boy holding a clock, smiling at his teacher in a classroom

Every stage of parenting has its own set of blessings and challenges. When your child was an infant, you were probably consumed with sleep schedules, developmental milestones, and spending as much time as you could bonding. The preschool years were filled with social growth, emotional regulation, and budding independence. Now, your child is in elementary school, and you’re quickly realizing they don’t need nearly as much from you as they always have. They are coming into their own, continuously learning, and articulating their needs. 

While your child might be quick to tell you what they need — a snack, help with homework, or permission to attend Bobby’s birthday on Saturday — they can’t always discern what they don’t need. And sometimes, things they don’t need are disguised as things that seem to make life easier. 

Let’s take a look at the top 5:

1. Enabling 

If you ask any parent whether or not they believe they are an enabler, their immediate response would be, “Of course not!”

But this question often requires deeper thought. 

Enabling doesn’t always look like allowing your child to do something that you know is harmful. Sometimes, it feels like helping your little one out, checking a task off the list, or getting out the door in a timely manner.

Take busy weekday mornings for example. Your kindergartner might know how to put on her jacket, zip it up, and fasten her shoes, but it takes 5 minutes for her versus 30 seconds for you.

Or, your second grader loves to join you at the grocery store on Saturday mornings, but you often let him sleep in and rush out to get the job done quickly.

These scenarios are not intended to induce mom guilt (or dad guilt)! They are simply examples of common missed opportunities to help our children grow in independence, autonomy, and self confidence. We’ll all face chaotic times that call for rushing or doing things for our kids, but the key is implementing daily routines that allow them to play an active role in the family.

So set those alarms 15 minutes earlier to allow for more independence in dressing, hair combing, and breakfast.

Bring a child (one at a time works great for some families) to the grocery store, teach them to push the cart respectfully, count and weigh produce, and stick to a weekly shopping budget. 

Create a reward chart and introduce simple everyday chores to your child’s routine, such as unloading the dishwasher, setting the table, and wiping down surfaces. 

While you might reward their efforts with an ice cream date or a few dollars of’ allowance, the lasting reward will benefit the entire family — capable, independent children who know their skills are valued.

2. Overscheduling 

Extracurriculars are great for children, right? The answer is yes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean elementary schoolers can handle multiple commitments in one week. They are still getting into the swing of a school routine, learning to manage homework, and generally relying on parents to ensure their brains and bodies don’t get overstimulated or exhausted.

If your child is between the age of 6-13, they need 9-11 hours of sleep each night. Children at the young end of this range might still benefit from an afternoon nap at home on weekends. 

With social media at our fingertips, parents are more connected than ever before and aware of all the opportunities for their children. This can be a blessing and a curse. Don’t feel pressure to enroll your child in gymnastics, soccer, and dance all in one year. Birthday parties are fun, but attending every invite might overcrowd your family’s weekend schedule and cause fatigue. 

Prior to enrolling in a new activity, think through your morning and evening routine and how it will be impacted by the travel time and energy expenditure. 

Ask your child how much it means to them to participate. 

The same opportunity might be available during another season. Many youth sports, music lessons, or gymnastics classes are offered over the summer when routines are more flexible.  

If athletics, the arts, and enrichment activities are important to your family, you can also search for a school with a vibrant campus life. That way, you can rest assured that your child is gaining exposure to these activities and exploring their God-given gifts during the school day. 

3. Unlimited Technology

Oh, screen time. Somehow you knew this would be on the list, right? Raising kids in the digital age is more challenging than many parents anticipated. You want your child to be proficient with the tools of their generation, but at the same time, you want to avoid the very real dangers of technology addiction.

Start by considering the tools you allow in your home. 

A tablet with strict parental controls and learning apps may be beneficial for downtime, long car rides, or extra practice on nights when no homework is assigned. 

A game system with age-appropriate activities may stimulate fine motor skills and critical thinking, but be aware that many of today’s games have chat features that connect children to other players (who are not always elementary schoolers).

iPhones, iPads, and laptops without parental controls and full internet access should be off limits or used with full supervision, as the risk of browsing inappropriate content is high. 

Some children naturally gravitate toward low-tech activities such as outdoor play, Legos, or drawing. Others are more drawn to screens. Don’t be discouraged if your child is the latter; it could simply be an indication of future gifts.

Just remember, tech overuse in the early, formative years does come with a cost: diminished focus, eyesight strain, poor communication skills, and low-quality sleep are all signs that it’s time to trade in the screen time. Here are a few alternatives:

  • A nature walk: Kids love a challenge, which is often a driver of tech use. Create a scavenger hunt and go for a walk to find specific items like leaves, stones, pinecones, and more.
  • A CD player: Yes, these do still exist! Whether you choose a portable option with kid-safe headphones or a good, old-fashioned boom box, listening to music has countless benefits.
  • New tactile experiences: If your child is getting bored with Legos, try magnetic tiles. Play sand, modeling clay, and other hands-on activities are great for elementary schoolers.

4. Overindulging

We all want our children to have things that they love, and to feel included when their friends are talking about the latest and greatest gadget. However, it is important to remember that precedents set now will be expected in the future. Buying your child the newest toy or scooter may seem simple, but in a few years, they may expect iPhones and cars. 

Delayed gratification is a value and a skill that everyone should learn. In our tech-driven world, it seems harder than ever to focus on the lost art of waiting. Amazon delivers in two days or less. Store pickups allow us to get what we need without even walking into the store. Materialism affects our children more than we realize, and elementary school is the prime time to instill a lifestyle of gratitude.

Here are a few tips to avoid overindulging your children:

  • React neutrally (or even excitedly) when they express a new want. Now is not the time for a guilt trip on coveting others’ things. Listen to their interests and even agree that Tommy’s new toy sounds super fun.
  • Teach the concept of money. Cash is becoming less common, but children struggle to learn the concept of money when they are only exposed to credit cards. A physical allowance lets them see that funds are not unlimited and rewards come through hard work. 
  • Practice delayed gratification. Even if you don’t expect your child to earn everything on their own, ask them to wait a week or a month, and see if they still want that item or if something new has come along. If they still want the same thing, they will appreciate it a lot more, and if the wish has changed, money and space has been saved.
  • Practice minimalism. Bring your child into a crowded room overflowing with toys and ask them how they feel. They will likely articulate that it feels overwhelming or “not good.” Then, have them step with you into a tidy environment with 2-3 intentionally displayed toys or activities. They’ll likely get to experience for themselves that less is more.

5. Comparing

As a parent, you already know that God created your child with a purpose. He or she has a unique learning style, as well as specific strengths and challenges. Even still, it can be difficult to avoid falling into the trap of comparison when exposed to many other children at the same age and stage. 

Maybe your daughter clings to you each morning at drop-off, while her friends run eagerly into class. 

Perhaps your older son always did his homework right away, and your youngest tends to procrastinate, whine, and prolong the process throughout the evening. 

Some kids are naturals in math. Others show incredible artistic promise from a young age. Some are flexible and easygoing. Others are strong-willed and full of energy.

As parents, we naturally have ideas about how children should behave and perform, but this journey is not about us. Remember that raising your child is about seeing their God-given personality, gifts, talents, and providing unconditional love and support to help them navigate challenges. This is most easily accomplished when we actively choose not to compare our children to their siblings or classmates and embrace who they were divinely created to be! Freedom from comparison also prevents us from unintentionally damaging our children’s self-esteem and allows us to instill a growth mindset.

A few ideas to avoid the comparison trap in parenting:

  • Journaling. Now that your child is in elementary school, the baby books may be collecting dust in storage. Consider starting a new journal to capture the essence of who they are in elementary school, middle school, and beyond. It will be an incredible reminder of their growth as you look back on your notes, year after year.
  • Prayer. If your child is struggling with something, pray on their behalf. Ask God to help them overcome their challenges and rely on Him for parenting wisdom. 
  • Social media fasting. Apps like Facebook make it easy to compare our families to other families and our children to their peers. Take a break and see how your attitude changes.
  • Finding support at school. A school should be an active partner in helping your child reach their potential. Choose a school that aligns with your values, will see your child as an individual, and is able to communicate with you regularly throughout the learning process.

As you consider all the things your child needs (and doesn’t need) during these formative years, finding the right learning environment might be at the forefront of your mind. If you’re considering a private, Christian school, we invite you to learn more about the elementary school program at WCA and schedule a tour of our campus in Raleigh, NC.

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