By Edward Callaghan, Ph.D.
When children begin elementary school they enter a developmental period focused on school, peer relationships, and out-of-school sports and activities. Straddled between the untempered emotions of early childhood and the hormone-fueled tumult of adolescence, children of this age group spend much of their time and energy pursuing success in school and working out the rules and hierarchies of their social relationships. During the preschool years children work out the roles and responsibilities of being a girl or a boy in relation to their parents and family members in the home, but once in school full-time the child’s focus typically shifts to out-of-home pursuits and relationships with peers and teachers.
This stage of a child’s development is a period marked by intellectual growth and consolidation, social development, and self-discovery. Having (hopefully) negotiated the trials of early childhood successfully, elementary-school-age children are presented with the challenge of attaining success in school. They must demonstrate good classroom behavior and learning, successfully work out relationships with teachers, and achieve social success in the playground. Additionally, the latency-aged child will often engage in out-of-school activities such as sports, music and dance, scouting, or many others.
Problems for children in this age group can be similar to the ones confronted by younger children when extraordinary stresses impose themselves on the child and family. Like preschoolers, children in this age group may have their developmental progress disrupted if they are confronted by the death of a loved one or if their parents are frequently fighting or going through a divorce. And like younger children, being bullied at school or having social skills deficits may create additional disruptions for them as they pursue success in the school setting.
Another common occurrence in this age group is
the manifestation of emotional, behavioral, or
learning issues that were not evident during the child’s younger years, or were hinted at, but were not fully expressed at the time. ADHD and learning disabilities, for example, frequently go undiagnosed in kindergarten and first grade, but become more apparent when the child is expected to remain seated, focused, and attentive for extended periods while learning more and more complex subject matter. Children with anxiety or developmental disorders such as Asperger’s Disorder may also struggle during these years. Problems with self-esteem may emerge as such children begin to view themselves unfavorably compared to their peers, whom they may come to see as smarter, or more socially competent and popular.
In providing treatment to children of this age group we first conduct a thorough evaluation of the child that will include an assessment of the current difficulties, developmental history, level of social functioning, academic progress, and any additional information that may be pertinent to the child’s struggles. If ADHD is identified or if a learning disability is suspected, then our therapist will educate the parents about these disorders and coordinate with school staff to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the child’s difficulties. Based upon the results of the assessment we map out a course of treatment aimed at addressing the problem areas. If the child shows deficits in interpersonal skills we work to enhance the child’s social skills, communication skills, and problem-solving abilities. If the child has difficulties with depression, anxiety, or anger, we work with the child on communicating feelings and needs more effectively and developing better ways to manage stress and frustration. If the child is having difficulties with learning or ADHD-related problems, we work collaboratively with the parents and school to find a remedy to the difficulties so that the child is able to function successfully.
The Integrative Therapy Institute of New Jersey has two offices, one in Metuchen in Middlesex County, and the other in Montclair in Essex County for parents seeking counseling or therapy for their elementary aged school children. Our Metuchen office is convenient to the Middlesex County towns of Edison, Woodbridge, South Plainfield, Piscataway, Highland Park, New Brunswick, East Brunswick, Sayreville, Dunellen, and Middlesex. For residents of Union County, the Metuchen office is near to the towns of Scotch Plains, Clark, Westfield, Plainfield, Garwood, and Fanwood. For residents of Somerset County we are near to the towns of North Plainfield, Green Brook, Bound Brook, South Bound Brook, Bridgewater, and Franklin, New Jersey.
Our Montclair office is convenient to the Essex County towns of Glen Ridge, Cedar Grove, Verona, Essex Fells, Bloomfield, Nutley, Caldwell, North Caldwell, and West Caldwell. Slightly farther away are Fairfield, Roseland, Livingston, Milburn, Orange, East Orange, and South Orange. For residents of Passaic County, we are near to the towns of Clifton, Little Falls, Woodland Park, and Totowa, New Jersey.
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