Age Characteristics of Children

“2: Age Characteristics of Children,” Teaching, No Greater Call: A Resource Guide for Gospel Teaching (1999), 110–16

Children are continually changing physically, mentally, socially, emotionally, and spiritually. They follow a general pattern of growth and development. Parents and teachers who are aware of common characteristics of different age-groups will be able to deal with children’s behavior more appropriately and teach them more effectively.

Some children may develop faster or slower than others their age. For example, a particular six-year-old may fit more closely the age characteristics of a five-year-old or a seven-year-old. Remember also that children may temporarily revert to younger behavior during emotional stress or tension.

Church lesson manuals have been prepared with children’s growth characteristics in mind. As you study and prepare each lesson, be aware of how each part of the lesson can help you meet the children’s needs.

Regardless of the age-group you teach, make sure you are patient, respectful, loving, and sensitive toward each child. Do not expect children to do more than they are able.

The following descriptions and suggestions can help you better understand the children you teach.

The Eighteen-Month-Old

Characteristics of the Child

  • Walks, climbs, crawls, and runs. Enjoys pushing and pulling things. Is able to take things apart more easily than he or she can put them together. Is uncoordinated. Tires easily. Is usually not toilet trained.

  • Makes many sounds. Has developing language skills. Uses one-word phrases, particularly “mine” and “no.” Gathers knowledge through sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Understands more than he or she can express.

  • Enjoys playing alongside other children, but often does not interact with them. Has difficulty sharing.

  • Cries easily, but emotions change quickly.

Suggestions for Parents and Teachers

  • Vary activities to keep the child’s interest. Use activities that involve walking, pushing, and pulling. Use finger plays and musical activities.

  • Provide many opportunities for talking and participation. Teach how to be reverent during prayers. Use visuals with stories. Provide toys the child can move and experiment with, such as stacking toys, balls, simple puzzles, dolls, and figures of people and animals.

  • Provide toys and activities that allow the child to play alone. Help the child learn to share and get along with others.

  • Hold the child when he or she is upset or feels insecure.

The Two-Year-Old

Characteristics of the Child

  • Is very active. Jumps, walks, and runs. Can clap hands and kick a ball. Can handle small objects, but cannot button or zip clothing or care for himself or herself in other ways. Gets irritable and restless when tired.

  • Is able to put two or three words together in a sentence. Says “no” often, even when he or she does not mean it. Has simple, direct thoughts. Cannot reason. Can make simple choices. Enjoys repetition. Has a short attention span (two or three minutes). Is curious. Moves from one activity to another. Likes simple toys, art materials, books, short stories, and music activities.

  • Likes to play alone. Is developing an interest in playing with others, but is usually more interested in playing near them than with them. Often argues over toys. Has difficulty sharing and cooperating. Asks adults for things he or she wants from another child.

  • Is loving and affectionate. Enjoys sitting on laps and holding hands. Likes to be close to his or her mother. Uses emotional outbursts to express emotions, to get what he or she wants, and to show anger and frustration. Has moods that change quickly. Likes independence.

  • Likes to pray. Understands that Heavenly Father and Jesus love us, but has difficulty understanding most spiritual concepts.

Suggestions for Parents and Teachers

  • Use rest activities such as finger plays and those that use music. Provide activities such as beanbag tossing, marching, and jumping. Avoid activities that require skill and coordination, such as cutting and pasting.

  • Keep discussions simple. Help the child participate. Use repetition. Do not leave the child alone; children this age can easily get themselves into unsafe situations. Provide opportunities for the child to make choices.

  • Provide opportunities for the child to interact with others, but do not pressure the child to do so. Offer the choice to participate in activities. Provide warm, caring direction. Redirect misbehavior.

  • Show love and affection. Redirect the child’s attention in order to stop undesirable behavior. Encourage the child to be self-sufficient, but provide help when necessary. Allow the child to practice making choices.

  • Allow the child to pray. Focus spiritual concepts on the family and the love of Heavenly Father and Jesus.

The Three-Year-Old

Characteristics of the Child

  • Walks and runs, but is still uncoordinated. Likes doing things with his or her hands but does them awkwardly.

  • Has more language skills. Likes to talk and learn new words. Has a short attention span. Is curious and inquisitive. Often misunderstands and makes comments that seem off the subject. Enjoys pretending. Likes finger plays, stories, and musical activities. Is unable to distinguish fantasy from reality.

  • Enjoys working alone. Does not engage in much cooperative play with others, but likes to have friends around. Is self-centered. Has difficulty sharing. Prefers to be close to adults, particularly family, because they provide security.

  • Wants to please adults. Needs their approval, love, and praise. Strikes out emotionally when afraid or anxious. Cries easily. Is sensitive to others’ feelings. Is developing some independence. Has intense, short-lived emotions.

  • Is interested in simple gospel principles such as prayer and obedience. Is more aware of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and has simple faith in Them.

Suggestions for Parents and Teachers

  • Use activities that include jumping, skipping, walking, and bending. Use simple art activities such as pasting, molding clay, and coloring. Avoid activities that require refined skills and coordination, such as tying or cutting. Be prepared to clean up messes.

  • Teach ideas in a simple, clear way. Use summaries and visual materials to reinforce ideas. Encourage questions and responses to the lessons, but have the child take turns with other children. Use a variety of teaching methods such as stories, songs, discussions, dramatizations, finger plays, and simple games. Alternate between quiet and lively activities.

  • Provide opportunities to play with others. Use activities that encourage sharing, taking turns, and cooperating. Develop a close relationship with the child, and frequently give the child opportunities to talk about his or her family.

  • Show approval and confidence in the child. Avoid criticism. Emphasize the love you and the child’s family have for him or her. Help the child understand others’ feelings and solve conflicts. Encourage the child to be self-sufficient.

  • Teach the gospel in simple, concrete ways. Teach that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ live and are kind and loving. Share simple expressions of testimony. Help the child recognize the beauty of God’s creations.

The Four-Year-Old

Characteristics of the Child

  • Is very active. Moves quickly. Likes to skip, jump, race, climb, and throw.

  • Enjoys talking and learning new words. Asks many questions. Is able to reason a little, but still has many misconceptions. Has trouble separating fact from fantasy. Has a short attention span. Uses artwork to express feelings. Enjoys pretending and role playing.

  • Plays more cooperatively with others. Is sometimes physically aggressive, bossy, impolite, and stubborn, but can also be friendly. Is learning to share, accept rules, and take turns. Responds to sincere praise.

  • Often tests people’s limits. Is boastful, especially about self and family. May be agreeable one moment and quarrelsome the next. Has more self-confidence. May have fears and feelings of insecurity.

  • Is becoming aware of right and wrong, and usually desires to do right. Blames others for his or her wrongdoing. Has a natural love and respect for Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and asks many questions about Them. Likes to pray, and wants to be good. Is becoming more interested in gospel principles.

Suggestions for Parents and Teachers

  • Alternate between quiet and lively activities. Help the child learn to control and be responsible for his or her actions. Teach appropriate ways to express emotions.

  • Use discussions and activities that will encourage thinking, such as simple riddles and guessing games. Clarify misunderstandings. Use pictures, objects, and actual experiences. Introduce new words. Have the child draw pictures that relate to lessons. Accept and encourage the child’s creative efforts. Allow the child to explore his or her surroundings. Use role-playing activities.

  • Provide opportunities for the child to play and work cooperatively with others. Teach kindness, patience, and politeness. Help the child follow simple rules such as taking turns. Help the child learn positive social behavior without punishing or scolding him or her.

  • Establish and firmly follow limits. Allow the child to talk about self and family. Teach the child that he or she is special to Heavenly Father and Jesus. Express the love you and the child’s parents have for him or her.

  • Help the child be responsible for his or her own behavior, and teach the importance of making good choices. Teach that Heavenly Father loves His children and that we can communicate with Him through prayer. Help the child discover how to be reverent at church. Teach basic gospel principles.

The Five-Year-Old

Characteristics of the Child

  • Is very active. Has a good sense of balance, and is becoming more coordinated. Can kick a ball, walk in a straight line, hop, skip, and march. Enjoys drawing, coloring, and participating in activities and games. Is learning to lace and tie shoes and button and zip clothing.

  • Recognizes some letters, numbers, and words. Likes to pretend to read and write. May be learning to read. Is talkative. Asks questions, makes comments, and gives answers that show increased understanding. Is good at problem solving. Is curious and eager for facts. Is beginning to distinguish truth from fantasy. Has a short but increasing attention span. Likes definite tasks. Enjoys jokes and tricks, but cannot laugh at himself or herself. Likes stories, singing, poetry, and dramatizations.

  • Is friendly and eager to please and cooperate. Is beginning to prefer being in small groups of children, but may prefer a best friend. Creates less conflict in group play. Is beginning to want to conform, and is critical of those who do not. Is beginning to understand rules, but often tries to change them for his or her benefit.

  • Centers interests on home and family. Is affectionate toward adults, and wants to please them. Gets embarrassed easily, especially by his or her own mistakes.

  • Wants to be good. Is learning the difference between right and wrong. Sometimes tells untruths or blames others for his or her own wrongdoings because of an intense desire to please adults and do what is right. Is ready to be taught spiritual principles.

Suggestions for Parents and Teachers

  • Engage the child in physical activities. Use simple games and other activities. Allow the child to cut and paste and to put puzzles together. Allow for independence. Express confidence in the child. Accept and encourage the child’s efforts.

  • Allow the child to talk and ask questions. Allow him or her to read simple words and phrases. Use wordstrips for simple words. Assign simple tasks and responsibilities. Use drawing activities, true-to-life stories, and visual materials. Vary activities, using pictures, games, songs, and discussions. Use problem-solving activities such as riddles and discussion questions. Allow the child to pretend, dramatize, and use puppets. Laugh with the child.

  • Be sensitive to the child’s need for your approval. Encourage friendship, and try to help the child if it seems that he or she does not have close friendships or does not belong to a group. Talk about how others feel when people are kind or unkind. Discuss the importance of loving others and expressing gratitude, and show the child how to do this. Help the child learn the value of individual differences.

  • Frequently teach the value and importance of the family. Give the child an opportunity to share feelings about his or her family. Express your love, and show affection. Give specific praise for positive behavior. Avoid activities or expressions that might embarrass the child.

  • Teach appropriate behavior. Do not be shocked if the child says something that is untrue or inappropriate, but still teach the importance of accepting responsibility for one’s own actions. Strengthen the child’s testimony by sharing your own testimony. Share stories and ideas that will strengthen the child’s love for and faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and Their teachings.

The Six-Year-Old

Characteristics of the Child

  • Is very active. Is often noisy, restless, and exuberant. Likes to participate in activities and perform small tasks, though they still may be difficult to do. Dislikes being a spectator.

  • Needs concepts taught in concrete ways. Has improving memory. Is talkative, and asks many questions. Is learning to make decisions, but often is indecisive. Has an increasing attention span. Likes reading, writing, singing, hearing stories, and pretending.

  • Is more interested in group activities and interacting with playmates, but is still self-centered. Is sometimes bossy, aggressive, and unkind to peers. Has unstable friendships. Is concerned with how others treat him or her. Is eager for social approval.

  • Is boastful. Exaggerates and criticizes. Is easily excited, silly, and giggly. Can be generous, affectionate, and compatible, but mood can change easily.

  • Is concerned with good and bad behavior, particularly as it affects family and friends. Sometimes blames others for wrongdoings. Likes scripture stories, especially those about Jesus.

Suggestions for Parents and Teachers

  • Be patient with the child’s abundant energy and restlessness. Use activities such as writing, coloring, cutting, pasting, and molding clay. Use games that allow the child to use his or her energy.

  • Use problem-solving activities such as riddles, reviews, and open-ended stories. Use pictures, flannel cutouts, and other visual materials. Introduce new words. Ask questions. Allow the child to make decisions. Discuss the importance of choosing the right, and allow the child to practice making decisions with limited choices. Provide opportunities for reading, writing, singing, hearing stories, and role playing. Plan lessons with the child’s interests in mind.

  • Encourage sharing and participation with others. Give many opportunities for group activities. Give specific praise and approval. Focus lessons on showing love by helping others and being sensitive to others’ needs. Encourage the child to participate in games and other activities.

  • Praise the child’s specific efforts so he or she feels less need to boast. Praise honesty. Do not criticize. Laugh with him or her, but do not laugh at him or her. Encourage positive moods. By your example, teach the child calm, stable behavior.

  • Teach the child to be concerned with and responsible for his or her own behavior and how to improve it. Assure the child that everyone makes mistakes. Teach simple repentance. Use the scriptures to teach basic gospel principles. Help the child understand and apply the scriptures.

The Seven-Year-Old

Characteristics of the Child

  • Has better muscular control. Is developing interest and skills in certain games, hobbies, and activities. Gets restless and fidgety. Has nervous habits, and sometimes assumes awkward positions. Is full of energy, but tires easily.

  • Is eager to learn. Thinks seriously and more logically. Is able to solve problems that are more complex. Likes to be challenged, work hard, and take time completing a task. Has a good attention span. Enjoys hobbies and using skills. Likes to collect things and talk about personal projects and accomplishments.

  • Often plays in groups, but sometimes likes to be alone and play quietly. Interacts little with the opposite sex. Is eager to be like peers and have their approval. Is less domineering and less determined to have his or her own way. Likes more responsibility and independence. Is often worried about not doing well.

  • Dislikes criticism. Is more sensitive to his or her own feelings and those of other people. Is often a perfectionist, and tends to be self-critical. Is inhibited and cautious. Is less impulsive and self-centered than at earlier stages.

  • Is aware of right and wrong. Enjoys learning about and practicing gospel principles such as prayer and tithe paying. Understands aspects of the gospel such as the sacrament, faith, repentance, missionary work, the Holy Ghost, and temple work. Wants to be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Suggestions for Parents and Teachers

  • Use activities that allow the child to use his or her energy. Allow the child to share his or her special skills. Be patient with annoyances and restlessness, and do not draw attention to awkwardness. Use varied techniques to help maintain the child’s interest and prevent misbehavior. Compliment good behavior.

  • Ask thought-provoking questions. Use open-ended stories, riddles, thinking games, and discussions to stimulate thinking. Allow the child to make decisions. Give him or her plenty of time to accomplish tasks. Encourage the child to pursue hobbies and interests. Provide opportunities to read scriptures, wordstrips, and stories. Use stories and situations that deal with reality rather than fiction.

  • Use activities that require group play, such as games and dramatizations, but respect the child’s desire to work alone occasionally. Do not force interaction with the opposite sex. Praise him or her for positive behavior such as taking turns and sharing. Give the child responsibilities and tasks that he or she can carry out, and then praise efforts and accomplishments.

  • Encourage concern for others. Build confidence. Instead of criticizing, look for opportunities to show approval and affection. Accept moods and aloofness. Encourage the child to express his or her feelings.

  • Provide opportunities for the child to practice making right choices. Help the child understand the consequences of his or her choices. Teach gospel principles in simple, concrete ways, and encourage the child to practice them in daily life. Teach from the scriptures. Prepare the child for baptism and confirmation by helping him or her understand the covenants that he or she will make.

The Eight-Year-Old

Characteristics of the Child

  • Is becoming more coordinated. Wiggles and squirms. Has nervous habits. Plays organized games that require physical skill. Has a good attention span. Wants to be included.

  • Wants to know the reasons for things. Is anxious to share his or her knowledge. Thinks he or she knows much, but is beginning to recognize that others may know even more. Is judgmental. Has heroes. Enjoys writing, reading, and pretending.

  • Enjoys group play with simple rules. Prefers to be with own gender in group play. Is more cooperative and less insistent on having his or her own way. Wants to have a best friend. Has a strong need for independence, but also relies on adults for guidance and security.

  • Is usually affectionate, helpful, cheerful, outgoing, and curious, but can also be rude, selfish, bossy, and demanding. Is sensitive to criticism. Criticizes self and others. Is sometimes giggly and silly. Experiences guilt and shame.

  • Is receptive to gospel teachings, but may have questions about them. Is proud of Church membership. Likes living gospel principles. Learns the gospel through concrete examples and participation.

Suggestions for Parents and Teachers

  • Use activities that require coordination and allow the child to use his or her energy. Be patient with clumsiness, unpleasant habits, and squirming. Alternate quiet and active periods. Praise good behavior.

  • Use games, stories, pictures, and problem-solving activities to encourage learning. Use reading, writing, and role playing. Help the child set realistic goals. Encourage the child to be more concerned about his or her own behavior than that of others. Provide the child with appropriate heroes such as Church leaders and other good members of the Church.

  • Provide opportunities for group interaction, cooperation, and sharing. Supervise activities closely. Recognize that his or her friendships can be intense. Help the child become part of the group if he or she does not have close friends. Praise the child for positive behavior. Let the child work with other children and with you to make class rules and other decisions. Allow him or her to work independently.

  • Help the child recognize and deal constructively with negative emotions. Show interest and enthusiasm. Praise and build self-confidence; do not criticize or compare the child with other children. Recognize the child’s efforts and accomplishments. Let the child enjoy humor when appropriate, and be patient with giggling. Teach him or her that others make mistakes.

  • Express personal faith and testimony often. Help the child appreciate his or her Church membership and the responsibilities it brings. Challenge the child to live gospel principles. Share personal experiences, scriptures, and stories. Use activities in which the child can participate.

The Nine-Year-Old

Characteristics of the Child

  • Enjoys team games. Has good body control. Is interested in developing strength, skill, and speed. Likes more complicated crafts and handwork.

  • Is able to remain interested in subjects or activities for a longer period of time. Seeks facts; does not enjoy much fantasy. Likes memorization. Has definite interests and curiosity. Likes reading, writing, and keeping records. Is interested in the community and other cultures and peoples. Enjoys learning about the past and the present. Likes to collect things.

  • Enjoys being with groups of people of the same gender. Likes group adventures and cooperative play, but also likes competition. Tests authority and exercises independence. Spends much time with friends.

  • Has some behavior problems, especially if he or she is not accepted by others. Is becoming very independent, dependable, and trustworthy. Is concerned about being fair, and argues over fairness. Is better able to accept his or her own failures and mistakes and take responsibility for personal actions. Is sometimes silly.

  • Is well aware of right and wrong. Wants to do right, but sometimes rebels. Is influenced by others’ testimonies. Is ready to be taught more complex gospel principles.

Suggestions for Parents and Teachers

  • Provide a variety of activities, including team games, to sustain interest and help the child develop skills.

  • Give specific information and facts rather than fantasy. Do not give all the answers; allow the child time to think about and discuss answers. Encourage him or her to memorize quotations and scriptures. Respect individual differences when making assignments and giving responsibilities. Provide opportunities for reading, writing, and record keeping. Encourage him or her to keep a journal. Teach about other people and cultures and about history.

  • Recognize the child’s need for peer acceptance. Establish and maintain reasonable limits, but allow for independence. Teach the child how to be gracious, even when the child feels that he or she has not “won.” Encourage friendships, and help the child make friends.

  • Let the child know that you accept him or her, even when you do not approve of certain behavior. Provide opportunities for the child to show independence and dependability. Do not ridicule the child for wrongdoing.

  • Express your love and support for the child often. Frequently share your testimony and testimonies of the prophets. Teach gospel principles that are more advanced.

The Ten- or Eleven-Year-Old

Characteristics of the Child

  • May be experiencing rapid growth. Enjoys sports that require strength, speed, and skill. Has periods of playing, pushing, wrestling, poking, and giggling. Is restless, active, and impatient. May differ from peers in physical size and coordination. Does not like to be treated like a child. Is concerned about physical appearance.

  • Enjoys abstract concepts and ideas. Makes conclusions based on prior learning. Likes to be challenged in mental tasks. Is decisive and reasonable. Enjoys memorization. Likes to set goals. Thinks more logically. Enjoys learning. Has a good attention span. Understands more precisely the meanings of words, and can define abstract terms. Has humor that may seem ridiculous to adults.

  • Is social and competitive. Possesses strong loyalty to groups. Has much positive and negative interaction with peers. Has friendships that are more complex and intense. Relies on best friends. Values peers’ opinions and standards more highly than those of adults. Is sometimes critical of adults’ judgments and of others’ feelings. Likes to tease or play roughly. Is sometimes rude and uncooperative, and at other times is friendly and cooperative.

  • Is critical of self and resentful of others’ criticism. May feel that everything he or she does is wrong, especially if criticized. Has worries and fears about school and friends. Is very sensitive, especially about self. Has doubts and insecurities. Is sometimes touchy and irritable, and is very conscious of being treated fairly. Is able to be polite, serious, honest, and sincere. Desires to be independent and have responsibilities.

  • Has a strong moral sense and conscience. Is interested in self-improvement. Does not like to admit when he or she has behaved badly. Is ready to learn more about the doctrines of the gospel.

Suggestions for Parents and Teachers

  • Recognize that he or she is growing and maturing. Do not force interaction with the opposite sex. Provide opportunities for him or her to participate in physical activities that provide outlets for his or her energy. Give little attention to minor misbehavior. Teach fairness and the value of participating in activities. Show interest in his or her life. Value individual differences.

  • Stimulate thinking by using questions, scripture stories, scripture memorization, problem-solving activities, and discussions. Allow him or her to make decisions and set goals. Use new words, and allow him or her to define and explain their meanings. Use visuals, stories, and games.

  • Respond to the need to belong to groups and be influenced by them. Provide activities that allow interaction with peers. Encourage group planning and group work. Teach him or her to be sensitive to those who are not accepted by others. Give responsibilities and assignments, and help ensure follow-through. Encourage service projects such as tending children, sharing talents, and sharing the gospel with others. Use examples and lessons to teach sensitivity and kindness. Praise courtesy, unselfishness, loyalty, and friendliness.

  • Do not compare him or her to others. Encourage him or her, and praise accomplishments. Show confidence in him or her as an individual. Reinforce positive behavior, and try to ignore negative acts of small consequence. Allow for independence and expression of personal feelings. Try to understand his or her worries and what makes him or her unhappy.

  • Teach specific moral concepts and values. Emphasize that true happiness and self-improvement come from keeping the commandments. Encourage him or her to commit to living gospel principles. Help him or her understand and prepare for future responsibilities and blessings. Do not ridicule him or her for wrongdoing, especially in front of friends. Teach the gospel in its fulness with scripture stories and stories from the lives of latter-day prophets. Encourage him or her to bear testimony.