What to expect from your 8-year-old: their brain & behaviour

Categories: General Parenting

Have you got an eight-year-old in your home? 

Are they delightful? Dramatic? Disobedient? 

All of the above?

At around the age of eight, children go through some big developmental changes in the brain department, and you’ll see this exhibit in some interesting ways. Up until this point, their brain development had mostly been occuring in the limbic system, or ‘feeling’ brain, as ParentTV expert and neuroscience educator, Nathan Wallis, puts it. But, at around the age of seven or eight, the frontal cortex region of the brain starts to come online, which is the thinking and logic centre. This means they start thinking with more complexity, reason, sophistication and understanding of context. 

WATCH: Four brains: The simple explanation of human brain development, with Nathan Wallis

What are they thinking about?

Who knows? But, generally speaking, kids at this age will start to have a better understanding of things like money and how it operates, and a more advanced concept of time. Finally, that moment you’ve been waiting for: When you say, ‘we need to be ready to leave in ten minutes,’ your child might actually understand how long that is. That doesn’t mean they’ll do it, though! Your eight-year-old child will probably be quite interested in discovery and exploration and they’ll reach toddlerhood heights of questioning again, wanting to know how things work, why things are the way they are, and what every word you say means. They’ll be picking up around twenty or so words a day, themselves, too. 

WATCH: How my brain changes as I grow up, with Dr Vanessa Lapointe

What else is going on in their brains?

This stage of brain development is also when something called integration occurs, says ParentTV expert, Dr Vanessa Lapointe. ‘This means a child will be able to see or feel two things at the same time. Once this neural circuitry is in place, they’ll become more reasonable and less impulsive. For example, your child might feel like they really don’t want to study for a test, but they really want to do well on that test, and they’ll feel these things at the same time. They’ll be able to reason that they have to study to do well, because that’s the outcome they want.’ Until this brain development occurs, your child will still be ruled by emotion over logic.

WATCH: Managing the boisterous bluster of 8 and 9-year-old boys, with Claire Orange

What’s going on with my eight-year old boy?

‘Boys get a big surge of testosterone at this age,’ says ParentTV expert, Claire Orange. ‘They’re growing into their adult mind and we’ll see this as a need for competition and dominance.’ They might need reminders about the impact of their physicality, too, Claire says, as they get used to their newfound strength and boisterousness. ‘For most boys at this age, relationships are about doing, rather than a lot of talking.’ 

WATCH: What you need to know about 7 and 8-year-old girls – when the social nastiness gets going with Claire Orange

What’s going on with my eight-year old girl?

Girls of this age are testing their friendship boundaries and exploring their own capacity for empathy, Caire says. ‘You might have a delightful eight-year-old who is not so delightful when she’s with her eight-year-old friends.’ This might be unpleasant, but it’s an important part of their development, Claire says. ‘Girls are going to use word-based power in their relationships. They’ll tell secrets and they’ll get a giant attitude and some new sass at home, so firm boundaries are important.’

Anything else going on?

Yep! They’ll be telling jokes, spinning wild tales and still playing, even though they might pretend they’re not. Play and learning through play is still really important at this age. Your eight-year-old will probably be quite interested in concepts of justice and fairness, and while they might be a bit better at losing in a game now, they’ll still be very concerned with rules and who gets what. This applies to siblings, too. 

Even though they’ll probably be making some determined moves towards more independence, your eight-year-old is still a child. They still need all the love, affection and empathy they did when they were tiny tots, and they still need you, as parents, to parent them – just don’t tell them that!

8 year old brain