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Inside the fifth grader's brain

What insights can neuroscience offer parents about the mind of a fifth grader?

By Hank Pellissier

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The fifth grader's brain

"Mom, you just don't understand!"

Classic statement of alienation, huh? By fifth grade, the child's brain has created a unique "self" due to its one-of-a-kind neural pathways. The upgraded analytic ability also enables fifth-graders' noggins to become keenly, painfully aware of how they fit, or don't fit, into certain social groups. Partnered with dramatic imagination, your child may feel lonely and unaccepted, a social failure with fragile self-esteem.

The reason for all this fifth-grade angst? Your child's friendships are probably rising in importance. This shift towards friends can make things alarmingly nasty if accompanied by peer group pressure, cliques, jealousy, possessiveness, and bullying. Children who feel rejected in the savagely swirling fifth-grade frog pond can become melancholy and nervous. What can you do?

You can't keep your child from trying to locate their place in their peer group. Children this age need to discover how their "self" fits into the world — in terms of gender, social status, ethnicity, and belief systems. During this traumatic tween time, parents can be loving and wise guides, offering advice and support to boost their quavering egos. That's why it's helpful to know, anatomically, what's changing in their evolving brains:

Photo credit: Elizabeth/Table4Five

Hank Pellissier is a freelance writer whose fiction and essays have been been widely published and anthologized. A former columnist for Salon and SF Gate, he is a regular contributor to h+ Magazine.