Fifth graders are weird. Okay, maybe that’s too strong. But you have to admit they can seem a little hard to understand at times.

They act like they love you one minute,
but ignore you the next.

They play with childhood toys,
and also beg you for a cell phone.

They crave your affirmation,
but they’re completely horrified and embarrassed when you give it.

Your fifth grader is still a kid. And yet, some days, you get the smallest glimpse of what they might be like in the teenage years ahead. Sure, fifth graders are still young, but there is something about childhood that slowly slips away in this phase. You can’t put your finger on it, but there’s a burgeoning maturity just under the surface—almost visible, but not quite there yet.

They’re in transition. Their little bodies are changing physically and hormonally (especially the girls), but there are still many developments to come. They may be at the “top” of the elementary school for now, but they’re also looking ahead to a new academic and social reality called middle school.

After eleven years of working with elementary-age kids, I’ve come to especially love this transitional group. They’re hyper-aware of themselves and their peers. They stand on a tightrope, balancing who they think they want to be with the person they believe everyone else wants them to be. Positive attention from the right person can make their day, while a critical remark from a peer can overturn their sense of fashion or musical preference in a matter of seconds.

The truth is that every fifth grader needs to experience a little bit of success and a little bit of failure. Of course, that’s the case with every phase, generally speaking. But it’s more essential for fifth graders specifically.

Every fifth grader needs to succeed at something so they can know what it’s like to win. There may be nothing quite as motivating as simply feeling the elation that comes with victory—whether it’s the victory of an “A” on a math test, getting selected for robotics club, or nailing a backflip on the trampoline.

Every fifth grader needs to fail at something so they can know what it takes to pick themself up and keep going. Nothing builds character, grit, and perseverance like failure. And the years ahead will require all three.

In this way, parenting a fifth grader is like a warm-up act for the teenage years. Instead of constantly managing the tension of letting go and holding on, you’re looking for ways to set them up to win, while occasionally stepping back to allow them to fail. That’s all part of getting them ready.

Just remember, transition can be fun. Sure, it’s unpredictable. Sure, you might not know exactly which parent you’re supposed to be at any given moment. But the world of a fifth grader is ripe with potential. Whatever influence you have in a transitional year will pay out exponentially in the years ahead. Just a small course correction now can quite literally redirect their future. So hang on tight. Get ready. This phase is sure to come with some surprises—for you and your fifth grader!

Tasha Morrison
Founder and CEO of Be the Bridge

Parenting Your Fifth Grader

Parenting Your Fifth Grader simplifies what you need to know about fifth graders in general and gives you a place to discover more about your fifth grader—so you can make the most of this phase.

Your kid is growing increasingly confident and competitive, and you might be in one of the best phases of your child’s life. THIS IS THE PHASE WHEN FRIENDS ARE BEST FRIENDS, GAMES ARE FOR COMPETITION, AND YOUR CONFIDENT KID WILL INSIST, “I’VE GOT THIS.”

Don’t have a fifth grader? We’ve got a book for every age at