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Brain Development in Children

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7 Years Old: The Comedian

Milestone: Clever Wordplay

What You're Seeing: “Annabelle came out with ‘If there are ten cats in a boat and one jumps out, how many are left? None. The rest were copycats.’ I cracked up! It made sense!” —Kristen Svenson, Montclair, NJ

Why: “Children are learning that language is not always literal, and they experiment with it,” says Sarah Nyp, M.D., a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, MO. Your child starts telling jokes that are actually funny—and maybe, just maybe—not about farts. At about age 7, children are able to comprehend phonological riddles, according to a study in the Journal of Child Neurology. The result: Kids get that some jokes use a sound change to get the laugh (When do astronauts eat? Wait for it…At launch time!).

Help Him Along: Be silly yourself. This sort of word-fun banter boosts a child's creativity, according to research in the Journal of Education and Human Development. Bonus: The type of thinking required to create a joke is identical to what's needed in scientific, literary, and artistic endeavors, as well.

8 Years Old: The Downsizer

Milestone: Realistic Assessment of Abilities

What You're Seeing: “My daughter's a decent swimmer, but she's saying she doesn't want to be on the swim team anymore. At first, she said it was boring. But now she confessed she's afraid of dragging her team down. Breaks my heart!” —Nicole Walters, West Palm Beach, FL

Why: Eight-year-olds are totally into streamlining. “At eight, the brain starts to prune some of its connections to work faster,” says Davis-Kean. With this increase in efficiency comes an uptick in self-awareness. “Now kids are beginning to compare their skills to those of their peers,” says Davis-Kean. So a child who never noticed that her future was not with the Bolshoi may suddenly have that eureka moment and bow out. The upshot: “Your child's starting to recognize his or her strengths,” says Laura Rubin, Ph.D., a pediatric neuropsychologist at the Portsmouth Neuropsychology Center in New Hampshire.

Help Her Along: Don't BS. She can sniff out false praise now. Instead, help her suss out what she can be great at, and encourage practicing hard. “Continued exposure to failure in something she's just not cut out for can shake confidence long-term,” says Rubin.