Why fourth grade can be hard for kids

At a glance

  • Fourth grade is a challenging year for lots of kids.

  • Kids have more responsibilities at school than in earlier grades.

  • Friendships get more important (and complicated) in fourth grade.

Your fourth grader walks in the door at the end of the day, drops a backpack in the middle of the floor, flops into a chair, and dramatically announces, “I’m so tired!”

Does this sound familiar? You’re not alone. If you have a 9- or 10-year-old, you may be one of the many parents or caregivers whose child is stressed out, exhausted, or falling apart at the end of the day.

For many kids, fourth grade can be a hard year. There are a lot of changes in teaching from third to fourth grade. School expectations take a big leap forward. Friendship becomes more important, and cliques tend to get more common around fourth grade.

And even if these changes may not seem like a big deal, they can be very stressful for kids.

What’s happening in fourth grade?

Fourth graders work hard during the day. They’re being asked to do more things on their own than in earlier grades. They’re expected to start using organization and time management skills. And they have to think critically and problem-solve.

There’s also a much bigger focus on writing in fourth grade. Kids have to organize and write longer papers. And they have to use different styles of writing. Writing doesn’t come naturally to lots of kids, and it can cause extra stress.

Fourth graders are also starting to be more aware of the power of having friends. They might spend a lot of emotional energy trying to manage friendships. Peer pressure can be hard to resist. And making and keeping friends can be both exciting and exhausting. 

For many kids, these new academic and social-emotional skills don’t come naturally. And trying to figure it out on their own can be stressful. It’s no wonder your child comes home exhausted.

In fourth grade, kids also become more aware of current events. They may think and worry about global issues.

Fourth grade is also a big year for standardized testing. It’s common for kids to be really nervous as teachers try to get them ready for the test.

Is your fourth grader’s stress typical?

So how do you know if your fourth grader’s stress is typical or something to be more concerned about?

Some behaviors, like worrying about a big test or being nervous about a school concert, are typical for fourth graders. But there are some things to keep an eye on. You want to make sure your child isn’t moving from typical stress to more concerning levels of anxiety.

Here are some questions to consider:

Are changes to your child’s routine getting in the way of focusing during class or on schoolwork? Stress around new routines is common. For example, fourth graders might avoid math homework if they’re having trouble with concepts like estimating. But when kids have trouble with things that haven’t changed, like bedtime routines, it’s something to keep an eye on.

Does your child seem too worried about specific things? Lots of kids this age complain about an upcoming test or ask for help with homework. But kids experiencing a lot of stress or anxiety might act differently. They might seek reassurance for things they know they do well or get stuck on a specific worry.

Is your child still having fun and spending time with family and friends? When kids lose interest in things they like and don’t seem happy, it’s concerning. They might feel anxious and withdraw from the people around them. In those cases, it’s important to do some digging.

What does the teacher say? Fourth-grade teachers spend time with lots of kids. They can offer key insights. Ask the teacher if your child seems more stressed than other kids the same age. What does your child seem stressed about? Does your child connect with other kids? Asking these kinds of questions can help you understand what’s going on and how to help.

How you can support your fourth grader

Knowing more about what’s happening at school is a great first step. That starts with talking with your child about school. And how you respond to your child matters.  

If your child learns and thinks differently, that can add extra stress and anxiety. Try to talk openly about differences. It shows your child there’s nothing to be embarrassed about and that you’re there to listen.

Here are some more things you can try:

Learn other ways to make your child’s transition to fourth grade easier.

Key takeaways

  • Fourth grade is a huge time of transition for kids.

  • Being tired and a little stressed is common in fourth grade.

  • Talking openly about what’s hard can help your fourth grader feel less stressed.


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