The Age When Kids Are the Most (and Least) Fun, According to Parents


Good running and jumping skills, no potty issues, the ability to play by himself — no wonder this is childhood’s magic age. (Photo: iStock/Geber86)

Reaching that fifth birthday is a milestone for kids — better motor skills mean fewer slips and falls, bathroom accidents are few and far between, and, in part because attention spans are longer, it’s the start time for kindergarten.

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But 5 is also an awesome age from a parent’s point of view. That’s the conclusion of a new British survey, which asked parents to rank the most fun they had with their kids at different ages.

Almost 40 percent of the 2,000 moms and dads polled thought they had the best time when their child hit age 5 — in part because they “started to communicate properly” and had developed “a good sense of humor.”

On the flip side, however, is the age range the parents polled rated the most difficult: between 10 and 12. These classic tween years beat out the terrible twos as the most torturous time in childhood — for adults, that is.

The survey, sponsored in part by the nonprofit Youth Sport Trust, only asked mothers and fathers to pick an age from newborn to 13, which may be why the rebellious teen years didn’t make the list.

So what happens as kids leave toddlerhood and their preschool years behind and hit the big, well, 5? “This is when a child becomes a fully contained person,” Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills-based child and family psychotherapist, tells Yahoo Parenting. “They’ve developed self-soothing behaviors and frustration tolerance, so they aren’t as prone to tantrums.”

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Five-year-olds have also learned to sleep through the night, they generally don’t need to be fed, and they’re well socialized. “They get jokes, they tell jokes, they can give and take, and they respond reasonably well to discipline and direction,” says Walfish. “They’re also emotionally open — they tell you what they’re thinking and feeling.”

The tween years between 10 and 12, however, are a whole other ballgame. “This is the peak of what’s called the latency phase, when kids’ emotions go underground, and they’re harder to reach,” says Walfish. “Ask a 12-year-old how his day at school was, and you just get ‘fine’ or ‘okay.’ To find out what’s going on, you have to chip away at his defenses.”

Preadolescence poses another problem: Kids are on the cusp of their teen years. And today’s tweens are very much like teenagers, who by nature are disrespectful, defiant, and challenging.

“The teen years parallel the toddler years, when kids begin establishing a separate identify from their parents,” says Walfish. “At adolescence, they finish resolving this separation, and their opposition to parents goes back up again.”

Of course, not all parents agree that age 5 and then 10 to 12 are the peak highs and lows. “What age a kid is easy and fun and then difficult depends on many factors,” says Walfish, “especially if a child is going through something traumatic at a specific time.”

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