What happened to the 1st grader who accepted every child as his best friend and didn’t care who he sat with at lunch? For starters, he moved on to the more complex social life of a 2nd grader.

In 2nd grade, children are more likely to recognize personality differences among their classmates, and they’re more likely to become choosy about their friends. They’re also more easily influenced by friends and others outside their family.

It can be a bit unnerving for Mom and Dad, but fear not—it’s a normal part of child development. “In 2nd grade, kids just notice things more,” says Greg Wiseman, principal at Winnona Park Elementary in Decatur, Ga. “In some ways, it’s the end of that innocence we saw in 1st grade.”

But it’s also the start of something exciting: seeing your child morph into her own person.

Children in 2nd grade still display a wide range of social and academic skills, though the gap is not as wide as it was among kindergartners and 1st graders. Parents can expect their child to mature and become more independent in 2nd grade.

Teachers do not need to spend as much time getting kids used to the school routine as those skills will carry over from 1st grade. But 2nd grade teachers will probably expect more from their students, and children may find they have additional responsibilities in the classroom.

More Independence

At home, a 2nd grader may remember to brush his teeth without being reminded or be able to get herself dressed in the morning with little assistance. Some children of this age will be able to prepare their own breakfast or lunch. They may be ready to take on certain responsibilities, such as feeding the family dog, that just a few months earlier seemed unrealistic. Children in this age group respond favorably to responsibility, especially when they are able to earn praise by living up to expectations, which should be more flexible than rigid.

Second-graders are also old enough to grasp the fact that their failure to meet expectations will have consequences. It’s up to parents and teachers to enforce appropriate consequences with consistency as 2nd graders are quick to notice (and exploit) loopholes in discipline policies.

For this reason, 2nd grade teachers may spend more time outlining rules at the beginning of the year—often with student input—and considerably more time emphasizing consequences.

As the 2nd grader becomes more independent, parents may need to do less hovering during homework time. When Wiseman’s son was in 2nd grade, the principal gradually had him become more responsible for his own homework. “I tried to wean him off from me having to be there because in 3rd grade, he must be self-directed,” he explains.

Parents can ease homework hassles by providing a quiet place for their child to work. Mom or Dad should be available in case the child gets stressed out but does not need to sit right next to her. Most teachers prefer that parents not correct their child’s work. Instead, a parent might ask questions to get the child thinking in the right direction. If the student cannot solve a problem, it’s best to leave it blank so the teacher will know the child does not fully grasp the material.

Although general homework guidelines have traditionally suggested spending 20 to 30 minutes a night in 2nd grade, many parents report spending much longer. Talk to the teacher if your child is spending excessive amounts of time laboring over worksheets.

Year of Transition

Second-graders often seem in transition from the childlike ways of 1st grade to the increased maturity of 3rd and 4th grades. Some kids will be anxious to act like their older siblings and peers while others will cling to the days of being treated like a young child.

As children mature in 2nd grade, they may be more likely to express their opinions even if those views conflict with those of their parents or friends. They may ask why they are expected to do chores or why they are learning about planets when there is little chance they will ever visit one.

Parents should be prepared for the onslaught of questions and should attempt to satisfy their child’s curiosity. The good news is that 2nd graders experience rapid growth in their vocabularies. Parents can use more detail and offer more in-depth explanations than they could when their child was in 1st grade. Kids’ attention spans are also lengthening.

Because kids are becoming more sophisticated in their thought processes, frustration is common. Children don’t like making mistakes, being corrected, or being criticized. Some 2nd graders are especially sensitive to criticism, especially in front of their peers. Parents should praise their children for thinking “outside the box” and encourage them to speak up when they don’t understand something or when they have an opinion to share. The family dinner table may become a more interesting place during this developmental stage!

While going through 2nd grade with their child, parents may long for the innocence and simplicity of earlier years. But parents often look back on grade 2 as a delightful age of wonderment—for both their child and themselves.

For more information, read “2nd Grade Academics: What To Expect”

Journalist Patti Ghezzi covered education and schools for 10 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She lives in Avondale Estates, Ga., with her family, which includes husband Jason, daughter Celia, and geriatric mutt Albany.