“Ever since Jill started first grade, she’s become louder, messier, and not as kind as she was in kindergarten. I think her first grade classroom must be the reason she is the way she is,” Jill’s mother, Paula, said.
Susan, a former kindergarten and first-grade teacher, smiled. “Paula, I heard this every year. What’s happening with Jill is that she has entered a new stage of development, one that’s loud, messy and rude. Jill sounds like a six-year-old, a perfect six-year-old.”
Yes, something different and mysterious begins to happen to our sweet and well-mannered five-year-olds.
They turn six, lose teeth, get taller, and their hair loses it curl and becomes coarser and straighter. And their brain changes.
As physical changes occur in our children, we also see behavioral changes.
Children–who a few months before were content to eat what was served, wear the clothes in their closet, and enjoy the activities available– become less accommodating. We begin to hear the phrases, ‘that’s boring”, ‘that’s babyish”, “that’s not fair” and ‘that’s yucky”. Then there is the question “Why do I have to?”
Between the ages of six to twelve years, children are in a period of development where they are trying to become more independent of their family and close circle of friends. They are trying to ‘break out into society” and make themselves into social beings. The child of this age has a strong desire “to go somewhere”, whereas younger children are happy to be home, and in fact might resist trips out of the house. The older child wants to dress differently than younger children. The older child, in fact, is striving to push parents away as he or she develops independence within a group.
We shouldn’t be too quick to label a child discourteous or dirty. These behaviors manifest themselves as independence grows, and can turn into rebellion if not allowed in some aspect of the child’s life. Children may want to change their names, style of dress, hairstyles and favorite colors.
At age six, one of my daughters went from shoulder length hair with a penchant for lavender party dresses and black patent leather shoes, to red and blue rugby shirts, corduroy pants, and an over-the-ear haircut. She also changed her name to Luke, in honor of Luke Skywalker. It was hard to miss that she was not five any more.
During this six to twelve-year old period of childhood, there are extremely powerful forces at work within the child.
It is a period of robust good health. The colds and ear infections of the previous six years are infrequent. Growth is steady and good health gives strength to the mind.
The intellect of the child is most receptive to learning at this age. The ability to reason appears, and the use of imagination begins. A developing sense of morality emerges in the child, along with an awareness of good and evil. The child is also drawn to the enormous or the oddball. At this age children love exploring the Guinness Book of World Records. Hero worship is also part of this age child’s activities.
As you notice these changes in your six and seven year old, don’t panic. Your child is taking his or her first steps into a new world of independence, great intellectual growth, and a developing a sense of right and wrong.
There is so much of the world and life for the six to twelve-year-old to learn, experience and understand. Impatience can be read as rudeness. At the next stage of development, during ages twelve to fifteen, we’ll have an opportunity to reintroduce the grace and courtesy of social skills to a more receptive audience.
Enjoy the missing teeth, the new hair-dos, the different clothes, because these changes let you know that your child is navigating the path to adulthood.