When I was One,
I had just begun.
When I was Two,
I was nearly new.
When I was Three
I was hardly me.
When I was Four,
I was not much more.
When I was Five,
I was just alive.
But now I am Six,
I'm as clever as clever,
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.
- AA Milne, 1927
By Natalie Angier, NYT, 12/26/2011
"Yet as new findings from neuroscience, evolutionary biology, paleontology and anthropology make clear, middle childhood is anything but a bland placeholder. To the contrary, it is a time of great cognitive creativity and ambition, when the brain has pretty much reached its adult size and can focus on threading together its private intranet service — on forging, organizing, amplifying and annotating the tens of billions of synaptic connections that allow brain cells and brain domains to communicate. "
"Middle childhood is when parts of the brain most closely associated with being human finally come online: our ability to control our impulses, to reason, to focus, to plan for the future."
"In middle childhood, the brain is at it's peak for learning, organized enough to attempt mastery yet still fluid, elastic, neuronally gymnastic." "Middle childhood is the time to make sense and to make friends." "In middle childhood, the brain is open for suggestions. What do I need to know? What do I want to know?"
Age of Reason, A World Beyond Where We Are!
After reading the above NYT article about middle childhood, I thought it all sounds so reasonable and constructed. Why is it not what I am experiencing with my 5 3/4 year old and now 6 year old? This led me to the library where I found, "The Child from Five to Ten., Gesell, Ilg and Ames, (Harper & Row, 1977). They wrote this sentence which gave me hope and solace:
"Five and a half to six- No period makes a greater demand upon a sense of perspective and a sense of humor. If the parent recognizes the transitional nature of this intense behavior, Six becomes much more manageable and altogether less trying."(1)
I highly recommend reading "the manual" for this stage! It was enlightening and comforting for me. The adjectives they use to describe the child at this time helped explain the bipolar nature I was experiencing within my daughter. See-sawing between: affection and antagonism; delightfully companionable to outrageously over demanding; enthusiasm, creativity, exuberance, imaginative to unreasonable, explosive, stubborn, and then "going to pieces". Gessell, Ilg, Ames describe it as "Sunshine to Shadow" and back again in the flicker of a moment!
From what I gather from my research, the transition from 5.5 to 6.5 is like a roller coaster ride. Hold on loosely and let it ride when it is bumpy; laugh and wonder at the creative exuberance and affections, and at some point you will pull in at the station and regroup! But it may not be until they are 7 and turn their energies inward or a two week respite presents itself and an eerily calm angelic 6 year old possesses your child.
"At 5 you (Mother) were the center of the universe. Six is that center himself. "(1)
At 5, they were content in staying within their gains and content to enjoy their competencies. At 6, they are thrusting themselves into the unknown. They are oblivious to their in-competencies and they want you to be as well. Join the delusion in the all - knowing 6 year old and find things to praise. He wants his way just for the sake of having his way. Wait a few beats and the psychological weather may change. Or plan to underwhelm the nervous system; eat a protein snack; leave the play date after only an hour of play. Preventative precaution is the watchword. Once their nervous system is overwhelmed, it is hard to find ballast to regain middle ground.
Six is at his best and worst with the primary caretaker. They will test every acculturated nerve you have.This is what may ruffle your feathers constantly. Your synapse structure has been pruned by the successes and failures you have had. You understand the range of cultured possibilities; what is outside civilized bounds; what grace under pressure looks like and feels like; how to raise the level of discourse and let higher angels prevail.
Perspective is lost on them, as this is the very first time these tragedies and comedies have struck them. They have yet to organize the ranges of experiences. They are operating from a very reactive base human nature. The age of reason is a ways off, but on the horizon. They have yet to encounter the formative experiences and are actively seeking them in their unorganized, un-moderated, chaotic way. We as adults may label their behavior as "overreacting". Yet, our adult nervous systems have the objectivity of experience. The very breadth and depth that a sensitively wired 6 year old is without!
6 year olds have all the synaptic structure of the adult, but it is not organized yet. They are nervously wired to capacity.The body is more tender. The emotions run high; and physical and emotional hurts sometimes overwhelm. Allergy responses are high. The nervous system is thrumming with input. The input is in the seminal process of being weighted and the output is unable to be modulated.
An environment of tolerance and security that accounts for the dramatic presentations of the 6 year old is advised. The interconnectedness of friends and family is the context within which these synapses are pruned or strengthened. Family and mature friends would do well to remember that the crucible of emotional safety will be the true civilizing structure of this tenuous and fleeting passage. It is not so much how the child acts, but how you react! So humor them and praise them, take their outbursts with extra empathy, as much as possible.
"It is quite normal even though not very nice, for children of (6) to be 'all mixed up with their mothers.' Normally a rebellious age, it is important for Mother's to divorce herself emotionally as much as possible. Just be as fair and reasonable as you can. and when your daughter starts carrying on try to remain calm and objective."(2)
Dispassionate guidance may be the best tact. Try to stay with them as the calm center of the storm. They then can retreat to you when it gets too much, which will be often. Sometimes a low key request followed by, "when you are ready." or an "I can help get you started." will smooth the way to accomplishment of task versus engagement in an irrational battle with an underage imperial dictator!
You as the calm center will not hold when you are the object of their repulsion. Allow a partner or a grandmother to take over the most trying tasks of the day; bath time or getting ready to leave the house. Yet as soon as this person becomes the primary caretaker of the task, let the affection/aggression games begin!
Find a way to just take a break from one another. Make a spot for quiet reflection for your child. The bedroom for quiet time with favorite animal or quilt. For many this can be a few minutes of unconditional listening at bedtime. Reassure them of your love for them. Find something to praise. What you shine your light on will grow! 6 year olds accept praise readily but only praise. Criticism will cut deeply and give rise to obstinance or irrational, intense bouts of rage!
The 6.5 year old needs to be protected from himself . Much the way a 2.5 year old needed physical safety, a 6.5 year old needs emotional safety. When the child is older, one may be able to speak to them about why a certain behavior or set of circumstances was not acceptable. They may not be able to process fresh emotionally charged experiences without dredging up the entire battle.
Like the toy the 2.5 year old was afraid of 6 months ago, one may be able to re-present the situation at a later date, in a carefully crafted 'learning story' (told through a ghost writer!). They then might be able to enjoy the absurdity of the antics, and you will appreciate how far in their understanding they have come!
"Go easy on this poor little fellow who, because of the very immaturities of his age, is often so very hard on himself." (2) The techniques I will share in the post 'Techniques for Handling Your 6 Year Old" may help the relationship within the home flow more smoothly. Peer relations may be a different story, however. Please see "Playdates Gone Wrong" to continue! Thanks!