We have peeked at both the traditional and anthroposophic views of the nine-year-old in two previous posts. Nine is definitely a time of change, a time of feeling separate from parents and family, a time when peers become extremely important, a time of developmental “rebellion” in some ways (I don’t really like that term, but there it is). A time to question what is real, what is not real, do adults know what they are doing, why are rules the way they are, and are things fair?
I think nine doesn’t have to be incredibly difficult if you have a generally happy and calm household and if you yourself feel balanced and calm. I think this is why in general parenting and in Waldorf, we look to the family life and ourselves first and if a child seems consistently way out of sorts. Even traditional parenting resources suggest this. “Your Nine-Year-Old” by the Gesell Institute quoted pediatrician Sanford Matthews as saying, “ [he suggests] when mothers come to [him] distraught because their disciplining of their children is going badly, that these mothers concentrate on making their own lives more rewarding, rather than emphasizing merely their relationship with their child or children.”
Having realistic expectations for each age is highly important. I talk about that time and time again on this blog. Nine-year-olds in general may withdraw from the family and from you. They may complain a lot, and gradually all this anxiety and complaining diminishes as ten approaches.
Nine- year -olds need detailed instructions and need reminders. If you ask them to do something, they may want to do it later and then they forget. If your child is sulky or cross when you ask them politely do to something, chances are if you ignore that and don’t make a big deal about their attitude, they will do what you are asking (although it may not be with a smile!). Most nine-year-olds think in terms of right and wrong, and do want to do what is “right”. Fairness is a big deal, and so is what peers think. Most nine-year-olds are very honest, and will tell you things that they did and not really hide things they did that they thought were “wrong”.
Facing the natural or logical consequences of behavior is by far the best means of guidance. Now is also the time you can really start to put family values into words, if that hasn’t come up in some many words before. And although your child is past the age of imitation, what you model is more important than your words. Being positive and loving your child is really the most important thing.
You have to maintain your cool and calm self to really be that wall they can bounce off of, that boundary they can push against and realize that the boundary doesn’t crumple. Solutions and solving problems and fixing mistakes is much more important than blaming and dwelling on what happened over and over.
The other thing to consider is now that your child is feeling a bit more separate from you and is concerned about peers and what peers think, now is a great time to practice either “no comment” or being able to just say supportive things. If a child says, “My friends don’t like me” it is not an opening to ask what they did to cause that, to go into the fact you didn’t like those friends anyway, that they need to be at home more anyway, that they will make better friends in the future, etc. First of all, emotions still can turn on a dime. I think we all remember from our childhood days being really angry with a friend and then an hour later we are best friends again. Secondly, you do not need to own your child’s stuff. This is their stuff, not yours. It is theirs to start to work through, and you are the gentle guidance and support, but not The Great and Ultimate Fixer.
Some parents begin to worry – they see their child doing something they themselves did at that age, or think their child’s personality is similar to theirs and feel badly about this. “I don’t want my child to do what I did!” “I don’t want my child to be like me!” I suggest to you to keep an attitude that this is a phase, your child is headed toward ten, be positive, model what you do want to see and choose your battles and your words carefully!
The other key piece of being nine, I think, is that the child needs another adult besides you to look up to and to trust. Steiner talks about the importance of a trusted community and role models during this time. If you have a limited circle outside of your family, perhaps consider expanding that a bit with some trusted friends to help you.
Just a few thoughts on the nine-year-old tonight!