I had a question from a mother regarding a six year old child (almost seven) who she felt was speaking disrespectfully not only to her but to other elders within the family.
I responded to her that I felt some of the passages from the book “You Are Not the Boss of Me! Understanding the Six/Seven Year Old Transformation” may be helpful to her; while much of this book is aimed at Waldorf Kindergarten teachers, I think it is still well-applicable to the home environment.
“This transition time, often called “first puberty” or “first adolescence” is a time when children go through an abundance of transformations. These can bring symptoms of chaotic behavior manifesting in even the most well-adjusted children……..(if) we as caregivers can be prepared inwardly to see and meet the new behaviors of the children, then the children and their parents are more at ease in our presence. The children can then have a safe place to test out their newfound need to push for boundaries, we are braced to meet them and the parents can have trust that we truly understand their children.” (Of course, this is written for classroom teachers, but I think the idea still stands.)
“Sometime between the age of five and one half to seven we begin to see that children are asking for something more from us in addition to our continued working out of imitation.” (page 4)
There is the crux of it; changing from using imitation and modeling to a bit more direct of a disciplinary style. This does not mean reasoning! But it does mean a matter-of-fact, peaceful energy around the fact that you are the parent.
From Page 8 – “One of the most common responses I’ve witnessed is the need of children to be the boss. Parents, teachers, and their peers are no longer safe from being corrected at every mistake. This, coupled with an arrival of a sense of time (before, after, and so on), can show itself at circle time when a child speeds up the verse to be finished before the others or on the morning walk when the child slows down her walking so that she can arrive way behind the others. Going along with what everybody else is doing is no longer an unconscious priority……..A Matter of fact response is needed (then). “Teachers know the rules of the land, “ or , as I have said to my own children. “That is my job. Your angel asked me to be your helper.” Children benefit immensely by being met directly at this time, and a neutral, informing tone of voice can reassure them that the boundaries are still in place even though their whole being is in upheaval. What a relief this is for them!”
This passage is specifically about boys in the kindergarten – “In the kindergarten we can see that boys need to know who is the “boss”. They easily establish a social pecking order with one strong “captain” at the top. This behavior is even more evident during the six-year-old change. It is important that an adult take on this role of “captain of the ship.” There are far fewer problems with bullying and social dominance if it is very clear to the boys that the adult is the boss. Boys need clear, strong boundaries and limits firmly established. They do better when the rules of conduct are simple and do not require elaborate explanations.” (page 119)
From page 271 – “Remember, you, as the parent, are the child’s loving authority. Do not be afraid to claim that role. Your guidance with strengthen, not suppress, your child’s will. This child is reassured by a warm, confident adult who knows how things work in the world and can show him or her the way.”
Waldorf teachers of this child would think about carefully choosing the battle, trying to transform this situation into a game or offering assistance but also not being afraid to state things a very matter of fact manner regarding what needs to happen.
The six and seven-year old transformation is the harbinger of what the seven to fourteen-year-old needs. Many parents out there are using a very direct method of guidance with children younger than six, and this is putting the cart before the horse. However, as your child moves closer to seven and into the second seven year cycle, you can have confidence that a direct, clear rule is often called for and needed.
As adults, we do not feel happiness all the time and we do not always speak respectfully at all times to one another. This child may need to have some other needs addressed – sleep, rhythm, diet, is the child getting sick, what is being modeled in the environment, is this child expending enough physical energy, is something unusual going on at home that is upsetting to the child, is the child involved in some sort of practical work that engages him – but there can also be a place for a simple sentence, and a place for the child to draw a picture to make retribution if he particularly hurt a family member’s feelings with his words. No guilt trip, no judgment on the child or the child’s behavior in a wordy way. Just a simple phrase of how we treat one another and restitution by the child’s hands and body through movement and doing if this is called for.
Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.