The Typical Ages of Disequilibrium

According to a  traditional developmental perspective, there are ages that are prone to a sense of equilibrium and ages prone to disquilibrium.  I thought I would recap the ages of birth through age 9  here with a quick sentence or two, so you all would know what ages are traditionally considered more challenging than others.

This is of course, not an anthroposophic point of view and of course your child is influenced by their own temperament, their own personality traits and parenting and the environment also have an influence.  Some children I have known never did seem to go through these traditional stages at all, while others seemed to fit into them very well.

But, here they are for you to consider, and I think you can tuck them away and find them helpful at varying points.  If you know four is typically out of bounds in many ways, and seven is typically morose and moody and can be rather morbid, it just can help you cope a bit better.

These ages and descriptions are from the work of The Gesell Institute.  Sometimes the descriptions may sound a bit negative, but if you read the books in their entirety, they do try to paint a balanced picture of each age. 

I encourage you to read these books for yourself.  I hold more of an anthroposophic view of the child, but find these descriptions to be helpful at times, and hopefully you can pick what would be helpful to you and your family and your child out of it all.

AGES OF DISEQUILIBRIUM:  18 months ( I would say 15 to 21 months), 2 1/2 years, 3 1/2 years, 4 1/2 years, 5 1/2- 6 years, 7 years, 9 years

AGES OF EQUILIBRIUM:  12 months, 2 years, 3 years, 4 years, 5 years, 6 1/2-7 years, 8 years and 10 years

More “outward” behavior generally occurs at 2 years, 3 years, 4 years, 6 years, 8 years, 10 years – think expansive behavior, outward bound, silliness in older children, biting, hitting, kicking, etc.     Behavior is typically more “inward” at 18 months, 2 1/2 years, 3 1/2 years, 5 years, 7 years, 9 years. 

15 months – completely active, throws objects, “dart and dash” age

18 months – cannot wait, in the taking phase but not the giving phase, needs close and constant supervision in a baby-proofed environment, needs outlet for physical energy

The Gesell Institute says in “Child Behavior:  The Classic Child Care Manual from The Gesell Institution of Human Development”:

“Eighteen months is not one of the “better” ages if we measure goodness in terms of minding, responding to commands, keeping within reasonable bounds.  However, if we can appreciate the immaturity – of motor ability, language, and emotions – of the 18-monther, it can be fairly easy to keep his behavior within reasonable limits…..Thus, if you would like to have him move from wherever he is to wherever you are –lure him, pick him up and carry him, but for best results, do not call him. He is simply not mature enough to respond,  in most instances, to such a verbal command…..”Coat-hat-out” is about as complicated a command as the average 18-monther can follow.” 

2 years – loving, affectionate, cannot share

2 1/2 years – a peak age of disequilibrium typically, typically rigid and inflexible, wants everything done according to what they want, when they want it, domineering and demanding, violent emotions, no ability to choose between alternatives or make a choice and stick to it

3 years – the age of “we” (mommy and me), no longer rigid and inflexible,

3 1/2 years – new motor incoordination, new stuttering, tensional outlets, emotional insecurity, crying, whining, frequent questions, demanding

4 years – “out of bounds” – hit, kick, throw things, break things, run away.  Out of bound emotionally, rage/loud silly behavior, shocking language, out of bounds in relationships, “swaggers, swears, boasts, defies.”  Height of imagination,

4 1/2 years – Height of mixture of reality and imagination, can be a time of catching up in motor/language, play is less wild than at age 4, fine motor coordination improved and will often begin to be interested in drawing,

5 years – equilibrium, mother center of the world, an enjoyable age

5 1/2 years  to 6 years – violent emotions, emotional outbursts, mother no longer center of the world,  the child wants to be the center of his own world now, demanding, rigid, “negative, rude, resistant.”   They typically have to be right, to win, to be praised.

The Gesell Institute writes, “Whatever the situation, we can make it a little easier for the 5 1/2 or 6 –year-old, and for ourselves, be respecting ourselves, by respecting the fact that he is having a difficult time within himself as well as in his relations with others.  Use techniques where you can.  Bypass as  many unhappy incidents as you can.”

6 1/2 to 7 years –  more calm, more withdrawn, more complaining, moody, moping

8 years –  exuberant, enthusiastic, often will not finish a task, speedy, may have tears of “I never do it right!”, “needs protection both from trying to do too much and from too excessive self-criticism when failures occur.”

9 years – quieter, calmer, very independent, less arguing back, more interested in friends than family, interested in excursions and what adults will do with/for him but not as interested in the relationship itself, worries and complains

10 years – equilibirum, enjoys and listens to parents, tries to “be good”, pleased with the world.

That is a quick overview of each age; do look up the Gesell Institute Books (“Your One-Year-Old”, “Your Two-Year-Old” etc.) for more information from a traditional developmental viewpoint.  I also would like to point out the list of gentle discipline/development books I posted here:



21 thoughts on “The Typical Ages of Disequilibrium

  1. Thank you for posting this – it’s a nice expansion from what I’ve read in your blog before. My son just turned 5 a few weeks ago, but he’s anything other than in equilibrium. When I read the description for 5 1/2 it sounds *exactly* like him. I had been chalking it up to the newish baby – is it possible for a significant event in the family like this to push things forward a bit? Or am I looking to another 1 1/2 yrs of this? The temper tantrums rival most 2 yr olds (kicking, screaming, hitting himself, spitting).

    • Hey Mamaraby – Please do go and read my posts on age 5, I think there is a tag on it. I disagree with Gesell that 5 is an age of equilibrium, so do check those out….Also, I think what you are describing can be a very normal reaction to a new baby in the house…Hopefully it will calm down soon…I have quite a few sibling posts on here, if you use the search engine box those should come up…

  2. Carrie-
    Thank you so much! I have a 2 1/2 year old and this makes me breathe a little easier…..We have a 4 month old and her behavior has definitely been acting outwards…..

    Do you do personal consultations, by chance?


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  4. Carrie

    I just had to smile reading this tonight. My almost 15 months old is behaving like an 18 month old. With my oldest I have also found the strecth from 15-21 months the most difficult (I put it down to pre-verbal frustration).
    Likely the oldest have just turned 3 and boy have we observed a change. He is an absolute delight to be with, most of the time.
    Hopefully baby will be through her age of disequilibrium before he turns 3 1/2. Haha 😉

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  8. Hello,
    The developmental information from the Gesell Institute is so important for people to know!
    I’m so glad you share it with others. I attended a Gesell Institute workshop a number of years ago, and the information about the child ages 18 months to 2 years was different from the Gesell Institute books, titled “Your One Year Old,” “Your Two Year Old,” etc. I called the Gesell Institute recently to ask if their books were being updated–it’s been years, and if they stand by the info in their books regarding this age range or were planning to change the info. I was told that the into would change to reflect the information I’d heard:
    15 months: disequilibrium–insecure, clingy whiny, fearful.
    18 months: Equilibrium–Stage of lots of growth. Happier, able to do so many more things, like focus on activity, hold a crayon, climb, often exhibit a burst of language, exhibit a sense of humor
    and more.
    21 months: Disequilibrium–similar to 15 months. Very concerned about sharing–ownership
    issues cause a great deal of stress.
    2 years: Equilibrium–pleasing, affectionate, etc.

    Of course, Gesell speaks of developmental age. Children don’t necessarily go thought these phases “on time,” but in their own time. For some children, these phases are a blip on the radar,
    and for others the stages of disequilibrium are long and intense. It’s important to remember that children are constantly striving, and not acting in “negative” ways on purpose! The more insecure a child feels, the more rigid is the behavior he or she exhibits. The child is trying to be in control
    when he or she feels out of control. It’s important to see the innocence of their thoughts and actions. It’s also important to set limits that need to be set, but limits can be set in both firm and consistent, and respectful and loving ways.

    Parents just need to know that there is nothing wrong with their children, and nothing wrong with them! It’s important to support children through these stages. When children are exhibiting trying behavior, and seem unlovable, that is when they need to most love.

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  10. Thank you for the post. I follow this blog regularly for gentle parenting advice. I have been having a hard time with my almost 4 year old (he’ll be 4 in April) and he seems to fit right in with the characteristics listed here for the 4 year old. What I want to know is how do I deal with this behavior? I’m trying my hardest to be gentle with him but I feel like a failure and I’m embarrassed by this behavior. We do have a general rhythm to our day but, outside of sleep/wake and meal times, he can be very resistant to any suggested activities and when I initiate them hoping he’ll join in he becomes a major distraction, to the point where I need to stop what I’m doing with the littler one to “redirect” or “discipline” him. I feel bad doing time outs because I don’t want him to feel cast away for having strong feelings and I don’t want him to feel like I’m excluding him, but I don’t know what else to do.
    It’s not fair to the little one to have to be interupted so often!
    Do you have any suggestions???

    • Hi Sarah,
      THank you for coming to this space for inspiration. Four and six are the ages I get the most questions regarding discipline about, and there are many blog posts on here regarding those ages. They are challenging ones! Yes, I have some suggestions, but I would like to know how old your other child is, and to have a few examples of what you are trying to do when he is being disruptive to your rhythm. At almost four, I would expect him to push against things, and I know he may look very big compared to your younger child, but almost four is really, really tiny. I think you are in the land of redirection and movement and fantasy and time in by you if the boundary you have set is broken and he is not able to be re-directed to be helpful. Four year olds also need copious amounts of time outside – four to six hours a day is not too little!
      So, I think I can help you but I guess I need more information or some examples…

      Many blessings,

  11. Thanks for the quick response 🙂
    Well, his younger sister just turned 2.
    I know there has been some jealousy issues with him surrounding her birthday but his behavior has been difficult for some time now.
    I’ll just give examples from today though
    This afternoon after my husband came home from work, he and my son played tag for a bit ( in the house). I joined in. we were both chasing him and giving hugs and kisses when we tagged him letting him be “it” (the littler one just ran around squealing 🙂 ). Then when we started winding down he said he was thirsty and went to the bathroom to get himself a drink. …he then came out of the bathroom naked and started running around wild and being rough with his sister and was refusing to get dressed again. We had bread in the oven that was just about done and I told him he had until the timer went off and then he would have to get dressed or start losing bedtime stories. …He lost 2 stories in the process of getting dressed. He was uncooperative and combative about it with his father. He wasn’t being physically forced to dress but while my husband held his pants to help him, my son was bashing his head against my husbands chest and getting all noodle legged with him. We then got dressed to go outside. My husband was at a loss for communication with him at the moment so I went to my son and told him that it made me sad to see him treat his dad like that and he may have hurt him. He didn’t seem to care. We ran around outside for about 1/2 an hour before dinner. His behavior was still restless and rude at the dinner table. Typing this I’m realizing he was probably tired and all the examples I can think of for you don’t seem so bad when I start typing them up. I just feel like there are constant little battles like this all day long. I worry that he has some sort of behavioral disorder sometimes. He throws rageful tantrums and I feel like he tells me he’s “angry” all the time. There have not been many days lately where I felt like we had a good connection. Tonight, since he lost stories, I told him he had the choice and could either lay alone and look at a book with his flashlight or he could lay with me and talk about our day today. He chose to lay with me and then half way through discussing our day he said he just wanted to lay alone with his book. Was that manipulative? Do I worry too much? Sorry this is so chatty and scattered. Thank you for any insight.

    • Sarah,
      I think family life is like that though, don’t you? By that, I mean points of feeling amore connected to our children than at other times..This is the time when really you start to develop your own calm, loving authority. Rhythm is a huge holder for a child of almost four, and we must be open to changing our rhythm with our children. Many children get really, really, ramped up when Daddy comes home from work. It may be that the play needs to be something calmer at that time. Sometimes bedtime is literally just getting through it because they are so very tired and cannot control themselves well.

      At almost four, children do care about others, but really cannot put themselves in someone else’s shoes yet. That skill develops at its height around the nine year change. I think your husband handled it well by not using too many words and just staying the course of trying to get dressed, but of course if he needs a break because he is being hurt (a boundary, not hurting others), than he could have tried distraction through a story or other imaginative pictures. “Let me tell you a little story about a bunny I know who did not want to get dressed…” sometimes can be just the trick to get through things.

      Giving a child choices at this age can be very difficult. THey often don’t care about the consequences well at the age of almost four, often cannot predict what the outcome of their actions will be (ie, not wanting to brush their teeth doesn’t mean they are choosing to get cavities at this age, you know?)….So, I am all for boundaries, especially when it comes to hurting ourselves or others through words or actions, but I dont think give him choices about doing this or else this will happen because I think almost four is a little young for that. You hold the space through the rhythm, through your calm actions, through not so many words, and know in your heart things like, yes, this child has got to get off to bed NOW! LOL.

      With almost four year olds, look carefully at rhythm – he may very well need four to six hours outside a day, what work is he engaged with around the house, what is he engaged with with his hands – baking, wet felting, polishing things, scrubbing, – all come to mind. How is his diet and sleep? Here is a post that may help you look at rhythms in the home: and I also recommend all the four year posts under the DEVELOPMENT tab. This post might also be helpful: and this one:

      Hope that is a helpful spot, you are doing a great job and I think this is just an age where parenting is really shifting around as our child develops more fully.

  12. I’d love to hear some book recommendations for anthroposophical viewpoints – i’m planning to “go a little Waldorf” with my little girls – they are seventh and eighth in birth order and I’m ready to do something I’ve always wanted to do in our homeschool 🙂

    • Stephanie,
      There is plenty on this blog to keep you busy. Just tap the development header and it will drop down by age and you can see which ones speak to you. There is also a lot by grade under the homeschooling header.

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