I have written before about the really active, can-be-aggressive small child in several back posts of varying nature, but I had a few thoughts I wanted to share today. ( Please be sure to note I am dealing here with fiery temperaments, not especially with children dealing with sensory or developmental issues affecting behavior).
If you are struggling with a six year old who still seems rather “stuck” in immature behavior that involves physicality, I want to encourage you tonight. It doesn’t seem as if people really talk about this at all in parenting resources; it seems it is well- assumed that tantrums or any physical response to a limit is over by age three.
From what I have seen, six year olds can definitely still have a hard time controlling their hands, their emotions, their reactions, their physical responses and such. To those of us involved in Waldorf Education, this seems like of course! Has anyone ever read the book “Ramona The Brave” by Beverly Cleary? Here is a passage about fiery Ramona, six years old and in first grade at school, when she becomes completely angry at a classmate (for those of you who have not read this book it is a paper owl and Susan had copied what Ramona had done to make hers, which is why Ramona is angry in this chapter):
‘”Ramona slid out of her seat. Her chest felt tighter. Her head told her to keep her hands to herself, but her hands did not obey. They seized Susan’s owl. They crushed the owl with a sound of crackling paper.
Susan gasped. Ramona twisted the owl as hard as she could until it looked like nothing but an old paper bag scribbled with crayon. Without meaning to, Ramona had done a terrible thing.
“Mrs. Griggs!” cried Susan. “Ramona scrunched my owl!”
“Tattletale.” Ramona threw the twisted bag on the floor, and as Mrs. Griggs approached to see what had happened, she dodged past her teacher, out the door and down the hall, running as fast as she could, even though running through the halls was forbidden….She ran as if she were pursued by Susan, Mrs. Griggs, the principal, all of Room One, the whole school. She ran from her conscience and from God, who, as they said in Sunday School, was everywhere. She ran as if Something was coming to get her.”
(When Ramona eventually asks her parents not to make her return to Room One after several more things, her father tells her she must return and to buck up and show her parents her spunk, which actually makes Ramona feel better and gives her determination to do better because her “spunkiness” has been recognized and there is recognition she can use that quality for good).
Anger is an acceptable emotion. But being aggressive is not acceptable.
And the piece that is frequently lacking for parents is how to handle all of this. I am just a mother, and I can only tell you what other mothers have told me.
I do think there could be two separate issues here – one is dealing with the Ramonas of the world – fiery, hot, remorseful when it is all over (or perhaps a mix of remorseful but still a bit angry or feeling like they needed to do something in the name of justice and fairness, LOL) and those children who have truly deeper issues. Therefore, I caution you to look carefully at your own child, and determine things with your health care team if your child is on the spectrum of developmental delay in some regard, leading to explosive or difficult behavior. In these cases, I am not certain what I have to say here will be helpful as I am not a behavioral therapist or a psychologist.
If this is a child who has a true sense of disrespect for his or her parents and is consistently physically lashing out to the parents or other adults by biting, hitting or such at the age of six, I do feel outside counseling help may be warranted. It may not be that this is not “fixable”, but it may need extra help and the parents may need new help setting new patterns into play. I would wonder all sorts of things about that child, about the home life, that only someone in real life could investigate, evaluate and help with… This is not something to be figured out over email, over a blog, a forum, or a message board. This is something that a trained professional needs to be involved with for the behavior to change. And I think it is important to seek that help, because whilst human beings certainly always have the potential to change, what many parents have told me is that the patterns that are established when children are little still can be a “default mechanism” during times of stress as the child grows. So, I think seeking out someone who is respected, who is trusted and someone whom you can meet in person is important!
But, for those of us truly living with the simply fiery ones who get completely upset, and kick something (and maybe break it!) or who still throw themselves on the floor, I think there is hope. What I have seen and heard mothers say that has worked well are several things:
The most controversial one that parents talk about is holding their tantruming child, or even laying their body across a child who needs that gentle physical help to come back to themselves. Some may think five and six year olds may be too old for this, but I don’t necessarily think so . I think this one can be helpful for some children to come back but also insanely tricky because the parent really has to be calm and gentle and be able to say calmly that they are there to help the child calm down – and be able to do this with a child who perhaps is hitting at them or flailing around and still remain as calm as a stone. And, the child must be responsive to something like that and not have it escalate their behavior even more. No small order. So that one may not work for everyone.
So, in the moment is hard. Some children at age six can respond to humor or distraction, or a bit of flailing on the floor in another space where they are safe but not on top of people for a few minutes before a parent can step in and either hold them or try to sweep up in a matter of fact manner into a snack, a story or something else.
I personally feel very strong physically and emotionally comfortable about trying any of the above. At six or so, the child should be much easier to calm than previously. Sometimes at that age, a child will be happy to have a good ole’ fit on their own in their own room, their own space, under a table. I urge parents who are facing this to also think of a safe place where younger siblings could go if they are home alone dealing with this and have younger ones about.
If the child breaks something, then I feel he or she must fix it, pay for it, help Mom or Dad fix it, or not receive something they would otherwise get if they do not get an allowance to help pay for it. If the child hurts someone, I think they need to use their hands to do something nice for that someone, and also for a six and a half year old and up, I think they need to work for the number of minutes/ amount of time they spent having a huge fit that disrupted the whole family.
Rhythm is another strong aid. I find these children often have a lot of energy, may be extroverted in a sense, and without form and structure, their energy goes bad places. You need to be able to channel their energy until they can constructively channel that energy themselves. Six can be a more difficult age for this, because almost everything may be deemed as “boring.” Long periods of time in nature can be especially helpful and therapeutic.
All of the basics need to be looked at and re-examined: sleep, diet of good fats and protein sources, outside time, the stress level of the house, how many outside commitments is this small child under, and media levels.
Limits are important, and can be one of those fine line areas in terms of timing (not in setting the limit though, the limit still needs to be set!). Some parents have shared with me that they were slow to set limits in the early years, and this is the child that now responds so badly to them at age five and six; a “no” makes them fall apart now that they are older with disaster ensuing. If you know you are starting later with limits and limits sets your child off, you can still set the limit and not use words about it. I think I gave the example in another post that if all the children are fighting, then staying home is a good option. You don’t have to announce loudly to everyone that “now we are staying home because you all are horrible, terrible children who need to be hidden away!” but just do it. If comes up later, than you can say simply you were not feeling generous and we must be kind to each other. Curb your instinct to lecture and lash out. Some of these words can be delayed even to before bedtime if you need to bring it up.
But the fine line of this approach is this: after the child gets used to having some limits, then they do need to be set directly, because in life people will tell your child no,they will set limits and your child has to be able to take this without becoming angry or aggressive. A child may outgrow this sort of thing to an extent, but again from what I am hearing from parents of children with older children, again, is that this pattern did seem established in the ages of four to seven and did not just dissipate with time. It took work on the part of the parent to help that child. Also, I think what happens over time with these children if the adults are not careful, is that the adult does not want to set or enforce limits because that will lead to a battle, so what happens is instead of the child adapting to the limit, the child’s behavior ends up shaping the adult’s behavior. And this is a true problem that needs to be tackled, because that child may grow up and expect the world to adapt to them and what they want without any consideration for the others, for limits of the law, or other things. Not trying to sound dire here, but it is problematic. A trained family therapist or psychologist could also be helpful in this sort of situation as well.
Which brings us to community. I think children like this need a community of adults to help them and you as the parent,need to be mindful of when you are actually stepping in to be helpful or if you are just shielding your child and being a barrier between your child and what should be handled by the child’s teacher, or the adult the child was talking to. At six years of age, this child should not need so much rescuing from you in their interactions with others. Let them be. What they learn may be beneficial, and this is important work for the child to do. Homeschooling families will need to really look and make this a priority – who else does your child have to show respect and listen to besides you? And if an adult asks them something, do you step in and navigate the whole thing for the child?
Be encouraged. You can guide them and help this child grow up to use their gifts of passion, perseverance, sense of justice in positive ways. But do not shirk from doing the work. Your child must learn to deal with frustration and limits in a constructive way. You can do this, hang in there!
Just a few thoughts I have garnered from my conversations with mothers and my own experience with the physical child…