I think as homeschooling families, one of our main goals is always the connection of the family and how we stay attached to each other in a society that sometimes doesn’t seem to value that at all. Some of the homeschooling families who read my blog, many of them, are also what has been termed and made popular in the common literature by Dr. Sears as “attachment parents.”
But what I want to talk about today is the development of the independence of the child within the context of attachment. I don’t think attachment and becoming more of an individual, more independent and more capable are mutually exclusive at all – we can still be attached but have separate psychological identities. In fact, I would argue, in order to become an adult that has a meaningful role within their own family and and as a citizen of the world, this has to happen. We have all heard the jokes or seen instances of people whose adult lives were totally enmeshed with their parents. It is funny for a television show, but not so funny in real life. Enmeshment prohibits a child and an adult from reaching the fullness and freedom of who they are.
I think healthy attachment starts not only with connection, lots of connection and including but not being limited to extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping, but with loving authority and boundaries. I think if you have read this blog for any length of time I have made that abundantly clear. I think I have also talked a fair bit about boundaries. Boundaries, in its essence, is not just how “strict or loose” your parenting style is; it is about how you GUIDE your child to HEALTH as a growing, developing SEPARATE individual. It is also about creating balance, and creating opportunity for right growth, especially for those children where self-growth and self-development are not initiated.
Separation, to me, starts around the child is age three and says “I” for the first time. That is the beginning, the spark of recognition that “I am myself.” I may not know or understand all that means yet, but I am me. Bernard Lievegoed, author of “Phases of Childhood,” marks this as a stage of self-awareness. This can also be a phase of negativity from the child; by pushing against the outside world the child begins to develop the self.
It continues with the six/seven year old change. Some parents write me and say, “My child went through the six/seven year old change. They slammed doors, said they hated me, said that I was not the boss of them. Then they were done.”
Okay, but let me put this out to you: the six/seven year old change, to me, is not just about “you’re not the boss of me.” It is about finding a psychological identity that is separate from parents – that they have a role in the family or at school, they know what that treasured and valued role is, and that they do feel accepted and loved but also a bit “separate”, a bit ready to take a view on something…there is a shift toward the child having real opinions about the world, that may be different than the parent’s view, and that in this view that the child has a continuous self and therefore can participate in learning. At this stage, children in the six/seven year change usually also are interested in having friends, being a friend, in having community outside of their family. I think many times this is neglected and not mentioned in Waldorf Educational literature, because the assumption is the child is at the school in community. I think this is an important point for homeschooling families when looking at the development of their child. To me, turning outward toward community and peers and not just within the family, is a hallmark of the six/seven change.
This process can take up to a year and a half, I think especially for sensitive children who haven’t had a lot of opportunity to be around other children, or just children who develop a little bit slower. They may not be as interested in peers until the nine –year change, but then I have personally observed that that change may be a much more difficult one than the six/seven year change.
I think one way we can gauge where are children are in the six/seven change is to look at their play(see the many, many back posts on play on this site about how play changes during the six/seven year old change), and to look at their drawings of human beings, a house and a tree. Here is an interesting, brief look at drawings made by two thousand German five and six year olds prior to school entrance, comparing drawings made by those who did and didn’t watch media, those who did and did inhale passive cigarette smoke, and those with psychological disturbances: http://www.waldorflibrary.org/images/stories/articles/RB13_2rittelmeyer.pdf There are whole books on working with children’s drawings in Waldorf Education; you can check Rudolf Steiner College Bookstore or Bob and Nancy’s Bookshop for those titles.
For the nine/ten year old going through this change feels utterly and sometimes desperately alone, apart from humanity, out of the Garden of secure family. They have an experience of self and it is a tragedy; there is no shelter of the family or of being with friends. Therefore, I believe firmly that children who do not have a strong sense of community and belonging built up through early childhood through family, extended family and strong friendships can have an even more fragile nine year change. Boundaries and loving authority can also make this change better, along with loving connection. The child is becoming an individual.
From the viewpoint of Waldorf Education, three things are traditionally seen as helping a child become an individual: childhood diseases, what author Edmond Schoorel in his book “The First Seven Years: Physiology of Childhood” calls “naughtiness” (which made me chuckle!), curiosity, and we develop memory. One that Schoorel mentions briefly, and that Bernard Lievegoed discusses further is that of the force of antipathy. “Very often there is the tendency to concentrate only on positive feelings. This is impossible. It destroys the drama, the basic law of feeling. Any attempt to present only positive feeling results in superficial sentiment. Feelings are brought forth from contrast and the nature of their polarity…It is not a matter of guarding children from negative feelings or denying them as such, it is a matter of presenting the feelings as opposites in the correct way.” (Lievegoed, page 170).
I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but I do want to leave you with a few teasing comments by Edmond Schoorel:
- “Children do not need to understand everything; it is even better when they don’t..It is essential for children to have the opportunity to ask questions; yet they do not need answers on the level of their understanding. Mysteries are interesting because we do not have an answer.” (page 260)
- “When children have too little curiosity, we face the question: can we stimulate curiosity? I think that we can do this only in an indirect way. When weakness has to do with the child’s constitution, we may have to work with movement development.” (page 248)
- “Naughtiness can be a first exercise in waking up. With naughtiness, the child turns away from the order of which he or she was a part. It is a first step toward freedom and individuality.” (page 246)
And this process of connection to others, and connection to ourselves, continues as we grow and change throughout our lives. And sometimes we realize, yes, our circumstances and such may have been specific to us, but the tumult of different ages was by no means unique but being part of the human race.
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I appreciate your informative articles. I’m facing a situation where I may be the only positive role model for this 8yr old female child. She is not homeschooled, but I am seeking info on how to help her growth be a positive experience. Thanks.
So glad you are here, C Christine! There is a lot here by age if you look under the “development” header.
Our 3 year old is in a play-based program 2 hours, twice a week. The director is pressuring us re preschool next year, saying he’ll be emotionally & socially stunted if he doesn’t separate from us (parents). Curious about your response – surely you’ve heard the arguments that children should become independent from their parents and need a lot of peer interaction (which we don’t plan to deprive him of!). He IS very social/outgoing. “School”/separating Doesn’t feel right to me so young, but I know you’ll have something reassuring to say that is thoughtful or research-based.
Thank you as always!
You can probably guess my opinion on this matter…I don’t have wise or pithy words at the moment, but I think the book “Hold On To Your Kids” by Neufeld and Mate would hold research-oriented indications for best practice for the early years. I also don’t like the tactic of pressuring parents, who surely are the experts on their children. I think almost I would like to ask the research that the director is drawing from in order to reach that conclusion. And, yes, it may be that children who cannot separate early on do suffer in a longer, more structured, more days a week play — but if that scenario and environment is not really your goal, and your child is thriving in not that environment, then I think it is almost like the “means to the ends” doesn’t really matter or fit. Is your goal for your child to go to school full time in the fall for preschool? Would he be left behind age wise with all his peers moving into more days a week/preschool? Just the fact that you say he is “social and outgoing” makes me think he would be fine in how ever many days you choose…Preschool is not mandatory in most states, and in NY the compulsory age I thought was 6. Which means, honestly, he could stay home until he was 6 and could just show up at school with no preschool at all….Just a few thoughts. I would see if any articles on the Alliance for Childhood website match what you are looking for as well.
Random thoughts in no particular order, so sorry about that! But hope something in there helps,