One of the most popular posts I ever wrote was talking about “defiance” in children under the age of six. In part, I wrote:
They are not “defiant”; defiance implies a fully conscious knowing of right and wrong and choosing to do the opposite, wrong, thing. Since in the land of Waldorf parenting we believe the first seven years are a dreamy state, a state where logical thought has not yet entered, a state where the child is one giant sense organ (an eye!) and just taking in sensory impressions without a filter, there can be no “defiance”. Many times the power struggles we create with our children are a result of our own lack of knowledge of developmental stages, not having the right tools to guide our child, our own inner issues at the moment and not as much to do with the child as we thought!
Of course a small child wants what they want when they want it. This is part of the fact that the small child lives specifically within their bodies and within their WILL. Thinking comes in much later. A two-year-old will push against forms that you create in rhythm; this is why the rhythm is for YOU if you have a child under the age of 6.
But what do we do around age 6 when nearly everything a six year old does can seem mean, antagonistic, or a wrestling of power and clashing of the wills? Doesn’t that behavior seem defiant and aren’t they “old enough” to know better?
Six is still very tiny, my friends. I know it doesn’t seem that way when your oldest is six and you have tinier babies in the house, but six is tiny. Six shows us the beginning glimmer of the polarity that lies in all of us and our ability to make choices that are good and bad and impact others in a real way. Six is not only bigger than five was, but entirely different.
Six year olds are usually stubborn, and have a hard time in making up his or her mind, but once that is done it is difficult to get the child to change his mind. A six year old usually adores his his mother, but at the same time, when things go wrong it is usually Mother’s fault and the Six year-old will take out everything on their Mother. The child is the center of their own universe; the Mother is not the center of the child’s universe.
And yes, six year olds may not get along with siblings, especially younger siblings. They usually want to win and be in charge and have everything. They also love to have friends, but are frequently mean to their friends. A six year old sometimes doesn’t seem to get along with anybody for too long a stretch!
So, as a parent, how do we handle this age?
My answer is with love and connection and the understanding that despite all the surface antagonism toward others, six can be a very insecure age and an age of separation that makes children feel a little insecure and unsure. They are trying to navigate things on their own terms, and often fail, and don’t need to be criticized constantly.
Six year olds need a strong rhythm at home that helps carry things (set bedtimes, meal times, set times to be outside and play), a strong period of time every day to free play and get their physical energy out and be in nature, and an understanding that six is not an age that deals well with overstimulation so to try to keep things calm.
They need a watchful eye when playing with friends of the same age or younger, because they may not be nice. They need calm rules and for you to be the gentle and loving authority to show them how to treat people nicely both within the family and without.
One of the best tricks I have used as a mother of three children now all through the six year old stage were learning calm, stock phrases for that age, which helped me keep calm in the throes of emotion, because the more matter-of-fact you can be, the better things will go:
I am here to help you.
I bet if you eat something/sleep/drink something, you will feel better.
Do you want me to tell you a story and snuggle?
This is just the rule in our family.
Let’s try that again.
Let me give you a minute unless you want my help.
Do you want to (accomplish this) with choice A or choice B?
If you are interested in learning more about the six-year-old, I recommend this back post on The Angry Aggressive Six Year Old. It has almost 70 comments with varying situations, so I bet you can find some thoughts on the situation you are experiencing, or feel free to set up a consult with me the week of April 22-27 through firstname.lastname@example.org
Many blessings and lots of love,