My first thought for this post was, “You thought three was a tough age? Well, six is twice as hard!” That seemed a tad negative. Um, how about, “All of the skills and patience that you learned when you child was three years old will be doubly useful once they are six?” Yeah, much better, I think.
Six took me by surprise. I was familiar with child development up through age five, but I was unprepared for the challenges of six. My generally quiet, compliant five year old transformed into a LOUD ball of constant motion. There was continual fidgeting, hair-chewing, nail-biting. I thought we had come to an appropriate understanding of the property rights of others, but suddenly it was worse than toddlerhood — touching and grabbing everything in sight, particularly things that belonged to other people. Emotions, all of them, seemed sooooo over the top and out of proportion to the actual situation. It was three on steroids.
It was also completely normal. I finally got a copy of the Ames and Ilg book, Your Six Year Old: Loving and Defiant. I devoured it in one sitting, pausing about every line to gasp in shock at how precisely it described my child. While I am not a fan of their discipline advice in general, I treasured that book because it let me know that I was not a failure as a mother, and that this, too, would pass.
If you are nearing six (and some precocious ones start showing the signs by five and a half), here are a few things that helped me:
Six is often a time of upheaval.
For most kids, there are big changes in schooling and expectations. Give them grace during the transitions.
Six year molars HURT.
Constant irritation in their mouths often results in cranky kids who chew anything they can get in there. Did you ever have painful wisdom teeth or a toothache? It can really lower your tolerance levels. And if you aren’t eating right because of it, that affects your ability to cope even more. It can mess with your sense of taste, too. So if your child suddenly seems picky, there are probably good reasons for it.
Six year olds are experimenting.
Six year olds often try out strong words and expressions (“I hate you!”) both as an experiment in power and in the process of seeking verbal equivalents of the overwhelming emotions they have. Don’t take it personally. Instead, try to help them find appropriate but still accurate ways to express themselves, both verbally and physically. Sometimes their outbursts will also give you insight into some of their own fears and hurts. This is a perfect time to reassure them that you have enough love for both of you.
Six year olds are physical.
Give them as many opportunities as possible for large muscle play, even more than may seem necessary or reasonable. Outdoor play, especially, is helpful for regulating all that is going on internally. The more climbing, crashing, jumping and running that they can do in a safe environment, the calmer you both will be!
Six year olds need your love.
Because six is such a physical age, make sure that you have focused time every day for cuddles, snuggles, wrestling together and other positive touch. Sometimes with all the other activities crowding a day, you may find that a couple of days have passed with nothing but a few perfunctory hugs. They really need extra snuggles during this time.
Six year olds are learning about fairness.
As they head toward seven, but sometimes even earlier, fairness and justice become extremely important. They may become extremely upset if someone else doesn’t follow the rules. Collaborating on family rules together can be a very helpful tool. Instead of making and enforcing rules yourself, work together on brainstorming ways to help your days run smoothly.
Six year olds are a joy!
Finally, look at the glorious parts of having a six year old. Their energy and enthusiasm can be delightful. Good times can be unbelievably fun. They will enjoy your jokes and play wholeheartedly. Their affection is unreserved, and their forgiveness is sincere and swift. Let your heart be a safe place for them. Even if they are twice as old as when they were three, they are still small.
Dulce is learning to walk in grace with her amazing husband and four wonderful kidlets. She is a perpetual provider of magic mami milk who practices gentle discipline, shares a family bed, homeschools, teaches Spanish, and blogs at Dulce de leche. Each day brings plenty of iced coffee and a fresh lesson in trusting her children, herself and the Love that surrounds and fills us. Sometimes it feels like livin’ a vida loca, but overall, life is incredibly sweet.