Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Tsunami of the Stroppy Sevens

We all know about the Terrible Twos/Threes but the Stroppy Sixes/Sevens have totally taken me by surprise.

I had started to enjoy hanging out with my eldest - my soon to be 7 year old boy - because he was capable, fun and interactive and most of the time did what I asked.

Until something started creeping in: more aggression, more defiance, willfully ignoring parenting instructions and refusing to comply with normal attempts at punishing: such as taking away favourite toys and time-outs.

What happened?! Our sweet, kind boy was becoming angry, moody, aggressive, non-compliant and rude. The run up to Christmas was crazy, lots of excitement, parties, sweets, fizzy pop, meeting Santa, school shows, late nights, the threat of not being on Santa’s good list…. It drove me crazy, so I can totally understand the impact it could have on our boy who has sensory processing issues when he is stressed and eats badly and doesn't get enough sleep.

The lack of routine over the Christmas holidays with 2 weeks off school just killed him. He got his presents, he got loads more presents at every house we visited, but mostly he was cooped up indoors (not ideal for a very physical, outdoorsy kid) and watched a lot of telly and played electronic games. It fried his brain. He was restless, inattentive and hyper. A few nights ago I was googling assessments for ADHD, something I’ve always wondered about him, but then I came across a fascinating article about major development growth spurts. 

The writer talks about her 7 year old exhibiting behaviour more commonly associated with a teenager, which is exactly how I’ve been describing my eldest boy for the last month.

She quotes psychologist Jean Piaget's Four Stages of Development theory which suggests that children can't deal with certain tasks until they are psychologically mature enough and blames this growth spurt/maturing for the bad behaviour at age 2-3, 6-7 and again at 11-12.

A lot of my friends are experiencing the same with their 6/7 year old boys. Personally, I think Christmas only antagonizes the situation because their newly formed logical brain questions what it is exactly that parents do at Christmas: all the credit goes to the guy in the big red suit.

On Christmas morning, exhausted after staying up late to wrap presents for my 3 kids and prepare the scene as if Santa had been, I was hoping for love and connection with my kids. Instead my eldest said he hated me and that I had done nothing. WFT?! I was stunned, all I had asked him to do was wear jeans and not tracksuit bottoms for a change. I was tempted to shatter his illusions and tell him I had bought all the presents and organised everything, but only for a second, I took a deep breath, thought of the big picture and sucked it up. He still believes, which is what people tell me is good for their long-term creative imagination. Personally, I think it makes my eldest very ungrateful but what can I do?! 

Santa's been on Christmas morning!

Yesterday, despite a very specific warning, he ran off twice in a shopping centre and we yelled at him when we eventually found him. Once we eventually calm down from these incidents, we apologise and agree with him that we have to try harder, we must do better, and we need to stop raising our voices, because the danger is that he's starting to turn the anger inwards and develop self-hatred. I’ve asked him why he ‘makes mistakes’ and he says he ‘can’t control it’ and 'can't calm down on his own', especially when it comes to the aggressive behaviour and fighting with his brother and sister.

What I do know is he is a very intense and high-energy child who is easily overwhelmed, and punishment doesn’t work, rewards are so much more effective with him. But rewards fly out of the window at Christmas when it’s all about rewards. It’s exhausting for parents, draining to be raising voices, frustrated at not getting through, feeling like a failure because our attachment-style strategies are failing. Must we get tougher? Is that the only way? It rattles me to my very core to be at war with my son.

Trying to understand his stage of development is one way of meeting him in the middle. Late night Dr Google turned up some food for thought for me:
  • There is massive cognitive development around age 6/7
  • The time between 6 and 8 is one of biggest cognitive change for children. They move from a life dominated by fantasy to one that is beginning to be governed by logic and reason.
  • They start to see themselves as more autonomous individuals, capable of basic independent problem solving.
  • Children at age 6 are in the latter phases of Piaget’s pre-operational period, which means their brains synapses are fusing together and they thinking more logically. This major brain shift can exhaust them both physically and mentally and can take a year before it’s all fused. During this time they can forget things they’ve already learnt or become absent-minded.
  • Challenging behaviour around this time can be as a result of bad sleep (they need 10 to 11 hours sleep a night), bad nutrition, lack of rules, routine, discipline. Take a deep breath and appreciate what they can do instead of what they can’t.
So I must be more accepting. I must try to get him to sleep before 10pm (his sister always keeps him awake late) and I must take deep breaths when I see the challenging behaviour and aggression.

Plan B for the next few weeks is to ensure he gets lots of Omega 3 (fish & supplements), fresh air and exercise (when it stops raining) and positive praise rather than negative nagging and verbal abuse, and we’re going to try to come up with a new ‘credits’ system where we remind him of our House Rules and he has to earn privileges and possibly introduce the concept of pocket money. We’re learning all the time, but hey isn’t that the joy and the ongoing challenge of parenthood?
Any tips gratefully accepted....

Jago on Christmas morning after building his new Lego Titanic


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