Why Your Six-year-old Loves You Then Hates You Within 60 Seconds


Do you ever wonder what happened to my sweet almost six-year-old?

When children hit the six-year-old developmental surge, it is as though all systems crash and burn. Michelle Brightwater in her article, The Six-Year Transformation calls it the “first puberty.” That’s because this is not merely a linear growth spurt. This is a re-organization of all systems.  The emotional and physical changes are tumultuous and amazing. Screams of “I hate you,” are instantly followed with a sweet, “I love you. You never know who will come out of the bedroom in the morning. It’s as though your child has suddenly been taken over by an alien force.

How do you support your child during these weeks of volatile and disequilibrium?

  1. Be kind and empathetic. Your child has NO idea what hit him. Teeth are falling out while new ones are painfully emerging. Coordination is shot. He keeps falling and skinning his knees. Rage bubbles inside him as he swings between, “You are not my boss,” and “help me.” Respond with compassion, reminding yourself this is temporary. Give yourself permission to take a break when needed.  This is HARD work.
  2. Be proactive. Before your child demands your assistance with tasks, she was completely capable of doing just days ago, ask her, “Is today a day you need help dressing, or would you like to do it yourself?” If she wants help, help her, and then remind her that soon, she’ll be able to do it herself.
  3. Set clear limits. It is frightening to be out of control. Let your child know that if needed you will help her stop.  Together set up a calming basket or area, where she can go to calm. This is not a punishment. Learning to take a break is an essential life skill.
  4. Teach skills.  You will want your child to be able to say, “no,” when he is a teen, which means he needs to practice with you. When he says, “You can’t make me!” Pause. Breathe deeply to calm yourself. Then say to him, “I’m listening. I will work with you.” Let’s try that again. Say in a way that makes me want to listen.”  Teach and practice with him more appropriate words to use such as, “May I have a choice?” Or, “I had a different plan. Please listen.” “I don’t like that rule.” “That doesn’t seem fair.”
  5. Provide meaningful work. Your six-year-old wants to be more independent. Allow her opportunities to build, cook, create, complete household tasks, or do something for others. Consider creating a job list that includes the task and how much it pays upon completion. She can experience the satisfaction of earning something she wants.  
  6. Be sensitive to concerns about friendships. A new level of emotions and sensitivities has arisen. If he doesn’t have a friend to sit with at lunch or play with on the playground, avoid minimizing it. Instead say, “Tell me more.”  Continue with questions that help you understand what he is feeling or needing. For example. “Did someone do or say something you did not like?”  “Did something seem unfair?”  If possible, plan outside playdates for him to practice his social skills.

The end of the six-year-old developmental surge can be as abrupt as the beginning. Suddenly the new systems slip into place. That delightful child you thought had disappeared returns, but this one is taller. She understands concepts she previously did not. Her questions about life and the world are at a new and higher level. Her body is different. She is no longer a little child; this is a new person ready to take on the world.

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