Montessori Tip #2: How 5 Year-Olds and 7 Year-Olds Are Different
The other day I was chatting with some friends, a group of parents of 7-year-olds. When I told them that I was going to write a blog post called “What’s the difference between a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old?” one dad said, “Tell them: everything. Everything! EVERYTHING!!!”
If you have a 7-year-old, you’ve seen a lot of amazing changes over the last two years, and you may be curious about why certain things are happening. If you have a 5-year-old, you may be wondering what might happen next. I’m going to tell you a little about the developmental processes at these ages, and give you a little bit of Montessori perspective on the transition that is occurring.
5-year-olds are at the end of a major developmental stage, and 7-year-olds are moving into the beginning of a new one. It’s pretty exciting to watch, and both 5 and 7-year-olds (and the cheeky 6-year-old in between) can be tough on their parents as they navigate new waters.
5-year-olds begin to be very interested in working WITH others, doing hard things together. 5-year-olds have a developmental need for LOTS of playdates. This need ramps up for the 6-12 year-old, as the imagination expands and the child’s fascination with social interaction push the child to focus on imaginative play.
While the younger child begins to have empathy, can know that you’re sad and kiss you better, your 5-year-old can project how HE would feel if that happened to him, and sometimes respond accordingly in the moment. A key question at 5, especially, is, “How would you feel if that happened to you?”
Taking empathy so much further, your 7-year-old can see you feeling sick, and, all on her own, without being asked, spend the evening getting herself supper so you can lie down, bring you a drink, offer to put the music on, say she loves you, and read you a bedtime story. (True story! This was me last week, heart-melted!)
The difference is that the 7-year-old can THINK it all through, FIGURE it all out, and CHOOSE to act, and sustain action, in accordance with values. The 7-year-old is CONSCIOUS. Feel the magic of that!!
Your 5-year-old, for the first time ever, begins to realize that others have opinions of him or her. You may see the beginnings of shame in your 5-year-old that weren’t there before. This socially-interested 5-year-old will bloom into the socially-obsessed 7-year-old. (And I say that very lovingly.)
Dr. Maria Montessori described children as going through “sensitive periods”. During a sensitive period, a child is internally driven to learn or explore whatever is the next step of their natural development. During the sensitive period for walking, your child will want to walk, all day, and sometimes all night. He will exhaust himself walking, even to the point of crying in exhaustion, but cannot stop, because the internal drive to walk is so powerful. Your 6-12 year-old is experiencing sensitive periods for social understanding, imagination, and morality.
Your 6-12 year-old (you’ll see the first glimpses in your 5-year-old, and start to feel it full-on in your 7-year-old) will be DRIVEN to understand who he or she is SOCIALLY. He or she will play, breathe and question in the social arena. This child will ask about government and rules (how PEOPLE organize themselves), psychology (why PEOPLE do what they do and act how they act), and morality (why PEOPLE do bad things and how they make choices).
This is why you see your 6 and 7-year-olds trying on different ways of talking and acting. For the first time ever, they don’t just say or do whatever comes to mind, in the way it comes. Instead, they can CHOOSE how they’re going to act. They can recognize that their behaviour has an effect on others, and they can adjust accordingly. They try on what they see and hear around them. Your 7-year-old girl will flip her hair, put her hand on her hip, and say “Like, ummm, Mommy? You have GOT to be kidding me!” with great flair.
And, yes, they may sometimes be cheeky. Or even downright rude, as they try on different ways of interacting. They are watching you closely to see how you will react to each nuance of language and action. (Except when they are so busy reveling in the sound of their own voice, and all the various nuances they can explore!) They are looking for feedback about what’s right and wrong, good and bad, acceptable and not, in the social world.
Your 5-year-old may be explosive, emotional, and overwhelmed. They may experiment with threatening, hitting, and/or saying “very mean” things to you. Your 5-year-old is in a very unstable time of change. A BIG change is coming, but he or she cannot understand it yet. It’s as if he or she is looking through a very foggy window. “There’s something I’m supposed to understand about people, but I don’t see it yet. For some reason I care about what that person thinks, but I don’t feel any control over their opinion or behaviour.”
The 7-year-old gets that others have opinions, and has the feeling that those opinions might change if he or she just does or says the right thing or is the right kind of person – and the 7-year-old feels that THAT is entirely in their control. There’s a beautiful power there – “I can be who I choose!” AND a terrible vulnerability as they learn, “I cannot make everyone love me.” Friendships can be powerful and painful, often infatuation-like at this age.
It may feel as if your 7-year-old is playing with your reactions sometimes – and, they are! They are methodically testing out behaviours and ideas on you. They are finding your triggers and figuring out how they work.
7-year-olds are scary to us parents, because they will judge us. Today, you may be pronounced the best mommy in the world, or the worst one, and you can be pretty sure that your 7-year-old has actually measured you up against other mommies before making the proclamation.
Your 5-year-old and your 7-year-old BOTH will need you to help them understand social dynamics, personalities, and moral questions. Rather than telling your child what to do, socially and morally, help him or her understand the dynamics that are at play, and increasingly invite them to make decisions about HOW they want to be, socially and morally.
We’ll be talking a lot about Montessori’s insights into the developmental processes of your growing child (age 0 through 15) and how to meet your child’s (physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual) needs as they change, in my upcoming course, The Happiness of the Child: Montessori Information Series. You can register or find out more here.
This is the only course I hold in my home, as it focuses partially on the home environment. I look forward to sharing my home with you for this very special course!
Call me to register by phone, or click here to register for The Happiness of the Child online!