"My 6 year old (he turned 6 in November, is in kindergarten) has always been energetic, friendly, helpful, and generally happy. Over the past 2 weeks or so, his mood has really started changing. He's become much more aggressive, back talky, tells me he hates me all the time, and completely unpredictable. His sleep is normal, he is in a phase where he's eating like a teenager, he's doing fine at school and mostly fine at his after school program. Last week he got sent home from his after school program for kicking a teacher and the next day he kicked a student. He's always been very energetic, but never showed any maliciousness. Thursday and Friday were good days, so maybe that was just temporary. But at home he's really acting out. I'm trying so hard to maintain some composure and set limits, but his unpredictable rage and my feeling of walking-around-on-eggshells is really wearing me out. Is this normal? I really hate to put this in writing, but it's been consuming my brain -- could these be signs of bullying or some sort of abuse?"
Six is not a known jerky stage. Seven is, but six is often a repreive year, in which they can do a lot and have more emotional reserves--in other words: equilibrium.
That's not the case for all kids, of course, but many of them seem to have "a good year" at six (better than five and certainly better than seven, at least).
There is something that made you write to me and something that made you mention the bullying or abuse, and you're good to follow your mom spidey sense. It does seem like maybe something's taxing him. I don't think it's necessarily as serious as abuse or bullying, though. It could be changes that are making him work so hard to process them that he has nothing left for social graces or mood control in afterschool or at home.
Things I'm thinking about could be things like having his seat changed in class so he's next to someone he has conflict with, learning new skills at school that he's not confident about and is struggling with, some new kind of food he's ingesting at school that has something that's irritating his system (artificial dyes or sweeteners would be my first guesses), something other kids are talking about that are scaring him (movies or tv shows or stories). Or bullying on a scale that wouldn't be serious for an older kid. (Remember when some kid tried to bully my older son about his dad and I being divorced? My son just laughed at the wannabe bully, but a 6-year-old might not be able to shake something that level of dumb off.)
But it feels like there's definitely something going on. You know this isn't your fault, so see if you can switch out of "taking care of it" mode into detective mode to see if you can figure out if there's anything new in the timeframe you've noticed the changes in. Talk to his teacher and aftercare caregivers to see if there are new kids in the program or any other kinds of changes. Look methodically at anything external that could be stressing him out, and be prepared for it to be something small that wouldn't stress out an adult or older kid.
Has anyone else been in this situation? Or did you have a child who went through disequilibrium at 6 instead of 7? What am I missing as things for her to look for?