Oh, seven.

It feels like half the people in the Ask Moxie Facebook group are dealing with 7-year-olds right now, and it’s not fun.

To recap, let’s remember the theory from Ames and Ilg that most kids go through equilibrium phases right around the year mark (when they’re pleasant, fluid, fluent, and learning new skills) and then disequilibrium phases right around the half-year (when they’re unpleasant, lacking emotional resilience, clumsy, and may regress in skills and behaviors). Which explains why kids are particularly hard to deal with at 2.5 (ugh), 3.5 (OMGWTFSOS), 4.5 (although I think 4.75-5+2weeks is worse), and sometimes 5.5 (although people usually just assume that’s part of the trickiness of Kindergarten).

Then 6.5 hits some kids like a ton of bricks and they become very resistant and difficult to live with.

Then: 7. Seven is 3.5 times two. Meaning, all the lack of resilience, all the drama, all the heartrending sobs over little easily-reversed things, all the contrarianism of 3.5 is doubled for 7-year-olds. Being a seven-year-old basically feels like having bad PMS for an entire year. They can be fine, but then something sets them off and they’re filled with rage and despair at the same time. It feels like no one likes them. Getting one fewer pea on their plate at dinner is evidence of how awful their lives are.

It’s rough being 7.

Although not as rough as it is being the parent of a 7-year-old, which is like being a subject in a year-long experiment on learned helplessness that you don’t remember consenting to.

If you recall 3.5 (and if your brain loves you you might not because your brain has conveniently dumped that time period for you), it was all about trying to figure out a) what would set your kid off, b) if you were actually raising a psychopath, c) how many more days until this weird being-set-off-by-anything phase would end. 7 is a lot like that, only they have a lot more competence in daily life, so the outbursts and lack of emotional resources are a bigger contrast with regular behavior. If your child had a big 6.5 disequilibrium phase you may be back in practice with just gritting your teeth and trying to remember what’s age-appropriate, but not all kids hit 6.5 that hard, so this may be new and feel totally out of the blue.

The chief characteristic of the 3.5 brain scramble is chaos. 7 isn’t quite as much chaos as it is excess, uncontrollable emotion. But, like 3.5, your 7-year-old is experiencing real, deep problems with structure and perspective. Whatever it is that’s going on with them developmentally makes it very difficult for them to see things for what they are. Everything that happens to them has only ever happened to them. A problem they’re having has never happened to anyone else, ever. No perspective. And they’re either obsessed with rules and structure or completely flummoxed by rules and structure, because emotion is obscuring everything for them.

So focus on kindness. Both giving kindness to your child, and requiring kindness of your child. No matter how out of control your child gets, they can resist hurting you physically or emotionally. No matter how uncontrolled your child gets, you can offer a hug (even if they don’t accept it, and even if you don’t really mean it). Your child’s emotional phase belongs to them. It’s not about you. And you can offer help in managing it, but you can’t solve it, you didn’t cause it, and if they don’t accept your help that doesn’t mean either of you is doing anything wrong.

This is, for the parent, an exercise in holding on loosely. And knowing that you can give support but you can’t solve your child’s (developmentally normal) problems.

It’s not just you. It’s not just your kid. It will end. Be kind to yourself, and as kind as you can be to your child.

If you want to read more about this age, check out the Ames book Your Seven-Year-Old: Life in a Minor Key.


16 thoughts on “Oh, seven.”

  1. I love you right now. Seriously. I was holding my two weeks away from seven year old on my lap today, trying to find out what is really wrong. "you don’t love me!" Me, "but what are you feeling? Are you frustrated that your homework is tricky?" Him…"You don’t love me". Lather, rinse, repeat. Due to other issues anxiety? ADHD? ASD? a little from every category? he has been seeing a therapist who has been helping all of us not focus on "global negatives". Which in principal, when we are all calm and happy, makes a ton of sense, but is really difficult when your child is calmly telling you that you hate him.

    So, in addition to his…quirks…this is normal? At some point in the next year we will hopefully go back to lovey quirky instead of having child acting like a three year old on steroids?

  2. so it is normal to have a (7.5 year old) kid who is terribly upset that her big sister is getting ginger ale (because she was throwing up, normally we don’t do any soda) and just not getting any of the "but you wouldn’t want to be throwing up, right?" explanation. Sigh

  3. This is my life. Also, I have a 3.5yo at the same time. And an almost 5yo boy who is sweet as hell but doesn’t listen to anything requested of him ever because his head is in the clouds. I need another drink.

  4. Thank you so much. We’re going through 7 and almost 3 1/2 right now, and while my daughters are often lovely, the outbursts are awful and it helps so much to hear that it’s not out of the ordinary. Your advice to focus on kindness is exactly what I needed to hear.

  5. Yay for me, I have both a 7 and a 3.5 year old! Win! Age 7 has definitely been rough at our house. My oldest (now a pretty reasonable 9.5 year old) slammed doors at school and required weekly updates from his teacher to work together and figure out what on earth was happening. We scheduled psych evals (which didn’t happen for a year) and by golly, he started 2nd grade like a different, rational kid. Eventually, they said it was ADHD, but he can totally manage it these days.

    My 7.5 year old definitely gets the crazy rage and despair. Ay yi yi.

    Then my 3rd, who has been the easiest-to-please kid who made age 2 feel like a walk in the park, has turned into this PLAY WITH ME NOWWWWWWWWWWWW creature that sent me searching for preschool options. He’ll be okay again by summer when he turns 4 and boy #4 arrives, right? Please?

  6. Bless you! My 7.5 year old had a huge crying meltdown because we said no to McDonald’s now but maybe next weekend. She only goes a handful of times a year and the amount of hysterics we got was completely out of proportion to her normal reactions. Oh to actually understand what is going on her her head sometimes.

  7. God, I wish you’d written this 1 year ago, when my daughter turned 7 and promptly exploded into a million tiny sharp pieces. Because it wasn’t the expected half-year disequilibrium, I thought it was just me. Or her. Whatever. It did pass, I’m happy to say. BUT OH MY GOD IT WAS AWFUL AND I REALLY DID THINK WE’D NEVER SURVIVE.

  8. I am now holding my breath and waiting for things to fall apart, because my 7 year old is doing quite well right now. 6.5 was rough for us, including problems at school, but this year’s teacher is a better fit. I have Life in a Minor Key sitting on my bedside table right now- better crack it open before disequilibrium hits!

  9. Why are you telling me this?! Six is so great right now. Admittedly, you’d mentioned seven as a tough year before; I was just hoping it wouldn’t be true. Any advice on good ground work to lay to prepare for seven? Scheduling daily chats? Preparing her to know that sometimes her emotions can get the better of her? Guess I just need to go read Life in a Minor Key, even though seven is still 3/4 of a year off.

  10. Just yesterday my 7 yo was crying in the backseat, railing against perceived favoritism for his 4 yo sister and telling me "it feels like you don’t even like me anymore" which may have been the hardest thing to hear….ever. We instituted Family Rules this year which include ‘Be Kind’ and I have tried so hard to push the kindness initiative. Good to know it isn’t just me. Seven sucks.

  11. Just FYI, my daughter, now 4.5, goes through her disequilibrium on the quarter years – so 2.25 and 2.75, 3.25 and 3.75. It is yet another example of how she must do everything just a little bit differently from every other kid in the universe. She’s a beautiful soul though, I still love her.

  12. @Karen my daughter, just turned 6, also does disequilibrium at the quarter years. On that note I have just seen six arrive, with it’s grandiosity and exhibitionism. Self esteem is sky high at 6 and becomes normative at 8. Which means it has to come down, down, down and shrink to actual size. From " You love me, you really love me! " Sally Field style to " You don’t even like me! " and then to a more stable and mature self esteem. Can’t be painless really.

    I realised when I said we were going to the Nutcracker ballet for Christmas ( again) and she said she had not practised enough to be on the stage. Ditto she thought the carols on CD were recordings of her singing. Quite sudden. And yes, she has joined the school choir, been interviewed at a free event and really does think lots of people really, really like her. Suddenly after the last up and down disequilibrium at 5.75.

    She is likable enough , not saying she is completely deluded, but there is a notable increase in the self-esteem and self-regard. And she is totally normal for the age. This year in the class show every child applied to be the lead ! Whereas at 5 lots didn’t want a speaking part.

    She is very temperamental and spirited, so we have had many a period of melt-downs on the way but I agree 100% with Moxie that you can give kindness to your child at all times and require it of your child. And as she has written before try and ride the roller coaster of emotion while trying to make sure everyone comes through with their dignity intact as much as possible.

  13. I have a 6.75 year old in first grade, and I can tell the social issues are going to kill me. Why, why, why do some little girls have to get into the "she said this or that; you have to choose between her and me; whisper and secrets and drama" stuff? I’m going to remind her to be loving and do her best not to get wrapped up in it. I’m going to love on her and be with her as much as possible. And we’ll see what happens. I guess high school socializing won’t be the shock for her that it was for me.

  14. This is fascinating, thanks for the post. Our 7 year old daughter turns into a martyr when she’s upset, "I’m a horrible person," "it’s all my fault," "I’m the worst big sister in the whole world." With tears, of course. But it is MUCH better than age 3.5 (our pediatrician called them "the God-awful threes") so I’m thankful for that.

  15. My 8-year-old has always been a spirited kid and these developmental stages have always hit hard. But last year (her 7-year-old year) was ROUGH. And it lasted pretty much a whole year. Then she turned 8 a couple months ago and it was like someone flipped a switch. She is the most delightful person. She seemed to mature emotionally almost overnight. A couple days ago I was watching her and thinking how much I love this age.

    All this to say, those of you dealing with 7-year-olds, hang in there! Be patient and kind and forgiving (to yourself and your child.) It gets so much better!

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