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.