I first published this in 2011 as A Gentle Parent's Survival Guide to Six. In three short years, I have forgotten so much of this already! As we prepare to launch into our summer break, I need the reminder as Aliza Joy is a CLASSIC Six Year Old - complete with irritating molars breaking through and the need for lots of big, big energy play.
I'm hoping these tips are as helpful to you as they are for me! May the (gentle parenting) force be with us!
Dacey has never been a "textbook child." In fact, from the moment she arrived (ten days late) (do I bring that up too often? It's just that she was . . . ten. days. late), she has pretty much laughed in the face of The Textbook.
The Textbook says that Six can be a challenging age, but as we move into Six and a Half with Dacey, I have to say that so far, so good. However, summer break is upon us and we shall see how having her home again all day, everyday plays out.
It's because of that impending change in our lives that I asked a mama mentor of mine if I could share her thoughts on parenting Six. Allison is a mama of four children who are now all teens and tweens. I find so much soul-fellowship in hearing what mamas in our season (early childhood) are doing, but there is also something so precious to me about hearing advice from mamas who have been there recently but have moved forward to a new stage of life.
Allison regularly shares incredible nuggets of wisdom at Gentle Christian Mamas. This advice on Six was published there, and she has graciously given permission for me to publish it at SortaCrunchy.
And so, I'm happy to present for you (but yeah, mostly for me):
A Gentle Parent's Survival Guide to Six
Six is not an age of equilibrium. In fact, it is EXACTLY the opposite of equilibrium. Here's my advice for parents of six year olds.
First, some validation: Parenting a six year old is challenging on the bad days and on the good days. I feel your pain. Six has been hard with all four of mine and mostly because it took me so long to figure it out.
1) Have you looked in his mouth? Is he getting six year molars? The constant irritation of teething pain during an 'out of balance' age like Six is enough to put even a compliant child crossways with the world.
2) Six really likes a schedule. A really tight schedule, actually, which is why a child will behave so much better at camp/church/school than they do in their own house, unless they have a "schedule mom." They really need to know what to expect ahead of time. They like to be able to see the rhythm of their day ahead of time. Six often asks "What are we doing tomorrow" before bed each night.
3) Six thrives with limited choices because in a six year old brain, the chaos of too many choices causes them to majorly flip into disequilibrium.
For example, taking a six year old into a toy store to look at toys is a recipe for disaster. In that situation I would pull up online three toys I know that the child would like and let them choose which one to use their gift card on that way.
Sometimes, even choosing a snack at the grocery store poses too many choices. Times like this, rather than presenting them with the whole rack of choices, saying "Would you like fruit leather or Peanut butter crackers for your treat" is a better way to go. Now sometimes, they'll say, "I want pudding" or whatever, and that's fine, because it's a time to teach them to negotiate (though you might regret that later). It's fine because at least they've given you a concrete answer rather than melting down.
4) Try to ignore tone and go with the words. Six year olds do outgrow their snarky ways with lots of "do overs" and lots of scripting and playful parenting when possible.
Here's an example of a playful parenting script with a six year old:
child: "I WANT PRETZELS"
Mom: "Most honored mother of mine, I love you so much, you are the most amazing beautiful perfect mother ever. May I please have some of your most delicious pretzels?"
Look at child.
child: "May I have some pretzels?"
Mom: "Ah, see, now that's better. Yes, you may."
Six has such passion, but it's just often misdirected, and they have a drive to be "Right." This is where do-overs and second chances come in.
A good script for this would be: "Wow, that was a lot of drama. You may go hang out in another room/away from me, until you're ready to speak respectfully to ask for what you want or need."
5) Six year old drama can be your friend if you can reflect it with humor. Six loves a joke, as long as they don't feel made fun of. Joke books are a really great thing. They love them.
6) Six is known to say "I hate you" - trying on words of power. The best reaction is very little reaction. Usually, my response to that is to say, "I love you enough for both of us today." Then at a neutral time, we talk about what Jesus says about hate.
7) Six year olds need MAJOR time for gross motor play. I'm talking a minimum of three hours daily. Their brains are growing at such a rapid fire pace, and they need to be able to work it out physically to balance what's going on inside.
You can do this. For what it's worth, it gets easier with experience, so the first one is the hardest one. You know how when you're doing a repetitive project, the first one takes about three times as long to get the knack of it than the rest? Six year olds are a bit like that.
* * * * *
Note from Megan: This has given me lots to think about because I am so not a "schedule mom."
I would love to hear from you - has anyone else experienced Six as a difficult age? What have been the most helpful ways for you to gently parent a child through this stage?