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November 2011

Child Development Series

Your Seven-Year-Old

By Deborah Wood, Ph.D.

A note about child development: The purpose of this series is to help parents and caregivers recognize normal stages and to provide age-appropriate activities, nurturing, and guidance. Each child is unique. Rates of development can differ widely among normally developing children, and each child can have “fast” or “slow” rates of development in different areas and at different times. These descriptions are merely based on typical behaviors for the age. If your child is not exhibiting “normal” developmental behaviors, there is no cause for alarm.  However, discussion with a development specialist can help you to determine if any special interventions are necessary.

She enters the room and scans for an audience. Taking her theatrical style from the school of melodrama, she swoons all the way to the floor when describing the “mountain” of homework she has to do. Worrying is a common pastime―about schoolwork, about friendships, even about the family’s finances. Maybe she worries more because she is beginning to be able to see things from other people's perspective.

Doom and Gloom

At age 7, with a burst of self-awareness, your child is striving to perfect herself for others’ approval. The hair must be just so, or she can’t leave the house. The homework has to be done exactly as teacher says or she can’t turn it in. She spends a lot of time in self-reflection, often imagining that others see her worst flaws. And she hates to disappoint others. Self-confidence is at an all-time low. Though meltdowns are less frequent than when she was 6, they can be just as emotionally exhausting.

If your 7-year-old broods more than you can stand to watch, you can help her find activities that she can feel successful with. Joining a scout troop or sports team requires a steady commitment―weekly meetings or practices plus weekend activities―and though she complains about it, it will give her harried mind a focus. On her own, she can dabble in hobbies such as collections, jigsaw puzzles, beading or other simple crafts, cooking or music; just don’t invest too much in what may turn out to be a fleeting interest. Reading can be a relaxing (and low-cost) escape from the misery of her real-world existence.

Time and Money

She is old enough to take on some responsibility for time and money management, which means you will need to stand back and let her suffer through some bad decisions. So start small. Let her experiment with setting her own homework time or bedtime. Rather than depend on you to tell her, she can set an alarm or use other time cues to keep herself on schedule. For example, she might want to try homework time right after dinner. If it doesn’t work out ―she’s too tired or you’re not available to assist because of the younger sibling’s story time―help her plan a new time strategy.

Likewise, she can make some independent decisions (and evaluations) about spending money. Her grown-ups, you many need to remind her, are in charge of the overall family budget. A weekly allowance, however, is the amount of money the family can afford for her to fritter on such things as vending machine snacks or cheap toys. She can be encouraged to save up for a few weeks for a bigger purchase. Having to keep track of her own pocket money also teaches her to look after it and not lose it. She will benefit in many ways from the lessons learned from budgeting her own time and money.

Found Money

Along with a growing appreciation of the value of money comes one of the less attractive traits of 7-year-olds. She may have an impulse to claim property that is not rightfully hers. She spots a shiny penny on the sidewalk. In the pocket it goes. She feels a quarter between the couch cushions. In the pocket it goes. She spots a manila envelope on the dining room table―your raffle collections for the PTA fundraiser―and decides that one five dollar bill wouldn’t be missed among so many. In the pocket it goes. In the logic of 7-year-olds, it’s finders keepers, losers weepers. In the logic of adult society, it’s stealing.

Please know that she is not clear on the differences among the penny on a public sidewalk, the quarter in the family couch and the cash in the PTA’s envelope. It will be your consistent examples and reactions that will teach her about property rights and right from wrong.  If you catch her with someone else’s goods, you can set her aright with your expression of disappointment and a judgment of immediate restitution.  You can also prevent such crimes with more diligent safeguarding of everyone’s property.

I See Your Point

On the plus side, turning 7 has its advantages intellectually. Rudolf Steiner (founder of the Waldorf School) noted that “the changing of the teeth” at around age 7 coincided with a child’s readiness for formal schooling. Jean Piaget (developmental psychologist) marked age 7 as the beginning of concrete mental operations. Now a child’s mind can process ideas in a more complex manner. Piaget named one such complex idea “conservation of matter.”  An example is that the same quantity of water can take on different shapes in different containers. I tried this with my otherwise brilliant 6-year-old son. In advance, I measured exactly one cup of water and poured it into a tall, skinny glass, which was next to an empty short, fat glass. I invited him to watch as I poured the water from the tall glass into the short glass. I asked him which glass had more water. He pointed to the tall glass. He thought I was pulling a magic trick on him when I poured the water back and forth, asking if it was more or less. (He consistently saw “more” in the tall glass.) Next I poured the water into the measuring cup, first from the tall glass, then from the short glass. I asked, “See? It’s always one cup of water.” He was quite annoyed, still not believing it was the same amount of water in the different shaped glasses.

Another complex idea, Piaget noted, is the ability to see things from more than one perspective. About two months after the failed conservation test, my son turned 7. One evening I happened to serve beef liver for dinner. Unfortunately, we ran out of ketchup. Needless to say it was not a happy dinner time. As I cleared the table, no doubt my face and posture expressing my aggravation at my ungrateful children, my son said, “I know what you’re thinking. And I think you know what I’m thinking.” Instantly morphing from mad mom to social scientist, I asked, “What am I thinking?” “You wanted me to eat that liver.” “And what is it that I know you’re thinking?” “You KNOW I didn’t want to eat that liver.” Piaget was right. I had to wait until my child was 7 before he could see an argument from both sides.

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist residing in Annapolis.