The sensitive sevens

Last updated 10:21 24/08/2012

My eldest has always been a tad sensitive. Things that other kids seemed to take in their stride were often difficult for him - and us. Cutting his fingernails was a screaming, flailing battle until he was five, when I suddenly thought to explain that water makes them softer and cutting them while he was in the bath would be easier.  

And as for getting a tiny splinter out of his foot? Afterwards I considered going around to the neighbours to explain that we weren't actually torturing him with medieval devices, and apologising for the noise.

It improved, though, as he got older. He developed better control over his body and emotions. I even managed to get an infected prickle out of his knee without needing earplugs, by talking him through breathing and visualisation. If it got me through two natural labours, it can get him through a prickle-extraction!

But from seven-and-a-half, it got harder again, for him and us. It was as though he had learnt to handle his emotions, but then his emotions went through a growth spurt. Suddenly his feelings were bigger and more complex.

Never having dealt much with seven-year-olds (beyond being one, many years ago), I did what lots of modern mothers do: I googled, went to the library, and whinged on Facebook. And I found that we are not alone.

It turns out that around this age, humans go through adrenarche, when a new zone of the adrenal cortex develops, bringing with it a surge of androgenic hormones. It's not puberty, but it's a step along the path.

Some people called it "the stroppy sevens". Oh boy, can I relate. We've had "I wish I were dead!" as well as "I wish I'd never been born!" Apparently asking him to put his bike away when it rains is "SOOOO mean!", and worthy of a door slam.

I've been reading The Explosive Child, and it reminded me of an event from my childhood. I was a similar age, six or seven. I don't remember why we were arguing, but I remember becoming suddenly, incredibly angry and throwing a piece of salt dough sculpture across the kitchen. I screamed at my mum, "LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO!" and stormed out.

I didn't know where the rage came from, but I knew it scared me. The physical intensity was unfamiliar - and I could not have controlled it. Is that what it's like for him? I think so.

Tiredness and hunger make things worse. We arrived home from One Day School and he asked for a turn on the computer. I said no, as he had outstanding chores from the day before. It was the final straw for my tired, hungry boy. He hurled his school bag down our steps... and his new glasses fell out of their case and clattered across the concrete.

I nearly lost it. I could easily have lost it.But I sent him to his room, sat down and despaired. What was I doing so wrong?

Surprisingly, he soon emerged from his room, calm and solemn, even a bit shaken by his own intensity. He came to me and said, "Mum, I'm very sorry. I think I shouldn't have a turn on the computer for two weeks."

I said "I think that's a very fair consequence, and thank you for apologising." He gave me an apologetic hug and walked away, as I sat, stunned.

He had calmed down, thought about what he'd done, and come up with a serious and appropriate consequence. It seems as though he's getting to grips with his new, improved emotions. Are we through the sensitive sevens? No, but it's nice to see some payoff from the "deft frenzy of brain maturation".  

We'll get through it just fine. 

Did your kids go through a stroppy or sensitive stage, at six or seven?

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Beth   #1   11:51 am Aug 24 2012

OMG WOW!!! That explains so much!

Thank you for such an incredibly informed and well written piece. I honestly thought I was alone in this. I was devastated when my 7 yo started out with the wishes she were dead thing. Of course it was such a surprise the first time I reacted dramatically myself which didn't help.

I will have to check out all those links. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart!

Donnelle   #2   12:04 pm Aug 24 2012

@Beth: I was devastated, too. And handled it poorly. It's not something that people talk about much; it's sort of hard to ask "So, have your kids ever threatened to kill themselves?"

Paula   #3   12:25 pm Aug 24 2012

Yes. Jimmy will be seven in late Oct. and oh my word he is suddenly a Drama Queen. He's always been sensitive, too, and really bright, empathetic, inventive, etc. But now, we hear "I don't want to!" "It's no fair!" to the point where I've told him he isn't allowed to use the word fair until he can tell me what it means. And he won't tell me, because then I'd apply the definition to the situation and show him it is fair, and then he'd have to come up with an alternate definition that would be as good as admitting he just wants his own way. ;) I'm actually quite proud of him because I can tell he's worked out that whole scenario in his mind, by the way he's started and stopped the argument before. Fortunately his sense of humor is every bit as keen as his sense of entitlement. If I react with flailing arms and rolling eyes or an exaggerated, really bad theatrical glare, he starts laughing and forgets the unfairness of it all sometimes ;D

Lori M   #4   12:43 pm Aug 24 2012

Thanks for the information! - I certainly remember declaring "I wish I was dead" more than once at about 7, and my younger sister did it too (for the record, I didn't really wish that, I just wanted to punish my parents). Hearing that its reasonably normal, means I'll be prepared for it when I get to experience that moment as a parent.

anon   #5   12:57 pm Aug 24 2012

I think it is a HUGH testament to his character that he can admit his wrong doing and take responsibility. He’s only 7 & ½ .

I know adults who can’t even do that.

Clearly you are doing something right!

Two Monkeys   #6   03:27 pm Aug 24 2012

Wow! That is incredible that he's taken responsibility for his actions!

I have a sensitive 3 year old ... gosh... so it doesn't get better???

Sally   #7   04:03 pm Aug 24 2012

@ Two monkeys #6 No, it gets much worse. Wait until they are teenagers...

Katie Bexley   #8   04:06 pm Aug 24 2012

It seems some children, whatever age, have to go to extremes to get attention. Ensure that your children get full attention, no matter how many are in the family, and whatever age, and then these extremes of behaviour will not be necessary. They would be loving reading this blog, so quit writing blogs once their reading levels increase. I have raised three children to adulthood, and cant remember any tantrums at age seven. Yes, we called them tantrums, and if you think about it, tantrums dont occur without an audience.

Phillipa   #9   09:12 pm Aug 24 2012

We have just embarked into the year of 6, and stroppy seems quite fitting... watch this space. You are doing a great job, proven in the fact that he apologised and thought of his own consequence. *applause*.

skye   #10   08:29 pm Aug 26 2012

@ #8 -

you have raised 3 out of the more than 7 billion people in the world. And all being related to you anyway, it's a biased sample of 3.

I have experienced exactly this with my children, and I defy you to say, actually being in the situation (of which you say you have no experience) of having a child who behaves in such a way, that you could ignore it. And believe me, my children have plenty of love and attention. It just means they are who they are (not yours), and I will deal with it as best as I can.

The fact that they have these feelings at all, makes it important.

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