Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The joys of raising a smart alec 7 year old boy

Shepherd, age 7
My friend Mitzi called me this morning. "I need parenting advice."

"Oh," I answered. "Well I am THE EXPERT on parenting, so bring it on."

"Well, you've been through this one. Michael is in his Smart Alec Stage and it's driving me CRAZY and I need help before I kill him!!"

Oh, yes, well, I do know this one. And Mitzi knows I know because aside from hearing me complain, about a year ago she took my then 7 year old son to a baseball game and, she told me today, he was a rude little brat the whole time.

Raising boys is an experience, especially if you are Uber Female like I am. Because my 6 year old daughter is correct when she says, "Boys are weird."

Their weirdness becomes apparent soon after birth when they stare at a mobile for twenty minutes, already trying to figure out how it works. Baby girls don't do that. We want to stare at faces, trying to figure out how people work.

(When some of those girls grow up they blog for the same reason.)

Then when they are four, boys exhibit their weirdness by saying "POOP!" or "UNDERWEAR" at the dinner table and collapsing into giggles. Repeatedly. Weeeeird.

When Shepherd was five, my sweet little baby buddy, precious, lovable first born turned on me like a top. Suddenly everything in the world was my fault. If it rained, I got blamed - loudly. If he fell down and skinned his knee, somehow I was the root cause of it.

Heartbroken and perplexed I researched it, and discovered that this meant that he was beginning to identify with his father and rejecting his mother - in other words, becoming a man - and one of the ways it manifested itself was in being downright ugly to me. All part of normal gender development. Yippee. Weird.

Then, at age seven, he developed a healthy case of Seven Year Old OCD. Shep's obsession was World War II. He read every book he could find, became a History Channel addict, and asked me several times a day, "What's your favorite battleship? What's your favorite gun?"

When I said I didn't have a favorite gun, he said I was the weird one.

But age seven was also when the Smart Alec Stage began, a stage I loathed with every fiber of my mother being. Which Mitzi is currently loathing. Which you may be loathing. So here's the advice I gave her. Being THE PARENTING EXPERT and all.

First, let's start with a little bit of the psychology of a seven year old. (My credentials you ask? In addition to being certified in early childhood education, I have a PhD in Googling.)

I am focusing on boys here but much of this will apply to girls as well, just differently, because y'all know the two have very little in common.

Also, this is the "textbook" seven year old child. Your son may be a precocious smart alec or a late blooming smart alec. All children develop at their own rates. (Out of my four kids, only one of them is textbook.)

The age of seven is a big one. 

At age seven, kids begin to think in much more mature ways. Historically, this age has been known as "The Age of Reason", and when Shepherd turned seven, that made sense to me. His questions got more in depth and intelligent, and conversations with him got a lot more fun. And he began to get my jokes - yea! Spiritually, kids at age seven often 'get it' in a way they haven't before. They questions they ask can stump you.

All this will work to your advantage.
Child psychology is typically split into "before 7" (preschool) and "after 7" (the middle years). During these middle years of preadolescence, kids learn to think logically (but only about concrete things, abstract thinking begins to develop later), show empathy and sympathy, and become less egocentric (self-focused).

But they are learning. And they are only at the beginning of this stage. 

Socially, seven year olds are learning to get inside other people's brains. They have a strong sense of justice and fairness, even though it is still often self-centered. However, their primary motivation is still to keep out of trouble, not to, like, promote the goodness of society and all. Which means they may lie like a dog when caught breaking a rule. (Yesterday Shep told me the duct tape on his glasses was to 'deflect lasers', not because he had broken them again. Score one for the cognitive development. Score zero for the moral.) But they will probably feel guilty about lying and confess (which can lead to some great discussions about sin and our need for the Cross, but that's another blog post.)

Seven year olds are becoming more conscious of language and word play (they get my jokes! yea!). This is part of our problem, because that obsession with language can quickly manifest into rude, disrespectful language.  (And fart jokes. Lots of fart jokes. Still waiting for my husband to outgrow the fart joke stage.)

As they become less self-focused, they become others focused - but they are only at the beginning of this stage, remember. We have a long way to go. At this point, being other-focused is part two of our problem because they much more observant of other kids and frequently copying what they have heard from those other little smart alec friends with bad moms - you know, the moms who are saying the same thing about you.

Becoming others focused will be the primary means of our solution.

Because hallelujah, you can reason with a 7 year old!

Tomorrow, I'll tell you some practical things that worked for us.

Part two here


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