Six is in between two worlds. While Six still has curiosity and wonder, they are quickly approaching a more concrete world. Six may seem oppositional and stubborn, and may frequently change their mind. One minute they want to do something themself and the next they are asking you to complete tasks that they have known how to do for awhile, like tie their shoe. This is a normal part of Six’s increased sense of independence.
Six is becoming more independent and adventurous! However, they still need routine and structure to make them feel safe. Visual schedules and plans are helpful at this age, and Six will flourish when you let them help make the schedule. Six are active beings! It’s a challenge for Six to sit at the table at meal times, and they need extra encouragement to do so. Testing rules and structure as they discover their independence is part of being Six, thus the NEED for routine and structure.
Six have strong emotions and bigger bodies especially under stress or when hungry and/or tired, compared to Five. If you notice your Six becoming more emotional, feed them! Keep snacks readily available. Bedtime can remain challenging for Six so they may need a security object or more reassurances and comfort. Six’s imagination is still in full swing and with that comes some uncertainty. Monsters still could be in that closet. With Six, bedwetting and accidents may increase when there is a stressor such as: parental conflict, school starting back up, or other big changes in their world.
Six is very sensitive to criticism and correction, as they seek approval from their parents, teachers, and friends. It’s fun to watch your Six gain self-esteem with each success. Six tend to be competitive, often creating new rules and cheating to win at games. Six wants fairness yet struggles with losing. This is an important social skill so remember to teach this skill, not punish it. Six values their friendships, often seeking friends who are similar to themselves. Encouraging playing fair and trying things their friends like are important skills for Six.
Six tend to lie- to avoid punishment and admitting when they are wrong. Lying is very normal and parents can strive to not engage or overly punish the behavior, rather provide alternatives. Six is figuring out how to fit in and what that looks like. Remember they are watching your lead! If you don’t want them to lie, role model the behavior you are seeking. Six are more aware of other people's feelings and needs. They need you to help process with conversations and PLAY! Talking about emotions and validating appropriate feelings of Six is key. Six is all about learning to master their new world. Encouraging Six to try new things, do more activities, and remain creative.
A big part of being Six is learning social norms such as manners. Using manners demonstrates progress in the reasoning areas of the brain. Watching role models is what Six’s do. If you do it, they will do it, so parents DO manners often.
Know that Sixes have a much larger receptive vocabulary (words they understand) than expressive vocabulary (words that they can say). So keep expectations and explanations age appropriate. Seek to help them demonstrate understanding by showing you not just telling you.
Six is imaginative, curious, and enthusiastic about learning. They continue to live in a world of wonder. Six is dipping their toes into a more academic world, so don’t forget to make plenty of time for PLAY! Six loves telling and hearing stories, reading and looking at books with adults. They are learning how to pronounce unfamiliar words by sounding them out or using context clues. Make time for this activity before bed and/or throughout the day making this a positive memory. Six is chatty and talkative and animated in their speech, often you may wish you had an off button! Six often talks and/or makes noise to themselves while engaged in play because they are moving toward abstract thinking and reasoning. Six’s ability to focus and concentrate is expanding to about 20-13 minutes. Six is still developing a sense of time, they understand the seasons and holidays but cannot accurately gauge time in between them. So while they aren’t asking “is my birthday next week?” they are still making sense of the inbetween.
Six is frequently on the move and their emotions follow. When the body tires so do their emotions. Six fluctuates between energetic activity and fatigue, often paired with moodiness. Six is curious about their own left from right. It is common for Six to continue to reverse letters or numbers in writing and reading, so don’t put too much pressure on them to get it right, instead use gentle reminders. As Six becomes more aware of their body, they get sick more frequently and may complain about aches and pains( they are also growing a ton!).
It is important for Sixes to have substantial opportunities to engage in imaginative and fantasy play, including interactions with adults and peers. Remember physical activity and exposure to non-technological toys and materials - promote creativity and self-directed play!
Sixes increasingly adopt socially constructed gender-specific behavior and avoid behaviors associated with the opposite gender. This can include discrimination between “boy” and “girl” colors, or use of specific toys. Some Sixes express a strong interest in opposite-sex behavior at this age. Identification with the opposite-sex may strengthen or become less intense throughout development. It’s imperative that you send the message to your Six that no matter who they are, they are welcome to be who they are and they are loved. Parents and teachers should communicate acceptance and non-judgement toward Six’s developing gender identity, and exploration of both masculine and feminine characteristics. This can be difficult with other adults or family members who might say things like “that’s not how little girls are supposed to act.” Respond gracefully by using encouraging statements of your child. Sexual or affectional orientation typically emerges more clearly just before or during puberty.
The Older Six
Halfway through Six, you may see a shift to a much calmer and easygoing child. Older Sixes tend to slow down and display more balance as they are developing more physically. As half-years are often a state of equilibrium, Sixes approaching Seven, grows into more affectionate and humorous companions. This is a lot of fun! Older Sixes love to show off their skills and knowledge to others (which can be fun, but also appears bossy!), from counting to big numbers and reading at bedtime. Older Sixes love to explore new places and learn new information, gaining new ideas. With trying new things, comes more new questions from your Six. Encourage this, as they are learning more and more every day. They are often a delight to people around them, and experience easier interactions with parents, teachers, and peers than their early months of Six. Older Sixes enjoy being challenged by intellectual tasks.
They are curious about how things work and with their increased attention span, they can be a lot of fun to teach! Older Sixes have increased abilities in writing, reading, and math. Most are able to read independently and can start to read to younger children. Encourage reading through giving them the option of what to read at bedtime or giving them time to read each day after school. Math is also more interesting to Six, finding ways throughout the day to identify the math present in daily life. Physically, older sixes are working to find their physical balance and are less clumsy.
While older sixes have fewer challenges, they still experience sensitivity to critical statements, have high energy, begin to worry about others' views of them, and lying may increase to avoid trouble(even when they know better).
Older Six parents, this is a time to support the development of independence, while also avoiding unnecessary criticism or harsh punishment. As they gain more independence, they are still feeling low levels of security. Consistent routines can help calm fears and worries of your older six. Older Six thrives when a balance of play and unstructured activities are included in their daily routines. Parents are encouraged to join in in the play from time to time, both for your own self care and development of a deeper relationship with your child. They love to play and interact with you!
Parents will also want to use logical consequences for your six when they display problematic behaviors. This may include having them clean up after themselves when they have broken something, or drawing a picture to apologize to someone when they have hurt their feelings. With the increasing use of technology in today's youth, it is also recommended that screen time is limited and exposure to scary or violent media. One way you could limit screen time is through designating day(s) during the week that are deemed “no tech” days, allowing your six more time to partake in social and/or educational activities. It is important to remember that once a child sees something they cannot unsee it.
Six is curious about the world around them as they try to figure out their place in it. Six is working on developing foundational social skills that will help them make friends and use their mouth to get out of trouble. Six needs caregivers to be calm and patient while they develop new skills and a sense of self and purpose in this world. Your patience and consistency will benefit all of you in the long run!
If you have concerns for your Six due to behaviors you are seeing or they experience a traumatic event having them seen by a child mental health specialist is important as Six is a sensitive time and extra support from a professional not only will help and encourage your Six, they will help and support you the parent.
Cary M. Hamilton & Sarah Moran
Adapted from D. Ray (2016)