Mr B is coming up on seven years old. But he's already there, developmentally (these things aren't set by the calendar).
At seven, the brain transitions from left-brain development (this level having been completed) to right-brain development. Logic and that scientific experimentation and observation of the world has been completed for this level (more will come later), and now it is time to work the social and emotional processes.
When the brain transitions sides of development, things go a bit haywire. Areas of the brain activate that still have more primitive function levels - the emotional/social side has been developing, but much more slowly, for the last couple of years (since around 3 1/2, I think). Now, the attention is back here, and there's a lot of learning, making connections, and growing to do. Add to that a lessening of the ease of access to the left brain side - the logic centers are no longer quite so easily ignited, there are some disconnects, the information seems to take on a one-way route toward right brain (at least there first)...
I might have the exact medical/biology details mangled a bit, but the outcomes remain the same - at 7, order and organization are lost, forgetfulness and mental wandering are typical for most (not all), emotional issues come out as attitude and anger and whining and misery and what really appears to be 'mean-spiritedness' at times.
Like most developmental phases, the knee-jerk reaction is to feel like we've done something wrong (what did I do wrong, I'll stop, I'm sorry I did attachment parenting, I'm sorry I did whatever, this SUCKS, and it's probably all my fault), or be pissed at the kid because it seems like this is really who they are (he's mean, my sweet-natured boy is gone, he doesn't care about anyone but himself, he's lazy, he's arrogant, he's selfish). Or both, by turns.
Sigh. Fortunately, a friend of mine who taught this age (as well as 6 and 8, so she saw the same kid all three ages) warned me about this age. It's disorganized. Seven can't remember things they already knew. Rules vanish, even if they've been followed since 2 years old. You have to start over with the rules reminders and coaching, as if they were 2 again. We don't ... in our house, we do this. When we're angry we don't hit, we use words. Please use words. Milk boxes must be thrown out - carry it to the trash can and throw it away. Please don't put it in the book shelf. When a grownup calls for you, please answer - we worry if we can't hear you. And no hiding so we can't find you, either. That's a safety rule, as well as respect. And kind.
They drop things as they walk again, out of mind, out of hand. They get angry easily, and blame it on others. They'll stumble over shoe laces and not think to tie the shoe. They'll stand there and stare blankly at something, knowing there was something they were supposed to do with it, but unable to access the information (which they then may feel angry, resentful, scared, about and look for someone to blame). They think they know better than everyone, and at the same time they're blundering through all sorts of rules and reminders and guidelines and ... whee.
They're also really easily wounded, emotionally. Everything hurts different. They take things personally.
It tends to create some difficulty around parenting. Or, um, words to that effect, only using a lot more swear words.
Not my favorite age.
At the same time, I know it is transitional. I know it is a long transition, but it is only a transition. In a year, everything will be different. In a year, the emotional side will have developed some ability to be cognitively empathetic, to look at someone else and figure out how they're feeling and understand and offer sympathy. At 8 they can look at themselves and recognize what they feel and ask for sympathy, too. They return to full access of logic, interweaving emotion and logic and social awareness and scientific observation to great effect. There's a reason when I was teaching Sunday School that I loved eight year olds. Their minds are open, expansive, they make leaps of intuition and astute social and personal observations. Eight rocks. Seven is struggling to get there, putting the parts together, having them fall down repeatedly.
We bridged the gap with Mr G by working on two year-long tasks. One was homework planning. His school had weekly packets of homework, and we spent an entire year slowly teaching him how to make a plan, implement it, reassess it mid-way, tweak it for effectiveness, assess it for prudence, tweak that, and finish it up, then review at the end before starting the next plan. By the end of the school year, we were to the point where we still had to remind him to make a plan, but he was 'oh, right!' and sitting down and working it out quickly, and carrying on from there without much reminder. At 8, the planning was totally online in his brain, and the first week of school he just sat down and made a plan without a peep. The entire year flowed. But it took that whole year to coach that. It seems as an adult that it should take maybe three weeks - three good runs through the process, and it should stick, yes? No. The brain of the seven-year-old is not sticky. It's slippery, with holes. Things fall through, out, and off it. Knowing it is normal, and expected, it's easier to just pick the item back up and stick it back on, gently, understanding that it is the 100th impression that counts. And without anger - it isn't beating it in, it's more like long-term gardening tending - shaping, working with a growing medium, gently pruning and encouraging growth along with the plant, nipping some buds repeatedly, making sure there's plenty of opportunity to grow and resources for growth, as well.
The second task was saving his allowance. Making a plan, saving up for what he wanted, learning about investing. Again, a year long process. He saved I think $140 that year, birthday and holidays included. Hasn't saved that much since, but he's still working on the layers of that (right now on the conflict between 'that which is good' and 'that which is great' - if you buy good stuff, you still don't have money for the great stuff. It's easy to not buy dumb garbage, what's hard is holding off on buying good, nice, quality things in favor of the really special item at the center of a bigger dream...). But that's 10's issue. Seven was just right for learning about saving (I recommend the Cash Cache for 10 and up, under that, a simple saving program that has Spend, Save, Give, and Invest is good... they sell those, too, but you can just set up four jars, too.)
So, here we are again. Mr B, heading smack into seven, dropping things where he walks. Leaving the full pitcher of orange juice balanced precariously on the exercise machine. Leaving milk boxes in the book shelf (and on the sofa and pretty much anywhere he's been, like a trail of crumbs). Refusing to answer when called because he doesn't feel like it. Getting excited about friends and friendships. Forgetting to flush the toilet (though this never was a strength for him, it is totally gone now). Mr G was innately organized from birth - he set his own schedules, but he had them. Mr B, not so - he has always been a go-with-the-flow kid, roll with it, shift and change. And now he's lost even that degree of rhythm, and we have no idea where he is or in what direction he's headed at any given moment. It's a bit frustrating.
But it's normal.
And like at 3 1/2, what works best for capturing his attention is physical contact, patience, calm voice, whispers, more patience. If I ask him to get dressed, or prompt him to follow the plan he just announced he was going to follow, I get a glower and avoidance. If I put a hand gently on his shoulder, wait (and wait and wait) for him to look up and make eye contact, and then ask or prompt, and then wait (and wait and wait and wait) for him to answer, he can get unstuck from his random flow and go about his task (or propose a tweak to his plan, which is also fine). It takes a lot of patience.
But it works. And that's the point - I'm trying to take advantage of the sensitive period of growth, feed it and prune it and give it the light it needs to grow into a sturdy form.
Which isn't to say that I didn't end up totally losing my temper and yelling at him (um, a lot) before I realized why I was so upset. He grew out from under my parenting again. Slipped away ahead of me, and I was parenting a six year old, where here he was seven. When aiming for six didn't work, I tried it louder. And more forcefully. And with more emotions. And it didn't work, because that never really works. But once I got loud enough, I heard myself, realized that I'd hit the signpost for 'parenting a child that isn't actually here anymore' and could stop and change tracks.
Effective, Prudent, True is the main set of issues for this age. We start talking about those now, too. That's maybe project three...
Sigh. Eight will be fun. I know eight will be fun. Seven is just a lot of effort, patience, effort, patience, and more effort. But we'll get through.