What we’re trying with the terrible 7s

DC1 always gets phases late and DC2 seems to get them early.

Luckily when DC1 hit this phase, Wandering Scientist told me it was a normal age and stage (I think her pediatrician’s office had an ages and stages graphic) and the internet strongly agreed with that assessment.

With DC1 it meant sullenness and occasional bouts of tears and ramped up perfectionism, IIRC.  There was also some acting up at school.  And lots of silence when questioned.  Fortunately it was short, although we did get several emails from one of hir teachers who couldn’t handle it because zie was used to teaching college students, not elementary schoolers.  (Another more experienced teacher, when questioned, said there was no problem and her son had gone through the same thing a year prior and she knew it was normal.)

DC2 has become very emotional.  Meltdowns, temper tantrums, not wanting to do things, being scared of everything (ex. being unable to sleep because zie was afraid of Ancient Egypt), feeling stupid for not reaching hir own impossible standards.  It’s very much like a repeat of the terrible twos, except DC2 is less easily distracted from bad behavior and is more self-aware.

First up:  unlike the toddler years, DC2’s refusals to do things seems to be responding well to threats of punishment.  Taking away privileges has gotten hir to stop tantrumming and to do whatever it is zie needs to do.  Giving a 5 min or 1 min or count to five warning about having to stop screaming and put on hir clothes or play piano or go into the gymnasium for camp on pain of losing screen time privileges or not getting to eat out at hir favorite restaurant has been effective.  I suspect bribery may also be effective, but I don’t want to incentivize bad behavior.  I guess technically we already have rewards in place for things, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to take them away as privileges.  Adding on beyond that in the face of bad behavior may not be a great idea.

The next thing we’re trying to do is to add more attention and more quiet time and make sure zie has eaten and all those things we did when zie was a toddler and seemed to need more attention or less stimulation.  DC2 at age 7 wants to talk about hir feelings and hir fears a lot more than zie did at 2.

And finally, we’ve gotten some books about elementary schooler anxiety and have been working through them with hir.  The best of these for hir level has been What to Do When You Worry Too Much by Dawn Huebner.  It’s basically cognitive behavioral therapy at an elementary school level.  It also relates worries to tomatoes, and DC2 hates tomatoes, so it resonates.  After going through the book once, DH was able to get DC2 through the Metropolitan Museum of Art (even the Egyptian room that DC1 wanted to see) even though zie had refused to set foot in the Museum of Fine Arts a week or two prior.

Things seem to have settled down a bit with the start of school.  Hopefully the phase is winding down and DC2 will be back to hir normal self.

Have you gone through the terrible 7s?  Have there been other ages with these kinds of stages?



18 Responses to “What we’re trying with the terrible 7s”

  1. Donna Tucker Says:

    Thanks for the recommendation. I just sent the book to my granddaughter. She comes from a long line of pathological worriers, so it would be nice if her generation learns to handle it better. Maybe it will help her dad too when he reads it with her.

  2. bogart Says:

    I don’t remember terrible 7s, though I have stepgrands who aren’t there yet, so maybe having seen this post will come in useful down the road.

    The bit about not being to sleep because of … ancient Egypt. Ah, children. The challenges one does not anticipate needing to face when one welcomes them to the family…

  3. delagar Says:

    Age seven was when our kid had what he now refers to as “baby’s first nervous breakdown.” Nothing we tried really worked, except therapy. Our therapist was wonderful, though.

  4. rose Says:

    All ages have stages. I remember one child as high school senior doing college applications saying to me “I’ve checked with my friends and you are dead on course for the stage of parenthood college application fretting.” Being now FAAR more senior, I continue to hit life stages of many varieties.
    Life is change.
    Thank you for this reminder of normalcy and it’s challenges.

  5. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Um… took a lunch twitter break and…

    If you haven’t called about impeachment this week, now is a good time to do it. https://5calls.org/issue/house-impeachment-inquiry-trump

  6. Cloud Says:

    It is funny… I’ve almost completely forgotten about our issues at this age! I guess the new issues that come in the tween years are blotting out my memory of the issues at age 7-8. And yes, it was a poster in my pediatrician’s office that alerted me to the fact that this was normal and I wasn’t losing my mind.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I only remember DC1’s specific issues because I found the blog evidence(!) when writing this post, though I did remember there were some teacher emails involved because it really was the first time our charming rules-following DC1 had ever gotten in trouble at school.

      And YES on the tween years. Though both of our kids seem to be on their best behavior as we battle the new school year. (More on that once I’m able to stop drowning in helping DC1 find and organize hir nightly homework every single night. High school in our town, man, it’s from like no work in middle school to more than college as a college-prep 9th grader.)

  7. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    currently the 7yo in my house is going through the exact same stage. Same strategy plus a requirement to go be whiny elsewhere on occasion/ go read for 5 minutes/ take a break from being around other people.

    The almost 11yo is also having a lot of FEELINGS, described by him (while sobbing after a meltdown) as. “sometimes I just can’t control my behavior and I don’t know WHYYYY!” He’s also been refusing to eat when sulking (we tell him he doesn’t have to eat but he does have to sit at the table and usually hunger wins out about 5 minutes later).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:


      DC2 also has spent quite a bit of time in hir room softly whining.

      DC1 (age 12) did that sulk and not eat thing as well this summer. No sobbing though! DC1 just gets sullen. Zie sometimes reminds me of Bartleby the Scrivener. Fortunately it didn’t last long enough to result in jail or starvation!

  8. Socal dendrite Says:

    Yikes – I didn’t know there was a terrible 7s! I have a 6 yr old (who is already rather anxious/perfectionist) so it will be good to be prepared…

  9. Just a little (link) love: smol vs board edition « A Gai Shan Life Says:

    […] It may be early but I like being really prepared for Terrible X phases. […]

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