One of my professional responsibilities has been to help parents sort out which of their child’s behaviors are “typical”, i.e., often occurring in the development of neurotypical kids, and which are more atypical. To be honest, this isn’t a conversation I ever seek out, but it does come up fairly often when parents attribute very typical things as “disordered” or “autistic” and then I step in with some developmental information that generally provides a sense of relief to worried parents.
It has been very helpful in my own parenting to have this background and training in child development, especially because I generally know when to be concerned and when to relax about difficult stages. Lord knows I don’t always get it right, but it has been useful at times.
However. Baxter has hit a stage recently that is unfamiliar to me. I have not written about it here because he is now at an age where I feel that I need to protect his privacy more; suffice it to say that challenges like occasional untruths, minor rebellion and secrecy have emerged over here and while I assumed it was normal, I really didn’t have as much to base that on as I normally do. I was intrigued to hear from his teacher that these themes had been emerging in most of her mid-year third-grade conferences last month, and so I decided I needed to learn more about what these 8- and 9-year old kids are dealing with and what it all means.
A search on amazon.com and an inquiry to our friends Alex and Anna (parents extraordinaire who had previously mentioned a set of developmental books they rely on) turned up the same book series. I immediately purchased the books that pertained to my kids: “Your Eight-Year-Old: Lively and Outgoing” and “Your Four-Year-Old: Wild and Wonderful” by Louse Bates Ames, Ph.D. of the Gesell Institute of Human Development. I have not picked up the Four-Year-Old book yet but just finished the Eight-Year-Old one.
I love the positive tone of the title and cover of all of these slim paperbacks, and in general they are very upbeat about development at each age. Happily, though, as the back cover states, the one I read about Baxter’s age group also includes: “Aggressiveness in eight-year olds, sensitivity to criticism, talkativeness, behavior problems in school, reading skills, quarreling with parents, stories from real life, and books for Eights and the parents of Eights” and it helped me to put in perspective what I’m seeing.
As I read the book, which I have to tell you is in many ways very “old school” (I’m not sure when this one was originally published but the Four-Year-Old book was copyrighted in 1976 and the Eight-Year-Old version has that same 70s feeling), the core developmental information was very useful and Baxter leapt off the page a great many times.
But beyond those general developmental changes, I found tons of references to 8-year-olds loving board games in this book; as I thought about it, I realized that when we are on vacation or hanging out with people at our house, Baxter does enjoy board games and we have such a great time with them. It feels like a bit of a loss that we have not made enough time in our day to really sit down and play them together. I have been concerned lately (especially since getting the Wii, although this was an issue before that, too) about how isolated Baxter can be. He is perfectly happy to be lost in a book on the couch for hours or playing an intense game on the Wii and, frankly, we miss him. But I was at a loss – what do you do when they don’t want to “play” anymore, especially when you have a younger child who only wants to play all day?
Yesterday he had the day off from school, and so while Lyle was in preschool, Baxter and I had a wonderful time playing Scrabble and UNO together. After watching Lyle and his little friend across the hall dump our Scrabble game upside down later in the afternoon, I decided that we needed a designated place for games, up off the floor and protected from small hands. So yesterday evening I set up our old card table by the front window in the living room, threw a nice cloth over it, and we pulled in a couple of extra dining room chairs and voila! we had a game table. Flying high from our afternoon together, Baxter and I also managed to get in some UNO time before bed last night and even briefly before he left for school today. He has been engaged, bright-eyed, and having a blast. He especially loved my trash-talking, particularly when I referred to him as “pure evil” last night when he cackled as I took more and more cards in UNO. He must have repeated that phrase, laughing, 5 more times. In fact, after our game time last night he was really upset that I had to make dinner; he followed me into the kitchen and said, “Mommy, can you put on some crazy music so that I can dance?” I put on some hip hop and realized that what he wanted was to dance with me. I could only boogie so much with him while stuffing chicken breasts, but he was seeking me out for more interaction, rather than flopping onto the couch with Harry Potter. By god, I think we’re on to something here. Thank you, Dr. Louise Bates Ames!
This morning we woke up to the sound of the boys having a great time together. I couldn’t figure out what they were doing or where they even were in the house. When I came out to look for them at 7am, I discovered them at the new table by the window, playing UNO together, Baxter trying desperately (and, ultimately, unsuccessfully) to teach Lyle the rules so that he could play it with him.
Apparently, I’ll need to consult the “Your Four-Year-Old” book on how to deal with that one. And then I’ll go back online to order “Your Five-Year-Old” and “Your Nine-Year-Old” because a little warning could be really nice.