After the rather alarming incident with Lyle the other night, I made good on my promise to immediately order the book from the Gesell Institute of Human Development called “Your Five-Year-Old“.  (I wrote about these books here after reading the little volumes about ages 4 and 8.)  I just really needed (hoped!) to hear that something about what we were experiencing was typical from these grandmotherly-sounding wise child development experts.

The book arrived yesterday and I started reading it in bed last night.  I admit I was concerned at first, and not just because of the placid subtitle of the book, which describes the five-year-old as “Sunny and Serene”, but also from the opening chapter called “Characteristics of Age Five”.  The description of the typical five-year old caused half my mind to begin a panicked dip into my Rolodex of great local child psychologists and trying to decide which of them I would call about my child on Monday.  Because it did not describe the boy I am living with — at all.

But then I discovered that the chapter was divided in half and that there was a completely different section on the five-and-a-half year old.  Now, my child is a few months shy of that age, but there isn’t much benefit to being quite so literal about timing in child development (stages yes, timing no), especially when something describes a shift in your child so incredibly well.  To give you the idea, the section begins, “So here you are, sailing along, happy as a lark…it can be more than a little disconcerting when all of a sudden things aren’t so rosy anymore.  That little angel who responded, oh, so easily, with ‘Yes, I will,’ now is quite likely to say ‘No, I won’t.'”  (Gee, I hadn’t noticed!)  I snapped shut my inner Rolodex and read on.  Because there was also this: “…the child of five-and-a-half shows an all-too-great readiness to disobey, to go against what is asked or expected of him. And he doesn’t always do this gently. ‘Brash’ and ‘combative’ are adjectives that mothers use in describing this child, and all with good reason.”  Other words used were “overdemanding” and “explosive” and one of my favorite lines, “…the child may be extremely shy one minute and then extremely bold the next; very affectionate, and then almost without warning very antagonistic.”  (Insert “Hallelujah Chorus” here.)

I read that emotionally at this age, Lyle may seem to be in an “almost constant state of tension” although he will probably be calmer at school than at home (100% true – he’s a dream at school). They also mentioned chewing on loose clothing.  Check!  Seriously, it all started this past week.

It’s useful to be reminded once again that no matter what it looks like in any given child, a period of equilibrium is going to be followed by a period of disequilibrium and that the end of every easier stage “must come before the child can attain a higher and more mature stage of equilibrium”.  Maybe he isn’t fully entering this phase yet but we are getting a serious preview of what’s to come that was triggered by his tension around Baxter’s birthday.  Either way, it would be hard to describe how much better I feel.  I can’t wait to read the rest of this book.


3 responses to “Disequilibrium

  1. Thank. God.

    Sadly, I know the concept or dis/equilibrium cycles all too well. Doesn’t mean I can predict one for a tinker’s damn but I sure recgonize them in hind sight.

  2. I have found those books very helpful with my daughter. I was particularly dismayed at the title of the 3 year old book – “friend or enemy”. Makes me really excited for the upcoming disequilibrium at 3 1/2!

  3. Jordan, I love it that even you, Queen of Child Development, have this experience of “catching up” with some strange new behavior pattern in your child– I think I pretty much always function one (or four) step(s) behind whatever is going on. Hindsight sometimes feels like my ONLY sight! But it helps a lot to read those books. I’m so much calmer when I can say to myself, “she’s looking for more autonomy, but she’s not comfortable with it yet”, instead of, “where did my happy child go???”

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