My six-year-old is crying again. I don’t know why. Since he turned six, he’s spent a lot of his time weeping. It’s not the pandemic. It’s not a lack of attention. It’s not stress from a lack of playmates other than his brothers.
Nope, it’s because he’s six, and six-year-olds are emo mini-teenagers we should dress in black and give haircuts that obscure their eyes (COVID-19 hair, anyone?). My son’s nickname is Prince Hamlet, because he’s whinier than Shakespeare’s whiniest protagonist, and he’s not even being haunted by a vengeful spirit.
It could be for any number of reasons, none of which I can really guess. It’s a crapshoot. Did the dog hit him in the face with its tail? Did he lose a board game? Did his brother lose a tooth instead of him? It’s a mystery when your kid is six. We have to ask our six-year-old. The answer comes in the form of wails, weeping, and gnashing teeth. We have to ask again, and remind him to breathe more slowly and talk to mama and daddy.
Finally, in hitches and sobs and hiccups, we’ll drag the reason out.
We asked him to let the dog out.
No, Six is Not All Weeping
I have to qualify this, lest you think I don’t love my children. My six-year-old is delightful. Six is a fun age: they’re just learning to read (some earlier and later; mine’s a little bit later, especially with COVID-19); they like arts and crafts; they’re old enough to express interesting opinions. They can do some grown-up things. Six can make their own sandwiches and usually find their own drinks, unless the milk jug is completely full.
Mine still needs cuddled to sleep sometimes, which is sweet. And he’s the youngest, so I enjoy all the baby-ness I can wring out of him. I still carry him around once in a while. I fetch him snacks when he could do it himself. I snuggle with him on the couch. Usually, he wakes up, stumbles into the living room, and curls up with me for a while. This is unbearably sweet.
All my six-year-olds were like this: cuddly and sweet one moment, independent as hell the next, and then suddenly falling to the floor in the kind of tears usually reserved for funerals and national tragedies.
But It’s a Whole Lot of Weeping
Toddlers throw tantrums. They cry and scream because we tell them no: because they can’t have what they want and need more independence. But six is different. Six-year-olds don’t cry out of a desperate need for more independence. Six cries because of everything. They’re hangry. They’re thirsty and you told them to get the cup themselves. The dog needs let out again and why do they have to do everything all the time?! Their siblings did something/got something/existed on the material plane.
It’s not just that anything can set them off. It’s the utter unpredictability of what will set them off. My six-year-old degenerated into a flop-on-the-ground weeping session because his brother lost a tooth. This would then entail a trip from the tooth fairy. He had not lost a tooth, and therefore would not be visited by the tooth fairy. It was not fair, people.
Then again, he may be refused ice cream because it’s too close to bedtime, shrug, and wander into bed.
Or his little face might screw up. His tiny lip will begin to tremble. He will say, “You didn’t say it was bedtime yet! I hate bedtime! I hate sleeping!” and collapse on the couch.
With six, you never fucking know.
Six Will Not Be Consoled
You can’t help them.
No seriously, you can try. You can hold them. You can do all the wonderful peaceful parenting techniques to reconnect with your child: you can sit with a six quietly. You can validate their emotions: “I think you feel (whateverthehell) because of (whateverthefuck). I’m so sorry. That’s not fun, is it?” You can try to talk them through it: “I know you are (insert emotion) about (insert trivial event). Would you like to do (insert other trivial event) instead?” You can try to bribe them: “Look, I got you a minifig.” You can try to distract them: “Hey, maybe we should watch (whatever show is hot in your house) so we can take some deep breaths/calm down/refocus our energy/not all degenerate into tears.”
None of these things will be effective. They’re like babies: sometimes, six-year-olds just cry. There’s always a reason. It’s not a good reason to us, but it’s a damn good reason to them, which may be the most frustrating part. A good parent has to resist the urge to say, “Stop crying. It’s not worth it.” Or, “Calm down.” We have to treat children’s emotions as authentic.
That means we have to validate feelings about how put-upon they are. “I know you feel that way, and it hurts,” we might say. (We don’t add, “Much like my head from your constant wailing.”) Instead, we make a sad face, set them on the couch, and cuddle them until it’s over. They need connection. They need help managing those big feelings.
I just wish those big feelings didn’t happen over something as small as the wrong kind of cheese. Six is sweet, fun, entertaining, and….a lot of big, exhausting feelings.