My oldest son finished up his third grade year on Friday, a year that was heralded by our Waldorf school as one of the most important in his childhood. Rudolph Steiner, philosopher and creator of the Waldorf schools, believed that turning nine years old ends the dependent, dreamlike state of early childhood, in which fairy tales and make-believe rule, and presents the growing child with his first glimpse of separateness, otherness and independence. In popular language, this would definitely be the marker of the beginning of the “tween” years, when children are discovering for the first time who they are as separate beings, and what they believe.
Waldorf parenting tips advise parents to be on alert for highly critical nine-year-olds – critical both of other people, whose beliefs they seem to notice for the very first time, and of value systems, as they try to figure it all out. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, then, that my son recently asked at the dinner table, “Is it true that you need to believe in God to go to heaven?” Before my husband and I could choke down our food to provide some kind of semi-intelligent answer, my son, who sees himself as a scientist-in-training, then announced that he would “prefer not to believe in God or heaven, because there is no science to support it.” Then, in almost the same breath, he expressed his nervousness for not believing, but still tried to maintain that, at this time, he would rather not.
I think this is what politicians call “flip-flopping,” — but, according to Steiner, it is a hallmark of this stage of development.
Wanting to know if this crucial “nine-year change” was also accepted in other realms besides the Waldorf world, I took to the internet to see if there was any research (especially recently) supporting it, but I came up disappointed. (If anyone has anything, please send it to me!) While there is plenty on tweens and preadolescence (which has an age range from 9-14 years old, and covers many issues), no research that I found highlighted this particular turning point – turning nine years old – in any significant way.
Yet I do see something significant happening to my child as we close in on his ninth birthday later this summer. He recently came unglued over a relatively small matter – a drawing he’d worked on that didn’t turn out as he wished it would – and I as I watched him struggle, weeping and punching his fists into the air, to find the words to express how disappointed, angry, and confused he was with himself, I had my own struggle with composure. For a brief moment, my heart desperately wished him four years old again, when I could tell him it was the most beautiful drawing I had ever seen, and he had the capacity to believe me. But it seems that those simple times, when hugs and kisses solved nearly every problem, are behind us now.
So in lieu of research on the nine year change, I’d love to know from you, parents: have you experienced a nine-year change in your child? Do you remember feeling this way at nine years old yourself? (I most certainly do.) Do you think this is complete hooey? Let me hear from you.