No, You Are Not Raising a Hoodlum

Understanding Behavioral Stages in School-Age Children


Does your 6-year-old cry about everything? Is your 7-year-old moody and withdrawn? Is your 10-year-old generally fun and happy, but have frequent skirmishes with her gal pals? Just as children gain new physical and mental skills at a relatively predictable rate and pattern, they also experience behavioral changes in a surprisingly predictable pattern.

When my children were in elementary school there were times when I’d think, “Wow, he’s really matured.” A few months later, however, I’d be pulling my hair out thinking, “Is this what I have to expect from now on?”

During one of these chaotic phases I browsed the parenting section of the library and found perspective in a series of books addressing different ages. The books, by Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D., and published by the Gesell Institute of Child Development in New Haven, Connecticut, are based on decades of research into the different ages and stages of normal child development. The books start with “Your One-Year-Old,” and end with “Your Ten- to Fourteen-year-old.”

Educating myself to the typical behavioral changes of childhood was one of the most helpful things I did as a parent. In reading them I heard a reassuring voice saying, “Your child is normal. You’re not raising a hoodlum. This, too, shall pass.”

Kevin Pauli, father of 8-year-old twins Wyatt and Luke, experienced similar relief when he discovered the books.

“They helped me understand that my boys aren’t little dysfunctional adults,” he said, chuckling. “They give me hope that some of the tricks they pull are just a stage, and that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I like to read ahead to see what might be coming down the line!”

According to Ames’s books, children pass through regular patterns of equilibrium, or outwardness, and disequilibrium, or inwardness. Phases of equilibrium are characterized by more cooperative, calm, positive behavior, while phases of disequilibrium are characterized by challenging, withdrawn, non-cooperative behaviors. The books are quick to point out that each child is different. “Some children seem always to live a bit on the side of disequilibrium. Even at calm stages or ages, they have trouble with themselves and those around them. Other children, even in the same family, seem always to live on the brighter side of life.”

By discovering the behavioral and developmental changes children go through, I became more realistic as to what to expect of any given age, and shaped my discipline accordingly. It also gave me patience that particularly annoying stages would eventually end.

“When my boys got into ‘The whole world is against me!’ stuff at seven,” Pauli said, “my natural impulse was to say, ‘Are you crazy?’ The book [“Your Seven-Year-Old”] helped me see things from their point of view—to see it as a developmental stage and not spend too much time worrying about it.” 

Similarly for me, the simple statement, “Emotionally, eleven does not have things too well in hand, though most boys and girls of this age seem quite unaware of the turmoil they cause,” was immensely comforting. While that didn’t mean I let poor behavior slide, it was nice knowing that a combination of appropriate discipline and empathic listening would help my child pass on through this difficult stage.

The books also provide age-targeted ideas on discipline, cognitive development, general interests, physical abilities, and tension outlets (hair twisting, nail biting, etc.). They even clue you in to what kind of parties each age most enjoys.

My one criticism is that the books need updating, and it shows in some of the photos and examples. However, I did contact the Gesell Institute and was delighted to learn that updated studies have been done and the books are scheduled for revision soon.

The books can be purchased singly, or as an entire series, from the Gesell Institute website. Where else can parents learn that it is common for 6-year-olds to kick table legs, 7-year-olds to think parents like brothers and sisters better than them, 9-year-olds to collect things, and 11-year-olds to be surrounded by clocks and watches, but never seem to see them?

For more information about the Gesell Institute, or to purchase books, visit:



Categories: Health, Infant/Pre-School, School-Age, Teens, Tweens & Teens