March 23, 2013

the Nine Year Change


We've had a sort of tumultuous past year with Hannah Jane's social/emotional world and I'm happy to say that at long last, we've found some comfort and vision for what's been going on.  At a time when I'm supposed to be feeling my most expert self, with the release of my book and promotions getting rolling, I've had this one area of life - dealing with my daughter's social upheavals - in which I've felt quite dumbfounded and lacking.

I won't go into too much detail, but it started with several months of her feeling like her friends were bored with her, that they were annoyed with her innocent joy, that she wasn't cool enough to hang out with anymore.  She weighed her options - feign boredom with life to fit in or live in joy and isolation?  And then that spiraled into her walking around all distant and zombied out almost all the time.  A sullen shell of her former giggle box self.  It's been hard to watch.

It all came to a head the other night after the kids were in bed.  I was telling Joe something funny that Haven had done while he was at work.  Joe said, "Haven is just so Haven, you know?  And Hunter too.  He's just so Hunter."  And then there was a long pause.  "What about Hannah Jane?"  I asked.  After a long sigh, in a more quiet voice he said, "I don't feel like I've even seen the real Hannah for such a long time now."  I felt this explosion of relief.  I'm not the only one who had noticed.  And the silence grew and grew and there we sat, two parents mourning the loss of a child who was sleeping safely in the other room.  How did we end up here?  

And all of the sudden I remembered a concept that I had glossed over during the research phase of my book.  It was from Waldorf education and it was called the Nine Year Change.  I googled it and there were ample blog posts and articles.  I found Rudolph Steiner's own words regarding the nine and a half year old and it was as if, all those years ago and on another continent, he was looking at my very own Hannah Jane and writing about her in full detail.  How could he have known?  

I called Joe in and prefaced this blog post with, "Okay, so this is Hannah Jane to a T.  But let me just warn you that this is from Steiner's more, hmm...mystical - some people have claimed occult like - belief system called anthoposophy.  So, you know, his reasoning behind this is a bit wacky, but the description is dead on."  I waited for my scientist husband to get up and walk away, but he surprised me by saying, "I believe that mystics of old were simply very keen observers of what is really going on and then they had to explain it in a way that the people of the time could handle and would embrace.  Read it to me."  Wow!  Okay then.  Moving right along.  

I read to him about moodiness, about parents wondering what is happening to their child, about sudden stomach aches for no explainable reason.  It was so comforting to read it on the screen after all of these months of confusion.  Around the age of nine and a half, children start to lose that sense of being a part of their environment and start noticing their apartness and the things that make them different.  They realize that they think differently from others.  That new awareness can make them wonder where the parent or teacher's authority comes from and why rules and laws are what they are.  They begin to realize that the adults in their lives are not perfect.  

While Steiner frames this as the completion of the soul's incarnation into this body, I think that's a very flowery way of explaining a developmental stage that is the result of some strong biochemistry.  But you know, whatever works for ya.  While I'm not terribly comfortable with a lot of Steiner's anthroposophical views, you can't deny truth when it's staring you down, and this man clearly understood the nine and a half year old as I have experienced it.  So while I may disagree with his assessment of why this is happening, I'm interested in his thoughts on how to nurture this child because, as I said, he's a keen observer of what's going on.

The writer of my favorite post about the subject described it as being very much like the Disney song, the Age of Not Believing.  And that's where we both got all watery eyed.  I've heard this song a thousand times and never felt all that touched  by it.  But when I hear it now, and think of what Hannah Jane's been going through, I can't not get all snuffly.


Reading about it all made me feel so relieved.  Steiner made suggestions for ways to help the changeling deal with their new awareness.  Things I would never have thought of like getting them into the garden and manual labor type chores.  He talks about children realizing that they are in the world, not of the world, and suddenly fearing whether or not they can hack it.  So recognizing that they are capable of being self sufficient is very soothing on a subconscious level.  When I read that, Joe said, "She has been more interested in the garden this year!"  

Before I got too excited that we had an explanation, I simply told her, "Hey.  I've been worried about you.  You know that.  But last night I ran across these ideas from Rudoph Steiner - you know?  The Waldorf guy? - and he has ideas about kids your age that feel like maybe they explain how you've been feeling.  But no one knows but you how you're really feeling.  You want to read about it and tell me what you think?"  She was up for it.  She read about the Nine Year Change and looked up at me.  "Yup.  That explains how I've been feeling.  And it even talks about my stomach aches!  So this is normal?  My friends don't really hate me?  They probably feel alone too?  And those self sufficiency skills...I think mine is going to be making pillows."  Haha!  Okay then.  

I think the best thing to come of discovering the Nine Year Change idea is that I'm no longer having to resist the urge to say, "Would you just put on a smile already?  You've got nothing to be miserable about!"  Instead, when I see her looking all forlorn in line at the grocery store, I feel sympathy rather than irritation.  Such a better way to see her.  And when I look at her friends, I don't feel angry with them for making her feel so isolated.  I think, "Gosh, if most kid go through this at that age and she's the youngest of her friends, they weren't all suddenly cold towards her.  They were dealing with their own little painful disillusionment.

So if you've got a nine year old and you're wondering what the heck is going on, maybe you'll find this comforting too.  And if you've got younger ones, maybe you want to check it out anyway so that if the change hits your home, you won't feel isolated in your parenting.  Here are some of my favorite blogs and articles on the subject of the Nine Year Change:

From Waldorf in the Home, Parenting the Nine Year Old
From Rainbow Mountain School, the Nine Year Change
from Cafe Mom, Your Nine Year Old isn't Crazy


  1. Thanks for this post! I am filing it away for when my kids are older.

  2. Yea! I love this post. It seems to happen intensely when they are 10 as well. Beynon was having a daddy moment yesterday-continually thinking something was wrong with our daughter because she was so aloof. Last night, she said to me, "I love my daddy more than the world, but he doesn't get what it's like being a girl."I haven't had the heart yet to tell him about our girl talk.

  3. This is a really thought-provoking post. My very in-his-own-head 9, Nicholas, recently renounced his childhood imaginary friends and is currently having some sort of existential crisis over "not being really good at any one thing," so this definitely hits home for me. Thank you!

  4. Maybe Beynon and Joe need a little Father of 9 year old girls support group of their own. LOL! I've heard similar words from Hannah Jane's mouth.

    Annette, the loss of imaginary friends sounds traumatic! Hannah Jane is the only one of my kids that ever had imaginary friends and hers would get together and leave her out of games! I talked to her preschool teacher at the time to see if everything was going okay socially, because I just couldn't imagine why on earth you would imagine people up just so that could leave you out and be mean. I seriously considered taking her to see someone it was just such a weird thing. But she outgrew hers around the age of 6 and there was no sudden loss. Just slowly talked about them less and less. Although, now that you bring up the topic of imaginary friends, I can see that she was predisposed to think no one likes her from a very young age. Maybe the 9 year change has just amplified things.

    Hang in there, mommies! It can't last forever!


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