Ask Amy- Is My Kid *Trying* To Be This Difficult?

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Sometimes it seems like our kids are actually out to make our relationships with them worse. This week's question comes from our Facebook group:

I think my 9-year-old is "soiling the nest." Is it normal at his age to try to get me to hate him?

"Soiling the nest" is a term psychologists usually apply to kids about to leave home for college. Rather than deal with their ambivalence about leaving their childhood home, they "trash" it, making the departure easier. Basically, it's a "this place sucks anyhow!" attitude that is self-fulfilling.

A 9-year-old is probably not doing this, exactly, but he could definitely be dealing with some anxiety about pandemic school, soccer tryouts, or other things that are less immediately obvious.

Or maybe he's just being 9. Dr. Arnold Gesell's child development theory posits that children develop in a cyclical, spiral pattern, from periods of calm equilibrium to unsettled disequilibrium and back again. These sequences are similar and predictable for all kids, and although each develops at her own pace, the Center for Parenting Education says that "nine-year-olds seem to exhibit many worries and anxieties, and become more demanding as they cycle once again into disequilibrium."

Knowing this is a phase, and that your child will return to his calmer, happier version of himself in about a year, can make dealing with the present nest-spoiling moment a little easier. It doesn't mean you don't ever push back on the back talk. But he'll probably grow out of it on his own very soon.

For more on Gesell's theories and how it played out in her family, check out Amy's book When Did I Get Like This?

Here are two articles on the topic that Amy cites in this episode:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2016/07/05/when-your-child-soils-the-nest-just-before-leaving-it/

https://centerforparentingeducation.org/library-of-articles/child-development/developmental-stages-the-roller-coaster-of-equilibrium-and-disequilibrium/

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