What is it about this sort of exotic creature that brings it to the attention of adults so many times each day – especially in the last 2 terms of Year 6? Previously, this particular creature may have simply been a bit forgetful, too loving of creating mischief (from time to time) and as such requiring of the occasional word about behaviour. And then, almost magically, a transformation happens. Not the one we herald with wonder in the metamorphosis of the caterpillar to the butterfly. No, more like the one where we find ourselves really pondering the existence of life outside this planet and whether there might have been some swapping of little boys for creatures not of this world.
Year 6 boys – what’s really happening?
This is a complex year developmentally for little boys. They stand on the cusp of being a young adult, their bodies are changing fast and the hormones that are assisting all of those changes are not simply changing the child into a bigger and more stinky version of their younger form – but it’s changing their behaviour too.
Testosterone is coursing through the veins of the 11-14 year-old boy and at its peak at 14 years the level is over 800% greater than that in the toddler years. There’s so much growth that boy children at this age lose contact with their extremities as they shoot up, up and away – and it appears that they also lose contact with their words and their ability to organise themselves.
Biologically, that body is preparing itself for the rigours of adult life – having to slay mountain lions, wrestle them to the ground with their bare hands. And this display of great ferociousness is meant to gain the approval of a mate and the admiration of the other young men in the tribe. But there is no mountain lion. There’s only gang-ups and line-ups – places and situations not sufficient to hold the overflowing exuberance of the boy child transitioning to his adult self in ways often awkward, noisy and sometime painful for others.
3 top tips for parent (and child) survival
#1 Don’t take it personally – your sweet little boy is still in there and he will re-emerge. You’ll be heartened by glimpses of him from time to time. Hold onto those moments and nurse them in your mind – it might be quite some time before you have another one. The amount of change your young man is going through is enormous – this coupled with peer pressure, the thought of transitioning to high school, having to be the big kid in school.
#2 Hold strong with boundaries – it’s essential as you head into these teen years that moodiness, sullenness and a general lack of co-operation doesn’t mean that you start changing expected levels of behaviour and attitude in your home. These are testing times – literally and you want your pre-teen to KNOW that no means no and now means now.
#3 Rites of passage – your child is showing you that he is letting go of his little boy and moving towards the sensational man he’s going to become. He wants physical challenges, he wants to be right sometimes, he wants to show you that he can make decisions independently. Loosen the apron strings. Think up some acceptable risks – like walking to the shops alone or getting to school independently if appropriate. Find activities that have some challenge or risk and get another male (older) involved – like Dad, a big brother or other male role model. There’s going to be some fist pumping, beating of chests and loud exclamations of, “Yeah!” – they’re all needed and all necessary in this transition into young adulthood.
Top 3 tips for teacher sanity
#1 Kind, direct transitioning conversations – the anticipation of risk means a hard-wiring to puff up, look and act bigger than you really are. 12-year-old boys are literal creatures and if high school discussions even hint at risk then it’s going to trigger even more chest-beating and the need to prove readiness to take on the challenge. Talking about harnessing all of that innate want to be the leader into being a social leader – and how – is essential. This is where Principals and Deputy Principals are very handy (they are handy at other times too) – in running some talks about being a leader without it involving loud demands, ‘noogies’ to the head and having to show off. Well, unless that’s how your Principal behaves and in that case ignore this tip.
#2 Create leadership opportunities – your Year 6’s will already be involved in leadership activities, however, try and squeeze in a few more. Positions of responsibility – where good communication, problem solving – and a sense of being the best is involved. Yes, it can lead to a bit of false pride but at least it is harnessing the inevitable for good and not evil.
#3 Transitioning buddies – good, open, honest conversations in a teaching capacity help Year 6 boy verbalise (rather than mumble and grunt) their feelings about what they’re going through. And the best way to achieve this is to buddy each Year 6 boy (and girl) up with a younger child. It could be a Pre-primary going into Year 1 – or any age group. What are their top 3 tips for meeting the challenge? And what are their top 3 tips for what not to do? Now, they’re the authority – a position they love and they get to explore their own feelings. It’s a win-win.
Learning to let go
Letting go of anything that’s been your entire world for as long as you can remember and starting something new is terrifying for most of us. Some rise to the challenge with glorious goals and plans and other become resistant or try and assert themselves in ways that look to be loud, unkind and usually quite over-the-top. Our Year 6 boys are emotionally fragile and trying to hide this behind bravado and bluster. Learning that it’s ok to feel upset about losing friendships, leaving a place that has been part of their daily lives forever is really important – for now and as a life lesson.
We wish you well as you head into the final weeks of the academic year. Remember, breathe, count down those days and be ready for a sensational period of rest and reset just around the corner.