Children's Series: 5 to 7 Year Shift


One of the most poignant things that I learned during my graduate work earning a masters degree in early childhood development was that when children prepare to move to the next stage of development, they have periods – often intense – of regression.

Our daughter, a/k/a Suddenly Seven has had a slight (ok, not so slight) obsession with Star Wars since playing R2-D2 in a play last year.  As of the past few weeks, the HOTY (a/k/a Husband Of The Year) and I can confirm that she has gone the “Dark Side” on more than one occasion – daily. The Silver Lining is that she doesn’t go dark for long periods of time; but when she does (e.g., meltdown in the middle of the produce section of Whole Foods just yesterday), it’s awwwwwwwwful!  The worst part is that she knows it.  She doesn’t like these intense feelings either and after they pass, she tells me, “Momma, I’m so tired.”  Growing is hard work indeed.

Here’s the thing: when any child – at any and every stage in growth and development – goes through these changes, there are periods of regression. When I say regression, think diapers, baby talk and pacifiers. It’s all so fascinating (at least to me) and the best Silver Lining is that it really explains the head spinning behavior and helps me cope with it and support her.

So, I thought I’d share with you a little bit about the period of development that Suddenly Seven is going through and what we can expect. Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher Jean Piaget believed that children do not suddenly change what and how they think all at once. Rather, children’s intelligence develops over time by building upon prior, successful stages across many domains. The term “5-7 shift” refers to the changes and challenges that children experience between the ages of 5 years and 7 years. These changes are experienced in physical, psychosocial, and cognitive development:

  • Physical development: A number of physical changes take place from losing teeth to gaining height and weight during the 5-7 year shift. Physical skills are tested and refined such as balance and flexibility. Strength noticeable increases.
  • Psychosocial development: With exposure to teachers, other adults, and especially peers, qualitative changes occur regarding children’s concept of self and feelings of competency.  Just before the age of 5, children tend to define themselves in concrete behavioral descriptions: “I can climb high,” or “I can say my ABC’s” or preferences: “I like ice-cream,” or possessions: “I have a red bicycle.” Children just past 7 are more apt to describe themselves in terms of higher concepts: “I am smart in reading and writing but not so smart in math.” As children age, they are able to generalize their experiences. In terms of feelings, small children cannot say that they have two feelings or attributes at once whereas older children can. During the 5-7 year shift, children also often go from thinking only of themselves to becoming “little helpers” eager to lend a hand.
  • Cognitive development: During the 5-7 age range, adjustments in thinking and reasoning occur as the child moves from preoperational thought to concrete operational thought. Research indicates that most 5 year olds focus on only one single aspect (one-dimensional cognition) of a situation like how things look or feel rather than logic. Children at this age often struggle with making decisions on the influence of their perception and their logic at the same – thus the term “5-7 year shift.” They generally become fully able to fuse perception and logic (concrete operational thinking) around the age of 7 or 8. Researchers have also found that younger children believe that everyone thinks as they do; during the 5-7 shift they become aware that not everyone is “on the same page” as them. Also, according to researchers, younger children have yet to develop certain aspects of memory such as metamemory (conscious awareness of the existence of memory), categorical knowledge (the ability to organize similar items in memory), and deliberate rehearsal (building a lasting memory by rehearsing).

It’s so fun to have the opportunity to review this material and to say, “A-Ha!  This is exactly what Suddenly Seven is going through.”  I hope that this information is helpful to you!

Additional resource:: Sameroff, Arnold J. and Haith, Marshall M. The Five to Seven year Shift: The Age of Reason and Responsibility. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996.


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  1. says

    The second grade teacher of 7-year-olds sees a class smiling back at him/her with a gap of grins from missing front teeth. These youngsters may have lost their baby teeth, but they make up for it by gaining maturity. Their newly acquired abilities give them the wisdom to conceptualize ideas, thoughts, and feelings. Often times this new understanding can manifest itself in heightened sensitivity and make for a bit of a "bumpy road". Yin & Yang