Nine-year-olds are hovering on the brink of adolescence, and this in part contributes to their up-and-down nature. Dr. Louis Bates Ames and Carol Chase Haber paint a vivid picture of the child at this age and offer useful advice to make life easier for parents and children alike.
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About the Author
Carol Chase Haber is a school psychologist in the Hamilton County, Ohio, school system and is a trained and qualified Gesell Examiner. She is the coauthor of several books, including He Hit Me First, Your Seven-Year-Old, Your Eight-Year-Old, and Your Nine-Year-Old.
Read an Excerpt
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE AGE
Nine is an intriguing age but one that is a little hard to pin down. This may be because so much of the Nine-year-old child’s behavior is uneven and unexpected. Thus in making designs the child of this age characteristically makes a very small design OR a very large one. Other behaviors are equally unpredictable. Whatever may be said of the child, the exact opposite might be true on another day. This can be confusing to the adult and, we presume, also to the child himself.
Perhaps the outstanding characteristic of the Nine-year-old is the fact that the child is emerging from his long, strong preoccupation with his mother (or other caretaking parent). Whereas at Eight he could not get enough of Mother, now he seems often almost to resent her presence and her demands. Eight depended on, or at least related strongly and warmly to, his mother (and for that matter to other adults). Nine is more independent, more self-motivated. He is a self-starter and once started wishes to continue in his own way, at his own time, in his own direction.
In fact, some Nines are so independent that they like to be “loose on the town” without being checked up on too closely. That is, they like to be allowed to play for a few hours without giving too specific information as to where they are going and what they are doing. Or to spend money that doesn’t have to be accounted for. Nine may do best if allowed considerable independence and if given considerable responsibility.
Eight is one of the more characteristically expansive ages. The Eight-year-old is all over the place, speedy, sure. Nine is more anxious, more withdrawn, less certain, less speedy.
Though he does not cover as much ground, at least not as quickly, as he did a year earlier, he is still into everything. His interests are so varied and so numerous that his days are almost too full. Each afternoon is filled with some activity—music lessons, sports, Cub Scouts or Brownies, choir practice—always something. He is driven by time but hates to give up anything.
Nine takes himself and his occupations very seriously, and wants to do things just right. A new sign of his maturity is that he can interrupt himself (or be interrupted), take a little side trip, and then return to his original occupation. He can keep his mind on what he is doing even when something interrupts. In fact, most Nines not only can finish a project—whether it is a book or a quarrel—but need to finish it after they have been interrupted.
We have described Nine as an embroidery age. Thus some children, at least some of the time, need to elaborate on their productions and are not satisfied till they have put in every last flourish or curlicue. They do this not just to get praise, as may have been the case at Eight, but to satisfy their own inner demands. In fact, in this as in other ways, Nine is remarkably independent. It is as if the child at this age is using a more delicate mechanism than just earlier. In many situations a girl or boy makes more subtle and finer responses, notes smaller details. Emotions are more subtle. The child makes finer evaluations, notices tinier details—on a test, over radio or television, in a newspaper. During a recitation or even when reading he may make little, fiddling movements.
Not prey to as many self-doubts as he felt at Eight, Nine seems ready to tackle almost anything. This is an excellent age for perfecting proficiency in the basic academic subjects. The child is so much interested in perfecting his skills that he is not only willing but eager to do the same thing over and over, whether it is throwing darts or dividing by one digit. In fact, some Nines almost get dizzy from being so wound up in an activity. They make themselves see a thing through whether it is a five-mile hike, mowing a lawn, or making a transformer. Boys, especially, sometimes seem almost obsessed; they have a true sense of a goal and, when working against time, as in a speed test, their first query is “Did I make it?”
Completing a task is very important now, and Nine wants to know the scope and context of any new task before starting. Nines can do most anything they make up their minds to do; willpower is very strong. Children of this age can expend energy to make themselves do even hard and unpleasant things if they accept the task or idea and feel that they are doing it of their own accord.
Confronted with an unfamiliar task, the child of Nine may say “Hm!” and then look the situation over before beginning. Nines do not leap in recklessly as they might have done when just younger. They may actually verbalize “Let me think about this. I always have to think first.” That is, girls and boys both like to plan, want to know where they are going before taking the first step.
However, Nines are not above complaining that something new is “too hard.” They do know when things aren’t being done right, whether by themselves or some other person. Thus they show considerable social criticism as well as self-criticism. Nine has a new awareness of self and of his own processes. The Nine-year-old girl or boy may say “That is just like me.” As the child thinks, he may fixate on a point on the wall and tell you later that he wasn’t really seeing the point, he was only looking at it to help him concentrate.
Both sexes show a realistic evaluation of self, of others, and of what others think about them. They will not accept a compliment if they feel they don’t deserve it. To Nines, things are what they are. Numbers give them great satisfaction, because numbers give things concrete labels—you know where you are with them. Also, Nine wants to know the monetary value of a thing whether it is a dress, a football, a house, or even Father’s salary. The child is also inordinately interested in knowing everybody’s age. Nines may speak of their own poor memory disparagingly, but actually they tend to have rather a good memory for certain facts and figures.
Sturdy and capable as Nines sometimes seem, their emotions vary, as do other aspects of their behavior. Thus the child of this age is highly variable in emotional responses—now timid, now bold; now cheerful, now grumpy. Of course every age has its mood swings, but they seem particularly wide at this unpredictable age.
One of Nine’s main problems may be that he worries and tends to complain. He may not merely refuse any task that he doesn’t wish to do, or that seems too hard, or that he hasn’t personally put his mind to, as when he was younger. Now the child gives some plausible excuse for not doing it. In fact, many of his physical complaints are related to some required task. If a girl has to practice the piano, her hands hurt. If a boy has to eat some food he dislikes, his jaw pains him. If either girl or boy has to do homework, the eyes hurt. Fortunately, one can usually ignore most of these complaints.
The typical Nine-year-old enjoys intellectual pursuits. He likes to make inventories and checklists; likes to classify and identify and order information. There is a factual interest in seriation and categories—the insignia of ranks of army and navy officers, flags of the United Nations, kinds of cars, kinds of airplanes.
Nine loves to collect. Not only quantity but quality is now important. And he likes to keep his collections in order. His success in collecting is in part due to his persistence and his desire to accomplish a goal. Reasonably well organized himself, he likes to keep his collections neat. Sometimes his mother does not appreciate his hoarding instinct and feels his fury when she throws out something he treasures or if she inadvertently interferes with any of his collections.
Boys and girls of this age now can show a reasonableness and fairness in their estimates and expectations of other people. They no longer blame others, at least not as much as they used to. They want things to be run fairly, and they themselves try to be fair. The beginning of conscience is in the making. Nine lays great stress on who started any difficulty and is highly disappointed if the adult in charge (parent or teacher) does not agree with his evaluation of a troubled situation. He is willing to accept discipline if he considers it to be fair.
Nine loves to talk things over, especially with his friends. As children of this age are quieter and more sober than earlier, they love a good long talk-fest in which people, things, and situations are discussed. They talk about the present and the future.
Paradoxically, future interest in the opposite sex is foreshadowed at this age by intense disdain for and disgust with the opposite sex. Many boys still will have nothing to do with girls. Girls reciprocate with such statements as “Boys are loathsome creatures.” Those who hate the opposite sex the most right now may be the very ones who will be the most strongly attracted to it a little later on.
At some of the earlier ages, there is in many respects great similarity from one child to another. Nine is one of the more individual ages. Though we can make general statements about this age, individual differences here are very great, which adds to the unpredictability of this very special age.
Emotionally, Nine has been described as responsible. Much of the time he does take responsibility for his own actions. And though not bursting with enthusiasm, as he may have been at Eight, he is willing to attack the new and difficult. Even though uncertain about the outcome, he is usually willing to try. Nine may sometimes be impatient and quick-tempered and may flare up in anger, but his anger tends to be short-lived. In general, he is quite the opposite of impatient. He thoughtfully plans not only individual activities but often his whole day. Persistence is his middle name, and once he has started a thing he very much wants to finish it, and finish it correctly. And he would like to have other people do things correctly too, though he is not quite as quick to criticize other people as he was at Eight.