Everyone is aware of its magical allure. Seven is the most common dice roll in gambling. In ancient times, seven celestial bodies could be seen by the naked eye. There are seven continents. Seven seas. Seven days in a week and seven wonders of the ancient world. Don’t forget the seven colors in a rainbow. Seven plagues. Seven deadly sins. A movie and song called seven “magnificent”.  7 and 7, 7Up, 7-Eleven. The number is so appealing that even George Costanza wanted to name his future son Seven.

The number seven applies to human development as well. Both internally and externally, people’s bodies are constantly evolving in seven year cycles. These cycles are not exact, but looking at them in same-sized chunks facilitates the understanding of them. The first three set the stage for all that follows.

0-7: Hands

“Hands, Heart, and Head” the saying goes regarding the way children develop during their first three stages of life. Thus, kids learn best by tactile experience for the first seven years of life.

Think about it. Immediately at birth, babies leave the womb and become separate individuals for the first time. Child have physically separated from their mothers and begin to formulate their own understanding of the world.

In direct contact with the external world, they instinctively put whatever they touch into their mouth. Once mobile, they manoeuvre around their environment, touching everything within reach. They open and close, stick their fingers in, push, pull, bang, smash. Their other senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste –are working overtime, too. What was once a tabula rasa is now a kaleidoscopic palette of color and sound and scent and flavor. It all must be sampled.

Yet, this newly burgeoning independence is in conflict with the reality of being completely dependent on parents for physical, emotional, and social needs. Children’s two natural instincts – exploration and survival – must mix and mash, coinciding and flourishing within the watchful reach and guidance of their parents.

Needless to say, there’s an astounding amount of learning happening during this first stage. It provides the basic foundation in children’s lives.

 7-14: Heart

At this stage children learn a sense of personal awareness and move further toward becoming independent. The second set of teeth come in and this is monumental. It somehow signals that children are now ready to venture beyond their parents’ supportive circle.

This stage is when kids begin to start school, thus they are following directions and being exposed to knowledge and ideas beyond their parents’ control. But they are not alone in this new situation. Their classmates, too, are confronted with a new level of independence, a level that introduces the novel concept of sharing objects and space, as well as waiting one’s turn. Children become aware that there is a society beyond the family.

This is a real tug-of-war for the child. Their personal struggle between a desire for individuality and the continued need to be taken care of manifests itself in fantasy play and nightmares. By day they are heroic. By night, they are insecure. Monsters (perhaps metaphor for their parents) are making them fearful, preventing them from succeeding in their quest for independence.

It’s a transitional stepping stone from total reliance on adult presence to a new need for privacy and personal space. That is a frightening pursuit.

14 – 21: Head

During the final cycle of children’s lives, childhood is moving further behind and adulthood is coming closer. Early in this stage children become physically ready to be adults, but their mental preparedness does not fully develop till the very end of this stage or slightly later.

Physically, it is the stage of puberty. Body hair begins to grow, the voice changes, and sexual organs fully develop. These physical signs of adulthood often collide with children’s inability to reason more clearly. It is an awkward time. That is because the pre-frontal cortex — the area in the front of the brain that monitors reasoning — is not yet fully developed. It won’t be fully developed until around 21. That means there is an influential gap between 18 (when teenagers typically move away from home) and 21 (when their reasoning skills have fully developed). Thus, there is a disconnect between the instinctive self and the responsible self and adult role models are not around often enough to guide them.

Interestingly, it is around this time that religious groups, the military, and credit card companies come a calling. It’s the prime time on a closing door of influence. At some point, their minds will catch up with their bodies and these people who were once children will become more aware and less malleable as adults. Until then, they are somewhat on their own.

Seven stages of man

These initial three cycles of seven are general guidelines; not precise start-stop stages. Some children are early starters, some are late bloomers. Others waver back and forth between stages. There are some who move in and out of them almost on schedule. Who knows? It’s nature and it happens at its own time and pace. The process is more like a spiral as children continually evolve in their drive toward independence and an ever-developing awareness of self.

The transitions between each cycle are laden with frustration and struggle for the children themselves and their parents. It takes time for the mind to catch up with the body and for both to adapt to the changes taking place. However, if parents can provide patience and respectful guidance, the stages can be navigated more calmly and positively. This will help lay a strong foundation for children’s future development as they make their way into adulthood. As Shakespeare noted, there are seven stages of man. That means there are at least four more cycles of seven for children to tangle with. They’ll deal with those as adults.

By Dan Franch, October 2014.