Q. Our little girl Mandy, who is 7 and rather shy, has gotten quieter and quieter lately, but when I told her we could go on a shopping trip for school, she simply fell apart.

Even though she loved first grade, Mandy now says she doesn't want to go back to school. Ever. Everyone will laugh at her clothes (they look funny, she says), and her braids. Only one other child has them, and everyone hates her. Besides, Mandy says, her shoes are red.

No matter how much I tried to reason here, she still wept. I said how about bangs, and she looked appalled. I offered to make her a new dress, and she cried some more. Brown shoes? That's when she sobbed, "Nobody ever understands me!" and ran out of the room.

What in the world is going on?

A. That dear lamb: She's 7. Now you're watching the great withdrawal, when a child must pull away from her parents -- and it hurts.

The only way she can make it any easier is to get close to people her own age. Right now she would get inside their skin if she could, but must settle instead to imitate them as much as she can. It seems that the more a Seven looks like an individual, the more she (and certainly he) tries to conform. This carbon-copy syndrome is so strong for the next few years that you will wonder whatever became of that wonderfully original child.

It will take a whole year for Mandy to adjust to her new self, and in the process, you can expect less joy, more outbursts and a general air of gloom.

For ourselves, we found salvation in a small newspaper story that said puberty began, not at 13, but at 7, when the first hormones were released. It was the basis for having a long talk with our 7-year-old about growing up -- a talk that made her feel so important it soothed a lot of her despair.

We've never seen such a story again -- an exclusive that apparently remained exclusive, as they say -- but it has been a fine sop for four children, and who knows? Maybe it's true.

There are other ways to ease the transition, all calling for parents to recognize that a Seven has legitimate needs. It's just that she doesn't know what they are, and she won't until school starts. That's when she finds out what clothes, and notebooks, and shoes and hairstyles are going to be popular this year.

Where a Six would beg to wear shorts to school in October, highwater jeans anytime and socks that never match, and a Nine will want to dress exactly like her best friend, a Seven has simple standards. She just doesn't want to wear anything that attracts attention.

That's why a haircut is such a serious business now. Better a visit to the wig counter so she can see what she looks like in a pixie cut or bangs before she takes such a big step. It doesn't cost anything -- except the possible irritation of the saleslady -- but it saves many tears. Although your child could get used to a bad haircut, the fear of having one is much worse.

Nothing, however, will satisfy the angst about shoes -- except having the right kind. To wear a pair of oxfords when sneakers are in style is the ultimate embarrassment. Even the right brand is important, as if the name alone can wrap the feet in magic.

These are the reasons your child may rather do any big shopping after school starts. Once she settles in class, she will know exactly what the trend-setters are wearing -- and who they are. They even may wear braids and red oxfords.