As children enter the 9 to 11-year-old age range, they are still considered children but are beginning to enter the pre-adolescent (or “tween”) phase. This is an exciting stage of childhood because girls and boys start to divert quite a bit on their developmental paths. For girls, puberty can begin as early as age 10, while boys don’t typically enter puberty until 12 or older. This means that girls in this age range might be more mature both physically and emotionally than boys. 

Despite (and perhaps because of) all these changes, children in this stage need a lot of emotional support from parents. Friendships can be challenging during this phase as teasing, bullying, and cliques sometimes come into play. Overall, children are gaining a lot of independence but are also still figuring out their place in the world.

By 11 My Child Should Be Able To:

Physical milestones:

  • Be very active and have a lot of energy
  • Get dressed, brush hair, brush teeth, and get ready without any help
  • Use simple tools, such as a hammer, by themselves
  • Have good coordination and reaction time

Social-Emotional milestones:

  • Start to form stronger, more complex friendships and peer relationships. It becomes more emotionally important to have friends, especially of the same sex
  • Be more aware of their body as puberty approaches. Body image and eating problems sometimes start around this age
  • To work in groups for activities
  • Approach solving problems with a negotiating style, compromise with peers
  • Develop decision-making skills
  • Be more independent from the family

Cognitive milestones:

  • Face more academic challenges at school
  • See the point of view of others more clearly
  • Have an increased attention span
  • Increased academic abilities 
  • Have an increased attention span, but many have interests that change rapidly
  • Use good judgment
  • Judge ideas in absolutes, right or wrong not much tolerance for middle ground
  • Have an interest in collections and hobbies

Language/Communication milestones:

  • Read frequently and enjoy books
  • Read to learn about something of interest
  • Have nearly adult speech patterns 

*The above guidelines were sourced from, The Child Mind Institute 

Note: These guidelines do not constitute medical advice. Every child develops differently. If you ever feel your child is delayed in their development, discuss it with your pediatrician.

How You Can Help Foster Development

Encourage active endeavors. Children in this stage often enjoy active play, such as bike-riding, swimming, and games of their own creation (e.g., tag or “groundies”). Doing these activities with friends is often most enjoyable at this age. 

Offer the option of team sports. This is an ideal age for children to try a team sport. Children are physically and socially mature enough to handle team sports, and they often really benefit from the comradery.

Encourage their interests and hobbies. During this stage, many children take a strong, almost obsessive interest in hobbies. For some children, it might be cooking, drawing, coding, building models, sewing, or any number of interests. Try to encourage and support these interests by enrolling children in classes, listening to them talking about what they have learned, and praising their progress. Your encouragement at this stage is key to helping children keep learning and engaging with new interests. 

Introduce a foreign language. If children are not already learning a foreign language at school, this is a perfect time to introduce one at home. If you are not fluent in another language yourself, consider enrolling your child in online or in-person classes. In this development phase, children have the cognitive maturity and flexibility to learn a language relatively quickly. Supporting them in this endeavor can be an excellent way for them to not only gain a new skill but provide a real boost to their confidence.

Monitor screen time. It is easy for screen time to start taking over children’s lives at this age. The desire to socialize with friends online or on mobile devices can begin to take up more and more hours of their day. Although they strive for independence, it’s still helpful to monitor their screen usage. It is not uncommon for online teasing or bullying to occur during this phase, some of which may be unknown to parents. If you see your child’s mood or interest in family activities change, consider asking about their online interactions. It’s also an excellent time to consider some online filter or screening program to inhibit access to inappropriate content.

Common Myths During this Period/What NOT to Believe

  • Children don’t want parents’ guidance. One of the most common stereotypes of this age group is the perception that 9 to 11-year-olds don’t feel parents’ guidance is needed. With their burgeoning independence, it’s easy to see how this image developed. Although children in this stage may not relish parental involvement and conversation as they once did, they still need a lot of guidance. They may put up a tough, standoffish front at times, but children need a lot of emotional support during these years. They are often experiencing many changes, both physical and emotional, and may feel unsure of themselves. Keeping the lines of communication open with children during this time is crucial. These pre-adolescent years can often set the stage for you and your children’s interaction patterns into the teenage years. 
  • All tweens are disrespectful and unmotivated. Although the hormonal changes emerging during this time (due to puberty) can affect behavior and mood, not all tweens are rude and unmotivated. Parents might interpret some of the behavior as “disrespect” due to children’s newfound cognitive skills. During these years, children’s ability to think logically and process their own thoughts and judgments emerge. With these new skills, children may seem judgemental or argumentative. Although each family has to determine their boundaries, consider your child’s perspective (even if briefly) before rushing to judgment.

Throughout these years, it’s helpful to remember that tweens are experiencing many new feelings and pressures. They are, in a sense, “stuck in the middle” between early childhood and true adolescence. In many ways, they are expected to act with maturity and responsibility (e.g. academic demands) but in some ways still harbor the characteristics of a child. 

  • Tweens should be able to act like adults. With their advancing cognitive skills and growing independence, children in this age group can seem very mature in many ways. What you cannot see beneath the surface, is a series of brain differences that mean they really are not adults yet. One of the critical differences involves the higher-order thinking part of the brain. In children of this age, the prefrontal cortex has not fully come online. This means that while tweens’ brains are very good at learning and analyzing, they are less adept at planning, self-control, and organization. This can often explain why tweens act so mature in some ways but falter in others. 

Common Challenges Parents Experience During this Period

  • Coping with their child’s experiences with peer pressure. Although peer pressure seems like an almost cliché topic of the pre-adolescent years, it can be a real concern. As friendships take a larger role in children’s lives, they often experience new pressures from friends to wear certain clothes, listen to particular music, or even participate in risky activities. This is an area where parents can be extra supportive of their children. It’s helpful for parents to reassure children that they can find good friends who do not pressure them to do unsafe activities. Additionally, parents can help foster strong self-confidence in children, so they feel empowered to make good decisions, even if they disagree with their friends. 
  • Changes in communication. Communication patterns between children and parents do tend to change during these years. Children are relying more on their friends for companionship and advice. You still play a crucial role in your child’s life, although you may find it more challenging to encourage them to open up. A few simple tips for keeping the lines of communication open:
  • Avoid lecturing or judging too quickly. Leading off a conversation with your child by judging their behavior or lecturing them on what they should have done differently is the quickest way to encourage them to shut you out. Try (as hard as it is) to listen first. Ask questions but avoid offering too much advice until asked. 
  • Stay interested in them. It sounds simple to stay interested in your own child, but this often becomes more difficult as they mature. Many times their interests (e.g., music, movies, social media) differ widely from yours. It’s easy to disregard their taste in entertainment or hobbies as something immature. Take a few minutes to understand why they like the things they like, ask questions, and attempt to see things from their perspective. 
  • Encourage active conversations. During this stage, children might not be as open to communicating with you as they did in prior stages. However, if you can start the conversation while doing something active, the discussion often flows much easier. For example, try chatting with your child while driving, going for a walk, or while cooking together. You might be amazed at the wonderful conversation that happens when you are not trying to force a discussion. 
  • Discussions about puberty. Talking with your child about puberty can feel awkward and uncomfortable at first. However, it’s helpful to provide children with at least basic information before they start puberty, so they aren’t caught off-guard by the changes they experience. Not being prepared can make children feel frightened and nervous about the changes in their bodies. It’s usually helpful to provide honest, upfront answers to children’s questions and clarify any confusions that they may have heard from friends about the topic of puberty. Consider your child’s age and comfort level when thinking about what and how to discuss this topic. Younger children may only need a few basic facts to answer their questions. As children mature, it’s helpful to provide more gender-specific information and be open to answering questions. 

While the pre-adolescent years can be filled with a lot of change, they can also be a time of growing understanding between you and your child. Walking through all the physical, emotional, and intellectual changes with your child can strengthen your connection and help your child feel safe and confident. One way to support your child’s growth is by expanding their educational horizons with engaging online classes in coding, math, or music from BYJU’S FutureSchool. Children are happier and more confident when they are engaged in activities they enjoy. 

The information provided on this site is NOT medical advice and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, provide medical or behavioral advice, treat, prevent or cure any disease, condition, or behavior. You should consult with a qualified healthcare professional regarding your child’s development to make a medical diagnosis, determine a treatment for a medical condition, or obtain other related advice.

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