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Child development: 10-12 years

Child development; ten year old; eleven year old; twelve year old; ten; eleven; twelve; development; 10; 11; 12; social; emotional; physical; cognitive; puberty; cosical skills; physical development; sex; sport ;

From 10 to 12 years of age, children start to move from "childhood" to a view of a more adult world that they will clearly want, or be forced to join, in the near future.

The Raising Children Network website has a lot of information about pre-teens, including information about development, behaviour, fitness, health and daily care. As well as articles there are several videos. The Raising Children Network site has been funded by the Australian Government.


Your eleven year old can frequently be the most vulnerable of this group and your ten and twelve year olds tend to be less worried and more confident. However, all three ages share a view of adulthood from this particular "developmental hill", and the state of the world and the state of adult relationships and adult life surrounding them will be of great interest to them in making up their minds whether or not "adulthood" is to be desired.

Important note

The information in this topic is a guide only. Children develop at different rates and in different ways. If you are worried about your child's development or if your child's development is very different from other children of the same age, have a talk with a health professional. If there is a problem, getting in early will help. If there isn't a problem the reassurance will save you some worry.

Social and emotional development

  • The world is becoming a more complex place for the child who is beginning puberty.
  • Your ten and eleven year old may well have a ‘best’ friend with whom they share activities, but at the same time relationships at school will begin to be more complicated, competitive and changeable. This can be particularly true of girls whose group relationships tend to be more up and down than the boys. Boys seem to be more focused on the details of what they are doing rather than with whom they are doing it.
  • By eleven your child is much more interested in, and affected by, the norms of their friends and you may see the first flutter of independent wings. They may begin to worry that their clothes aren’t ‘cool’ enough and at the same time lose interest in family activities [picnics, outings, holidays] that they adored and needed at nine. (See Peer pressureand Body image)
  • This can be a difficult time for some parents, particularly mothers, as their children become more independent and less welcoming of the love and care they have been pleased to receive over the past eleven years.
  • Although eleven and twelve year olds may begin to start wanting to do things more independently, and they do need to stretch their wings a little bit, they are certainly not as capable of dealing with the world as some of them would have you believe or as they sometimes think themselves, so it is good to check out situations to make sure they are safe before they go off on their own.

Physical and sexual development

Your child’s body will begin to change shape over these three years.


Girls will grow buds of breasts at ten or eleven, her hips will take shape and she may begin to menstruate at eleven or twelve. Eleven is an early start for a first period and even at twelve and thirteen girls are not always emotionally prepared and welcoming of this powerful sign of approaching fertility.

When her periods begin your daughter may be proud and excited to be growing up like all her friends or she may, in the back of her mind, be anxious about approaching adolescence and the complications that this introduces into her life. Her biology demands that she be a woman soon - whether she likes it or not! How she feels about it will be strongly affected by her impression of how well adult life has treated her mother and the women close to her. Womanhood may seem rich and pleasurable or scary and hard.


The physical changes and emotional challenges are not so dramatic for boys at this age, as they tend to mature physically a little later than girls. However around twelve some boys experience masturbation and nocturnal emissions.

Boys of this age can be very competitive; and success at sport, or his social position in the playground may be close to your son's heart and a source of concern for him.

There are topics on the Teen Health section of this website that may be useful

Thinking - cognitive development

Around eleven children not only start to take account of 'the bigger picture' but they also develop a capacity to reason, and 'work things out' that they didn't have before. This can be accompanied by some cheeky 'smart talk' that they didn't have at ten but they can also be interesting and funny to be with.

Many will be preparing to go to High School and school work will take on a new seriousness which challenges them to think for themselves.

Relations with parents

Because eleven or twelve year olds may be making first efforts at independence this can change the relationship with parents. Boys may move away from a close relationship with their mothers and girls who have had a good relationship with their fathers may become a little emotionally distant with them.

In a two-parent family the other parent can frequently take up the slack. Some mothers and daughters begin to enjoy a new period of closeness and the same for fathers and sons. It is different however for a single parent. Parents who do not have a sexual relationship with a partner and who have put all their emotional energy into raising their child may find it raises some difficulties for them.

If you are a single parent it is important that you have a chance to talk to a sympathetic adult about the changes you see in your maturing child. If there are any extended family or close friends, enlist their help! Your eleven and twelve year old may need safe adults around who are a bit more distant than you are to them.

On the Teen Health site there is a topic 'Relationships with parents - working it out'.

What you can do

  • Encourage ten year olds into some physical activity that will help them to keep a good relationship with their body. Not all kids like team sports, but there is bush walking, swimming and skate boarding, and, if finances allow, maybe horse riding, ice skating .
  • Watch them play sport or take them to a club, eg Guides or Scouts.
  • Notice how they are responding to the changes in themselves and their friends.
  • Look after yourself and do what you can to make adulthood look attractive.
  • Don’t panic if your eleven or twelve year old wants some distance from you.
  • Continue safe limits and take an interest in where they are going and what they are doing.
  • Encourage your family's relationship with extended family and other families.

What to watch for

  • Sometimes your child can get a bit 'wobbly' around the eleven or twelve year mark. They can get over-anxious or over-enthusiastic about approaching adolescence. Changing demands at school can show up some weaknesses for children who had coped happily enough until now and social life at school can be a competitive challenge.
  • If your child's reading or writing is not up to average it may not be noticed until now and it's a chance to do something to help before high school. Talk with your child's teacher.
  • If you are worried about your child's development or their adjustment to growing up, talk to a sympathetic adult or health professional.

Your children may or may not be good company at this stage but they need you as much as they ever did!


  • The age between ten and twelve is generally a time when children get a view of approaching adulthood.
  • There are important physical and sexual changes for your child especially if she is a girl.
  • Social relationships can be unsettled for girls and very competitive for boys.
  • Activities, sports and clubs can help them to feel good about themselves and form safe relationships outside the family.
  • Your children still need guidance and safe limits from you but they also need to be a little more independent.

More reading

There are many topics on the Kid's Health and Teen Health parts of this site that look at issues for 10 to 12 year old children - especially the Nearly teens part of the Kid's Health site.

Raising Children Network 'Pre-teens development: in a nutshell', and the other topics on this site about pre-teens.


Ames L, Ilg F & Baker S. 'Your Ten to Fourteen Year Old'. Delta Press 1988.

Orford, Eileen. 'Understanding Your Eleven year Old'. London: Tavistock Clinic 1994.

Bradley, Jonathon. 'Understanding Your Ten Year Old'. London: Tavistock Clinic, 1993.

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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