Child development: Pre-teens (9-12 years old)

Emerging Minds, Australia, January 2024

Related to Child development

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Emerging Minds acknowledges that families come in many forms. For the purposes of easy reading, the term ‘parent’ encompasses the biological, adoptive, foster and kinship carers of a child, as well as individuals who have chosen to take up primary or shared responsibility in raising that child. We also appreciate that every child is unique and has different strengths, vulnerabilities and experiences that shape their health and development.

Understanding how a child’s reactions, thoughts, behaviours and sense of control are influenced by their development can help you imagine what life is like for your child right now. Knowing what children are (and aren’t) likely to be able to do and understand at their current age helps you respond in ways that support their positive development and mental health.

This fact sheet describes the main developmental experiences and capabilities of children around nine to 12 years old, and offers ways parents, family members and other adults can support children’s healthy development and wellbeing.

Key things to remember about children’s development:

  • Every child grows and develops at their own pace, and so their developmental journey is unique. Some children master certain skills earlier than others and some take longer or need a bit more help and direction.
  • A child’s development is shaped by their unique genes as well as their relationships and experiences at home and in the other places they learn and play.
  • Neurodivergent children and children with a physical or intellectual disability may think, move, communicate and/or process senses differently, which can influence their developmental pathway.
  • The best way to support your child’s development and wellbeing is to provide a safe and secure environment and respond warmly, consistently and appropriately to their needs.

Children’s development from nine to 12 years old

While pre-teens still value their family, and need the stability and predictability of family life, they are increasingly interested in and exploring the world beyond their immediate family. They may do this through sporting clubs, activities at school or by wanting to spend time with extended family, friends or others in their community.

Around this age, children are developing their own identities and thinking about their beliefs and values. As parents and family members, you can support your child’s positive mental health now and in the future by encouraging and guiding them as they move between the child and adolescent (teenage) worlds. They need you to support and be patient with them as they start to become more independent, but also still need warm, responsive and reliable parenting and reminders of rules and limits.


Developmental experiences of pre-teens (9–12 years)

As a parent it can be difficult to understand how your child is experiencing the world and the reasons behind the behaviours you’re noticing. The following table shows the main developmental experiences and capabilities of children aged around 9–12 years old, along with ways parents, family members and other adults can support their healthy development.

Before you read this list, take a moment to think about what you’ve been noticing about your child.

Have you noticed any changes in:

  • your child’s interests, including about the wider world?
  • their thoughts or views about big issues?
  • their friendships and ways they interact with their peers?
  • the way your child thinks about themself and is exploring their identity?

As you read the suggestions for ways to support healthy development, consider:

  • What are you already doing that is supporting your pre-teen’s development?
  • Are there any ideas here that you might try?


If your family is navigating tough times

When a family is facing difficulties – such as financial or housing stress, health issues or relationship breakdown – it affects everyone, even children. It’s normal for a child’s developmental process to be interrupted and different to what’s described above if they, you or the whole family is dealing with tough times.

Find out more about how you can support your child’s development during tough times in our fact sheet.


When to seek advice

The pre-teen years are a time in which difficulties managing strong feelings can show up as changes in a child’s mood, social relationships or learning. In children around nine to 12 years old, signs of difficulties coping include:

  • changes of mood, lasting one or more weeks and impacting on friendships and learning
  • feeling overwhelming emotions like fear or experiencing panic symptoms
  • difficulty concentrating or in keeping track of conversations or instructions
  • changes in sleep (e.g. trouble getting to sleep) or eating habits (e.g. eating more or less than usual)
  • unexplained headaches, stomach aches or complaints of ‘feeling sick’ a lot
  • becoming withdrawn (e.g. staying in their room alone for long periods), school refusal or no longer wanting to do activities they used to enjoy.

As a parent, you know your child best. If you have any concerns about the way your child is developing or coping with physical, emotional, social or other changes in their life, talk to your doctor/GP or another health professional. Identifying a cause or a developmental delay and getting help early can make a big difference to your child’s development and long-term wellbeing.


More information

This fact sheet is part of our series on key developmental experiences for children from birth to age 12. This collection of resources looks at what parents and other adults can do to support healthy development at different points in a child’s developmental journey.

Other resources in the series:

The Raising Children Network has more detailed information about pre-teens and teenagers’ (9–18 years old) development (including social and emotional development, ADHD, and puberty and sexual development).

By learning and staying curious about what your child is experiencing, thinking and feeling, you can support their healthy development and their mental health and wellbeing, now and into the future.




  1. Department of Health and Aged Care. (2021). Physical activity and exercise guidelines for all Australians: For children and young people (5 to 17 years) [Web page]. Australian Government.

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