Your 10-Year-Old Child: Emotional Development

What's behind the ups and downs of your fifth grader's emotions

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Ten-year-old children are on the verge of many changes in almost all aspects of their lives. Some may have already begun to experience the physical changes associated with puberty. Their emotional development may still be that of a child even as they face adolescence.

At 10 years of age, children are are developing an increasing sense of who they are in the world. Many are preparing for the start of middle or junior high school and are getting ready to navigate new social settings.

Emotional Development

By age 10, children have usually developed a higher level of self-awareness and social skills, but their emotional development may still be similar to younger grade levels. Emotional outbursts, aggression, or displays of lack of empathy can be an opportunity to work with your child on how to understand and express their emotions appropriately. Help your child to know how to deal with uncomfortable emotions including frustration, anger, disappointment, guilt, anxiety, sadness, and boredom.

Girls tend to show more positive emotional expressions than boys at this age. They may mask negative emotions by putting on a positive exterior. Girls are more likely to express internalizing emotions such as sadness, fear, sympathy, and shame. This may contribute to some greater risk of developing symptoms of depression and anxiety in girls. Boys are somewhat more likely than girls to express anger, which is an externalizing emotion.

Girls and boys may find it emotionally important to have friends, especially of the same sex. Both girls and boys feel increasing peer pressure at this age. What their friends think and do can trigger both positive and negative emotional reactions.

Body Image and Puberty

For girls, who generally develop physically at a faster rate and enter puberty earlier than boys, the transition into adolescence can trigger a host of emotions: excitement, uncertainty, trepidation, and even embarrassment.

Children this age may also begin to place more emphasis on physical appearance and may want to fit in and conform with peers more than they used to. Body image issues can also develop at this age in some children—particularly girls. Parents can play an important role in establishing a healthy body image by setting a good example. Try to avoid making comments that criticize your own body (such as calling yourself “fat”) and set an example of healthy eating habits.

You can expect to see an increased desire for privacy in children this age. Ten-year-old children are becoming more aware of their bodies and are more likely to want privacy when bathing and dressing. They are also more likely to pay attention to things like clothes and hairstyles and what their friends are thinking and wearing.

Confidence

Having a strong sense of self-confidence at this age can play a very important role in helping your child build a solid sense of himself, and can help him not only make friends but be better equipped to handle tough situations, such as bullying. Kids who are self-confident are also less likely to be swayed by others into doing something they don’t want to do, such as participating in dangerous situations or bad behavior.

Mood Swings

At age 10, you can expect your child to have more control over emotions and may see her becoming more skilled at handling conflict and negotiating solutions with friends. At the same time, you may see some volatility in her emotions.

This may partially be due to hormonal changes that are common with the beginning of puberty. Mood swings can change a mostly happy-go-lucky child into one who is sometimes moody or ill-tempered, for example.

Another factor that can play a role in mood swings is the stress that a typical 10-year-old may be under as she tries to deal with all the physical changes and other shifts in her life.

A 10-year-old child may be trying to keep up with ever-more difficult school work, working to fit in and socialize with friends, and dealing with the physical changes of growing up. It’s no wonder that a child this age may be moody.

If your child’s flashes of bad temper are fleeting and only happen occasionally, it’s probably nothing to worry about. But if you see a definite behavioral or personality change, and see other signs that something might be wrong (trouble sleeping or eating, or not wanting to go to school, for example), talk to your child’s pediatrician or teacher.

Do what you can to help your child cope with stress. Talk to your child, try some relaxation exercises and yoga, and incorporate some quick stress-relief strategies into his day.

A Word From Verywell

Your 10-year-old is developing socially, intellectually, and physically as well as emotionally. For many children, this is the last year of childhood as they enter puberty and adolescence. While your girl begins to blossom into a young woman, she will need your guidance on how to understand and deal with her emotions. Your son may still be a couple of years away from puberty, but he can use help in channeling his anger and other emotions in positive ways.

Sources:

Chaplin TM, Aldao A. Gender differences in emotion expression in children: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin. 2013;139(4):735-765. doi:10.1037/a0030737.

Middle Childhood (9-11 years of age). CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/positiveparenting/middle2.html

Tarasova KS. Development of Socio-emotional Competence in Primary School Children. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences. 2016;233:128-132.

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