Nine year old sitting at a desk high fives a teacher passing by.

Your guide to age nine

This guide is intended to provide some context into what you might expect for neuro-typical nine-year-old development. Milestones and development are different for everyone.

Nine-year-olds typically are more cognitively advanced than 8-year-olds and show newfound emotional maturity. That said, age nine can be a confusing and anxiety-filled time for middle-aged children on the edge of becoming tweens. Parents and caregivers, your 9-year-old needs you now more than ever – even if they don’t know they do.

Every 9-year-old grows and gains skills at their own pace. Some may seem advanced in their school work and thinking, but lag behind in social and emotional skills. Read on to learn more about 9-year-old growth and development milestones. In addition, this guide will help you recognize signs that your child may be experiencing learning, social, and emotional difficulties.

The major developmental milestones for 9-year-olds

Age 9 language and communication milestones

No more baby-talk – 9-year-olds engage in full-on adult conversations. Talking with your child (see conversation starters below) and still reading aloud to your 9-year-old are the two biggest ways you can help them reach their language and communication milestones.

By age 9, your child may be able to

  • Use an adult pattern of grammar.
  • Give accurate directions to others.
  • Have speech patterns that are nearly at an adult level.
  • Verbalize feelings and emotions to others.
  • Stay on topic, take turns, and use eye contact during conversation
  • Summarize and restate ideas.
  • Give effective oral presentations.

Age 9 social and emotional learning milestones

Age 9 can be the age when peer pressure kicks in. Nine-year-olds can now view themselves based on their performance in school, their capacity to make friends, and their physical appearance. This social-emotional milestone can positively and negatively affect their moods and sense of self.

You may observe them

  • Showing more independence from family and beginning to prefer being with friends more
  • Having caring, solid friendships.
  • Recognizing basic social norms and appropriate behavior.
  • Controlling their anger most of the time.
  • Overcoming most fears that were common in earlier childhood. But they often start having more anxiety from common stressful situations, such as school performance.
  • Showing curiosity in romantic relationships, although few will admit this interest to you.
  • Showing great concern for justice and fairness. But unfortunately, some 9-year-olds may try to get even and become verbally or physically aggressive.
  • Being able to do more on their own –  as a result, their relationship with caregivers and parents may change.

Age 9 cognitive skills

If you think your child is struggling in school, talk with their teacher to see if you have reason to be concerned. They also can suggest ways you might help your child with schoolwork and keep them interested in learning.

By age 9, your child may be

  • Able to stay focused longer with their increased attention span.
  • Building their vocabulary to almost 20,000 words.
  • Adding and subtracting 2-digit numbers, understanding fractions, and learning how to borrow and carry values.
  • Making graphs and charts using data and working on mathematical reasoning word problems.
  • Completing more complex school tasks and projects, such as book reports.
  • Better at organization and planning, such as making plans ahead of time with friends.
  • Reading to learn about something of interest.
  • Reading different types of books: fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, biographies, poems, historical fiction, and suspenseful series.

Age 9 physical and motor skills

Children between the ages of 9-11 experience growth spurts that move them towards adolescence at different ages and rates, meaning that there may be considerable differences in your 9-year-old’s physical appearance and that of their peers. 

Your child at age 9

  • May become increasingly interested in specific activities or clubs.
  • Can get dressed, brush their hair, brush their teeth, and get ready without help.
  • May like to draw, paint, make jewelry, build models, or do other activities that use their fine motor skills.
  • Able to move more gracefully with the muscle coordination needed for jumping rope, gymnastics, ballet, soccer, and other sports.
  • Will become better at things like kicking, throwing, catching, and balancing.

In their 10th year, many children will begin to show signs of puberty (oily skin, acne, body odor), so it’s worth it to be ready for any early changes and to talk about it well before it shows up. Girls may start breast development and grow armpit and pubic hair. Boys may develop body hair and have testicle and penis enlargement. Girls usually get their first period about two years after breast development. Boys may have wet dreams, and their voices may begin to deepen and crack. Remember that your family’s genes, nutrition, and environmental factors can all affect how and when children go through puberty.

Vaccines for 9-year-olds

If your 9-year-old is up to date on all of the recommended vaccines, there are only three additional vaccines they may receive this year. They are:

  • Influenza (Flu): Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every year.
  • Human Papilloma Virus (HPV): Although recommended for children ages 11-12, the HPV vaccine can be given as early as 9 to help protect both girls and boys from HPV infection and cancers caused by HPV.
  • COVID-19 (boosters as directed by the current CDC recommendations)

You can take advantage of any visit to your child’s doctor to get recommended vaccines for your child, including sports physicals or annual checkups before the school year. If your child missed a vaccine, now is a good time for them to catch up. Make an appointment for a catch-up vaccine so that they can be protected against any of the following diseases: Tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough (pertussis) (Tdap), Hepatitis A (HepA), Hepatitis B (HepB), Polio (IPV), Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), and Chickenpox (Varicella).

Healthy eating and activity for 9-year-olds

  • Serve your child a well-balanced diet with lean protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Eating meals as a family, and planning 3 meals and 1-2 snacks per day is ideal.
  • Aim to provide a variety of vegetables, including dark green, red and orange, beans and peas each week. When choosing canned or frozen vegetables, look for options lower in sodium (listed on the FDA Nutrition Facts Label).
  • Choose whole grains when available, such as whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, quinoa, or brown or wild rice. 
  • Aim for five servings of fruits and vegetables per day; canned, fresh, frozen and freeze-dried are all great options. 
  • Kids should brush their teeth twice daily, floss once a day, and see a dentist once every six months.
  • Your 9-year-old should get at least 1 hour of physical activity every day.
  • Your child should get between 9-12 hours of sleep every night. 

Keeping your 9-year-old safe

  • Keep your child in a belt-positioning booster seat in the back seat until they’re 4 feet 9 inches (150 cm) tall – depending on your child’s height, weight, and booster seat brand. 9-year-olds may still need to be in a booster seat so that their seatbelt can work properly.
  • Your child should ride in the back seat until they are 12 years of age. After that, the safest place for all children to still ride is in the back seat, no matter their age.
  • Help your child cross the street until age ten or older.
  • Make sure your child always wears a helmet when riding a bike, scooter, or skateboard.
  • Protect your child from secondhand smoke and talk with them about the health hazards of smoking and vaping nicotine and marijuana.
  • Protect your child from gun injuries by not keeping a gun in the home.
  • Gun safety: If you have a gun, keep it unloaded and locked away. Ammunition should be locked up. If your child has playdates at other houses, always ask if their family owns a gun and how it’s stored.
  • Start talking about the dangers of alcohol and drugs. It’s better to talk before children encounter alcohol and other drugs.
  • Let your child know that it’s never OK for an adult to ask them to keep a secret from you. No one should look at or touch your child’s private parts or ask them to look at or touch theirs. Use accurate language to describe body parts, like “penis” and “vagina.”

Screen time

With phones, TVs, and tablets all around, it can be overwhelming to think about setting limits on your child’s screen time. Nine-year-olds will be very tech savvy and keen to spend a lot of time on devices. There are many different opinions, but the general guidelines are about 2 hours per day, not including what’s needed for schoolwork. Too much screen time is linked to obesity, poor sleep, and difficulty with social interactions. Here are some tips for helping you establish some healthy screen time guidelines with your 9-year-old

  • Teach your child not to share personal information (address, date of birth, or passwords) online.
  • Encourage them to follow this general rule: Don’t text, post, or send pictures online that you wouldn’t want a grandparent to see.
  • Review all apps and sites before letting your 9-year-old download or use them.
  • Remember, platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat require a child to be over 13 to have an account for a reason – the nature of content shared in these forums is mature.
  • Provide a quiet place to do homework. Screens should be off when possible, including those in the background.
  • Turn off all screens a half hour to an hour before bedtime.
  • Watch with your children and discuss what you are seeing.
  • Limit time on social media. Talk with them about how viewing social media makes them feel emotionally. Monitor accounts frequently and without warning.

Conversation starters and parenting hacks for your 9-year-old

Talking with your 9-year-old is important, even though sometimes it can feel like pulling teeth. When kids communicate with their family, they feel a sense of belonging and security. Here are some conversation starters to help you have even some of the most challenging talks, like those about puberty, bullying, and racism.

Questions to ask your 9-year-old

  • Have you ever thought about how our skin color affects us?
  • What do you worry about the most?
  • What is something you can do today that you couldn’t last year?
  • Who are the adults you can talk to if you are scared?
  • Have you ever seen guns at your friend’s house, on the street, or in school?
  • You seem to be feeling sick a lot and want to stay home. Can you tell me more about what might be going on at school? (if worried about bullying)
  • Are there a lot of cliques at school? What do you think about them?
  • What have you learned about gender identity?
  • Is there a question you have always wanted to ask me?

Ways to help them grow and develop

  • Talk with your 9-year-old about how their bodies might be changing with puberty. Be prepared to answer questions about puberty and the feelings that come with those changes. Be prepared with hygiene products when appropriate and consider keeping them in a backpack even before periods start. 
  • Body image and eating problems sometimes start around this age. Try not to discuss weight around your child, including at doctor’s appointments.
  • Encourage your 9-year-old to bathe or shower daily. If they have body odor, discuss their options, like deodorant.
  • Reinforce why you don’t want your child to drink or use other drugs—because you want your child to be happy and safe. And don’t worry, you don’t have to get everything across in one talk. Plan to have many short discussions instead.
  • Anticipate significant changes in their emotional awareness and how they relate to their peers. Model healthy ways to cope with increased anxiety and the stress of peer pressure by practicing deep breathing, mindfulness, positive self-talk, and other self-care activities.
  • Give your 9-year-old family chores to complete and consider paying them an allowance. Start teaching them financial literacy by talking with your 9-year-old about saving and spending money wisely.
  • Be involved with your 9-year-old’s school. Go to school events and meet your child’s teachers.
  • Your challenge as a parent of a  9-year-old is to avoid overscheduling. Many children are eager to try every new activity at this age, especially if their friends are participating. Purposefully schedule to allow for some downtime. It is good for both you and your child and you to have unstructured time.
  • Set an example for how to treat adults and other children and compliment your 9-year-old when you see them shine.

The pace of changes in your 9-year-old can seem dizzying to many parents and caregivers. Your job is to steady their ship as it tosses and turns in the sometimes tumultuous waters of pre-adolescence. Your 9-year-old will benefit from you setting and enforcing reasonable limits, teaching them to maintain their boundaries, and offering plenty of positive feedback when they succeed. Remember, you don’t have to parent in a vacuum either – build your support team of friends, teachers, coaches, health care providers, mental health providers, and anyone else who cares about your child’s wellbeing and your successful parenting.

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team

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