Mom and son snuggle on the couch, smiling.

Your guide to age ten

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

Ten-year-olds are emerging adolescents entering one of their life’s most intense developmental periods. Early adolescence is complicated because your child (and you as their parent or guardian) will be navigating changes in both their physical body and social and emotional state of being.

Age 10 can be complicated to figure out because puberty is not a “one size fits all” experience for young adolescents, nor does it occur all at once, but gradually over time. While some 10-year-olds will start looking and acting more mature, others will remain more childlike physically and emotionally.

As your child’s body and brain go through these tremendous transitions to adulthood, so do their emotions, social relationships, skills, and identity. As a result, staying connected to your preteen as they become more independent may become more challenging for parents and caregivers.

The major developmental milestones for 10-year-olds

Age 10 language and communication milestones

Most 10-year-olds are in 5th grade, and their school days are full of learning and academic challenges. As their language skills become more abstract and complex, you can engage in more adult conversations with your child.

By age 10, your child may be able to

  • Read and write more difficult sentences than they typically use in their conversations.
  • Summarize and restate ideas.
  • Organize information so that it makes sense when writing.
  • Explain relationships between meanings of multiple-meaning words (analogies).
  • Use a wider variety of words – not just the same ones over and over.
  • Participate in group discussions.
  • Stay on topic, take turns, and use eye contact during conversation.
  • Use their language to inform, persuade, and entertain adults and peers.

Age 10 social and emotional learning milestones

One of the major tasks of adolescence is developing their sense of who they are and who they want to become as they grow up. As your 10-year-old explores their identity, you may notice them:

  • Becoming more introspective, moody, and needing more privacy.
  • Recognizing basic social norms and appropriate behavior.
  • Striving to understand the perspectives of others and how they relate to their own.
  • Sharing secrets and jokes with friends.
  • Withdrawing from family activities and conversations as they test out spending more time alone.
  • Exhibiting a confusing mix of adult and childish behaviors simultaneously – They may be affectionate, silly, and curious one minute but then selfish, rude, and argumentative the next.

Age 10 cognitive skills

Your child’s rapidly growing 10-year-old brain is responsible for the fast-paced cognitive growth you see at this age. The pace and intensity of learning ramps up as they prepare to start middle school with its more complicated math, reading, and other subjects. That is why it is important to talk with your child’s teacher now if you think they are struggling in school. Getting them help proactively will save them from falling behind.

By age 10, your child may be

  • Building critical thinking skills.
  • Growing their vocabulary by 2,000-3,000 words each year.
  • Understanding most common idioms like “you’re a couch potato” or  “don’t cut corners.”
  • Use previously learned information to understand new information.
  • Enjoying more complex and lengthier chapter books and other texts.
  • Able to write persuasive essays with viewpoints and opinions organized into a clear argument.
  • Learning complex geometry concepts.
  • Solving complicated math problems that include multiplication, division, subtraction, and addition all within the same problem.
  • Learning how to edit for punctuation, grammar, flow, and clarity of thought.

Age 10 physical and motor skills

You will notice significant changes in physical growth and development between boys and girls and even among 10-year-olds of the same gender and age. Similarly, you will see a wide variety in the skills level in athletics, fine, and gross motor skills.

Your 10-year-old

  • May begin to show signs of puberty (oily skin, acne, body odor), especially in girls, who may gain weight and develop breast buds.
  • May have periods of rapid growth, called growth spurts. These growth spurts can sometimes make 10-year-olds clumsy.
  • Will be able to coordinate moving their fingers precisely in small movements, like those needed to play an instrument, type on a keyboard, or build complicated projects.
  • Will be able to participate in longer lengths of aerobic exercise (physical activity that increases their heart rate and breathing), like entire sports games or dance rehearsals, without tiring as quickly.
  • Will become more skilled at basic motor skills, such as kicking, catching, and throwing, as their muscles grow stronger and they are better able to coordinate their movements.

Ten-year-olds will begin puberty at different times and rates. Puberty usually starts around age 10 for most girls, who may experience a growth spurt in height and overall body shape in the early teen years. Menstruation usually begins about two years following the first signs of puberty. You may want to stock up on menstrual products in order to be prepared to meet your child’s needs, keeping them at home, in the car and potentially their backpack.

Remember that becoming sexually mature involves more than physical changes. Your 10-year-old is also developing new feelings about their body, sexuality, and intimate relationships. Having short, frequent conversations with your ten-year-old about puberty, sex, and intimacy will help make it more normal and approachable  for both of you. Talking about intimacy and sex will not encourage your child to engage in these behaviors, but it will help them set healthy and safe boundaries with others.

Vaccines for 10-year-olds

If your 10-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 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 age 9 to help protect everyone from HPV infection and cancers caused by HPV.
  • COVID-19 (boosters as directed by the current CDC recommendations)

If your child missed a recommended vaccine, they can still get back on track. You can take advantage of any doctor’s appointment to get a catch-up vaccine for your child, including sports physicals or annual checkups before the school year. 

Healthy eating and activity for 10-year-olds

Kids going through growth spurts will likely need to snack a lot. Here’s what you can expect. 

  • Schedule 3 meals and 1–2 nutritious snacks a day. Grazing is more likely to lead children to be over or underweight. 
  • Limit screens during meals and snacks.
  • Eat sitting down as a family whenever possible.
  • Serve your tween a well-balanced diet, like the MyPlate model. Aim to fill about half with fruits and vegetables.
  • Your ten year old may be interested in fast food, packaged snacks and sodas. There’s room for exploration as part of a healthy and balanced relationship with food. The majority of meals and snacks will ideally contain fewer of these items.
  • Frozen and canned beans, fruits, and vegetables are convenient and affordable options to help get your 10-year-old the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables.
  • Your ten year old can help with meal planning and shopping. Reading nutrition labels can help them understand needs for calcium, iron and protein in their daily lives. Avoid calorie counting.
  • Refrain from talking about weight (including your own) even at medical check-ups. Weight focused discussion does not contribute to a healthier lifestyle, and may provoke negative self thoughts or behaviors. 
  • Your 10-year-old should get at least 1 hour of physical activity every day.
  • Your 10-year-old needs between 9-12 hours of sleep. Sleep helps adolescents grow and strengthen their bodies and perform better in school, sports, and other activities. It will be harder for your 10-year-old to get up early for school because sleep-wake cycles shift up to two hours later. Later bedtimes may become the norm!

Keeping your 10-year-old safe

  • Your child should ride in the back seat until they are 12 years of age.
  • Make sure your child always wears a helmet when riding a bike, scooter, skateboard, snowboard, or skiing.
  • Protect your child from secondhand smoke.
  • If you have a gun, keep it, and any ammunition locked away. 
  • Knowing the facts about drugs, smoking, vaping, and alcohol will help children make informed decisions when faced with peer pressure. Talking about everything from prescription medications to illegal drugs will not encourage their use, but may give your child the tools to say no in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar situation with peers.
  • Be on the lookout for signs of bullying.
  • Protect against overuse injuries in young athletes by preventing overtraining and avoid specializing in one sport or activity until older adolescence. In addition, your child should wear the right protective equipment, like mouth guards and pads, when playing sports.

Screen time

There are many different opinions but no official agreement on what is a healthy amount of screen time for tweens. What everyone does agree on is that less screen time is better than more.  Try some of these suggestions to keep your 10-year-old safe and healthy online and on screens:

  • Teach your child that sharing personal information online can make them a target for online predators and others who might mean them harm.
  • Keep your 10-year-old safe online by taking the time to know what video games, social media, apps, and movies they are seeing and watching. Monitor their activity frequently and without warning. Set alerts to your own phone for content and permission.
  • Watch for mature content. Remember, platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat require a child to be older than 13 to have an account for a reason. Increased social media use has negative associations with well-being and mental health.
  • Review safe passwords. The strongest passwords are combinations of letters and numbers without easily-guessed names or other identifiable information. Depending on your child and comfort level, your child should either readily share passwords or seal their passwords in an envelope. 
  • Homework and chores come before screen time.
  • Turn off all screens an hour before bedtime. Following this rule as parents can help model healthy sleep and screen behaviors.
  • Limit time on social media and where they have profiles. Be aware of sites which hide messaging activity.

Conversation starters and parenting hacks for your 10-year-old

Your 10-year-old can go hot and cold on you in the blink of an eye – one minute, they are chatting your ear off, and the next, they will barely acknowledge that you asked them a question. Stick to open-ended questions and try to find times and spaces where they won’t be distracted by screens for daily conversations with your tween. Even though they might roll their eyes at you, you are showing them how much you care about what they think.

Questions to ask your 10-year-old

  • What do you think is the best part about growing older?
  • Do you think it’s okay to notice and talk about differences in people? (Or, more specifically, Do you think it’s okay to notice and talk about differences in people’s skin color?) Why?
  • What are your worries about becoming a teenager?
  • Has someone you don’t know ever connected with you online in a way that made you feel uncomfortable or scared?
  • When you see something unfair, what are ways you can stand up for others?
  • Do you feel sad? Do you ever feel so sad that you wish you weren’t alive at all?
  • Who are the adults you can talk to if you are scared, sad, or angry?
  • What does the word gender mean to you? What is something you would do if you could break the rules or roles of gender for a day?

Ways to help them grow and develop

  • Be involved with your 10-year-old’s school. Meet your child’s friends, teachers, coaches, and other people who matter in their life.
  • Engage teens to talk about current events with you by asking them to consider solutions to problems in the world they identify.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of saying and showing how much you love your 10-year-old. They may pull away from your hug and kiss, but recognize that this is about their need for boundaries (especially in public) and not about you.
  • Anticipate changes in their emotional awareness and their relationships with peers. Talk to your 10-year-old about peer pressure and help them practice responses. If children are unprepared to respond to peer pressure, they are more likely to react too quickly and give in.
  • When your 10-year-old messes up (because they inevitably will), help them to learn from their mistakes. Encourage them to imagine how they could have avoided the consequences of their misjudgment. Support their efforts to do the right thing, even if they aren’t successful.
  • Be prepared to answer questions about puberty and sexual development. When you’re asked a question, follow up with a question: Was someone else talking about that? Do you want to know more? Did your friend have a question? When talking about puberty, reassure your child that puberty is nothing to be embarrassed about. Everyone goes through puberty. Remind them repeatedly that they can always come to you with any questions.
  • Talk to your 10-year-old about periods and menstruation before they or their peers get their period. Learning about menstrual cycles is useful for all people!
  • Reinforceyour 10-year-old’s personal hygiene habits with gentle reminders Respect your preteen’s increasing need for privacy by knocking before entering the bathroom or bedroom.
  • Avoid comments that will embarrass or harm your already self-conscious preteen. For example, don’t point out something about their physical appearance or their weight. Encourage siblings, other family members and adult friends to do the same. Tweens don’t need to endure teasing or “toughening up” at home. It’s their safe place in an ever-changing world.
  • Set family rules. If your family has clear household rules, it will be easier for your child to avoid breaking them, especially if peers are pressuring them. For example, If kindness is a family rule, agreeing to tease another classmate would go against that. Your child can use your family rule as a reason not to give in to peer pressure.

Being ten years old is all about change. All of this change can be challenging for tweens and parents alike. Don’t mistake physical maturity for overall maturity. It can take time for emotional maturity to catch up to a teen’s body. Even though they may not always show or tell you, your love, guidance, and support are significant sources of stability in your preteen’s chaotic and confusing life.

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team

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