This guide is intended to provide some context into what you might expect for neuro-typical eleven-year-old development. Milestones and development are different for everyone.
Eleven brings on a bunch of new labels: tween, early teen, and early adolescent, to name a few. Even though your 11-year-old may still seem like a child to you, this is commonly a year of growth spurts, growing pains (physically and emotionally), the start of puberty, and changing relationships.
At this age, your 11-year-old will want to make more choices about friends, sports, studying, and school on their own. Although they may not always give you a reason to think so, remember that you — their parent or primary caregiver — are still very important to them. They need to know that you “have their back” so they have the courage and confidence to try new things and push outside of their comfort zone.
In addition, your behind-the-scenes support and cheerleading can help them reach their developmental milestones. So don’t worry; even though they’re getting older, they still need plenty of parenting and caregiving from you.
The major developmental milestones for 11-year-olds
1. Age 11 language and cognitive skills development
Cognitive development means the growth of your child’s ability to think and reason. Adolescence marks the beginning development of more complex thinking processes for your 11-year-old, including abstract thinking and the ability to form their own new ideas or questions. By age 11, your child may:
- Recognize that their actions now could have consequences later on (11-year-olds live less “in the present moment” than younger children).
- Be able to think and plan for the future.
- Be more tolerant of gray areas vs. black and white, right or wrong, or concrete thinking.
- Empathize and understand the perspectives of other people.
- Be able to focus for longer on a singular goal and stay on-task.
- Experience a greater sense of responsibility for their words, actions, and behaviors.
- Expand their vocabulary.
- Learn and appreciate the nuances of language, such as colorful expressions, slang, and inside jokes, especially with friends.
Some common signs of speech disorders at this age are: leaving out keywords when talking, taking over conversations, or not understanding riddles or jokes. If you have concerns about your 11-year-old’s speech, speak to their healthcare provider.
2. Age 11 social and emotional learning milestones
Becoming a middle schooler may introduce more complex social dynamics to your 11-year-old’s day-to-day life. Changing friendships, cliques, and surging hormones can make you and your tween feel like you are riding an emotional rollercoaster. As a result, they may:
- Experience low self-esteem, depression, and aggression.
- Feel very self-conscious (preoccupied with others’ perceptions of them).
- Have to cope with academic stress and more challenging school work.
- Express less affection towards you (don’t take it personally, this is normal!).
- Develop self-regulation skills (managing their thoughts and feelings to enable goal-directed actions).
- Better understand social dynamics.
- Use more effective communication skills in social and academic interactions.
3. Age 11 physical development and motor skills
Your tween may seem awkward or clumsy during this year of rapid growth — don’t worry, their brain just needs time to adjust to their longer limbs and growing body. Motor skills are the skills that help us with the movements and tasks we do every day. Your 11-year-old will fine-tune their motor skills, balance, coordination, reaction time, and physical strength as they grow older, bigger, and stronger. Your child at age 11:
- May start showing signs of puberty including breast development, armpit, and pubic hair growth or enlargement of the testicles and body hair.
- Typically periods start two years after breast development begins, which can be a great time to start talking about periods (and making sure supplies are on hand) if you haven’t already. The average age of the start of menstruation is twelve and a half.
- May develop body odor, acne, or experience growth spurts. Remind your kid about the importance of regular bathing and stock the bathroom with body wash and other products like deodorant. Teasing or making them self-conscious will likely backfire, considerate support is what they need.
- May have painful, aching growing pains in their legs at night. Although not caused by growth spurts, growing pains are normal.
- Will have neater handwriting and show improved fine motor skills when using tools, playing instruments, or in stick and racquet-based sports.
Vaccines for 11-year-olds
When your child is 11, the CDC, American Academy of Family Physicians, and American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommend that they receive all vaccines according to the recommended vaccine schedule. They should receive vaccines, boosters, or catch-up vaccines to protect them from the following diseases:
- Meningococcal disease (one dose of MenACWY vaccine)
- HPV (two doses of vaccine)
- Tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough (pertussis) (one dose of Tdap vaccine)
- Influenza (Flu) (one dose of vaccine every year)
- COVID-19 (per CDC recommendations).
Preteens and teens are at increased risk for meningococcal disease, an uncommon illness. All 11 and 12-year-olds should receive a meningococcal conjugate (MenACWY) vaccine. CDC recommends a booster dose at age 16.
Healthy eating and activity for 11-year-olds
This is a great age for your child to continue learning about food choices as they become more independent. Remember you can always talk with your tween’s healthcare provider about any nutrition concerns, particularly if they are engaged in lots of sports or are interested in a change like going vegetarian. They’re also old enough to help plan some meals, and even get active in the kitchen. Here are some other tips:
- Serve your child a well-balanced diet with protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and overall variety.
- Growing tweens may have different nutritional needs than adults. For example, they may feel hungry for a lot of carbohydrate energy! Continue to foster eating habits that respect what they’re hungry for and how much they need to eat (avoid extremes like clean plate clubs or not allowing seconds).
- Limit 100% juice, sports drinks, or other sugary beverages to no more than 4–6 ounces (120–180 ml) daily.
- Try to offer your family five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
- Regular dental check-ups will help prevent cavities and find the right time for braces if your child needs them. Children most commonly get braces between ages 11-13.
- Your 11-year-old should get at least 1 hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily.
- Sports are an excellent way for children and teens to stay active and can even help with overall concentration.
- Your child should get between 9-12 hours of sleep every night. Keeping all electronics and screens out of their bedroom is a great way to prioritize getting enough sleep.
Keeping your 11-year-old safe
As your 11-year-old flexes their independence muscles, it can be a nerve-wracking time for parents and caregivers. Give yourself peace of mind by establishing clear, non-negotiable expectations for safety, such as:
- Wearing a helmet when on a bike, scooter, skateboard, ATV, or motorbike and when snowmobiling, skiing, snowboarding, or playing contact sports.
- Avoiding secondhand smoke, which increases their risk for heart and lung disease. Talk with your tween about how vaping nicotine and marijuana can cause lasting harm to their still-developing brains.
- Wearing seatbelts.
- Never playing with guns. It is still your role to verify if guns are present in any home where they spend time.
- Not trying drugs or alcohol. Research shows that giving your children the clear message that you disapprove of underage drinking and drug use will influence their decision in the face of peer pressure. Check out this article on keeping lines of communication open.
- Learning the skills of consent can help reduce sexual coercion, harassment, and assault. They are never too young to understand how to ask for and give consent in friend and dating relationships.
Many tweens believe that their social life would not exist without social media. It can be exhausting and frustrating to be the “screen police,” but your young teen’s brain has not developed enough to resist the addictive nature of screens. They need your help in setting boundaries to limit video, television watching, and computer use to less than 2 hours daily. You can help make sure that screen time does not replace your 11-year-old’s sleep, physical activity, or face-to-face socializing with peers and adults. You can do this by:
- Setting and sticking to screen time limits.
- Using parental controls to limit the content your 11-year-old watches.
- Actively monitoring the types of media, apps, shows, movies, or games your tween is watching. Common Sense Media provides reviews of media and advice for parents on healthy media use.
- Talk about what cyberbullying looks like.
- Gaming time does not have to be alone time for your tween. Instead, try playing a video game with your kids. It’s a great way to demonstrate good sportsmanship and gaming etiquette without lecturing them.
- Most likely, your 11-year-old will be asking for their own smartphone around this age. Draft a phone contract and engage in a healthy family conversation with your 11-year-old about the right age to get a phone. Remember that your family doesn’t have to look like your neighbor’s, and different timelines will work for every kid.
Conversation starters and parenting hacks for your 11-year-old
Staying connected as kids near their teen years and become more independent may be increasingly challenging for you. However, asking various questions that go beyond “How was your day?” can help you learn more about the kind of grown-up your tween is becoming.
Questions to ask your 11-year-old:
- What is the one thing you did today that you are most proud of?
- Tell me about a time someone hurt your feelings. Why do you think that hurt so much?
- Is there something in the future that you are worried about right now? Why?
- Is there anyone who has ever been a bad friend to you? How did you respond?
- If you could travel anywhere, where would you like to go more than anywhere else?
- When watching a movie, TV show, or the news with your child, ask them, “Why do you think that person was treated that way? Was it because of their gender or skin color?”
- Don’t be afraid of yes/no or simple questions. If your tween isn’t feeling chatty, a few more direct questions can set the scene and get them talking. What was for lunch today? Oh yeah? Who was there? Oh cool, what were they wearing?
- Some kids will also open up more readily if you walk and talk, or talk while they are slightly distracted with helping you cook, etc. Every conversation doesn’t have to be a teaching moment or full of eye contact to help them feel connected.
Ways to help them grow and develop:
- Show an interest in your tween’s developing identity, thoughts, and beliefs. Asking some of the questions above and giving them your full attention to their answers (get off your phone!) is a great way to start.
- The physical changes of puberty can be confusing and embarrassing for tweens. Check out You-ology, a new all-inclusive puberty guide from the American Academy of Pediatrics, if you are having difficulty talking comfortably about puberty with your 11-year-old.
- Talk positively about gender identity and read up on gender and sexual identity terms.
- Give your tween chores or jobs around the house, such as unloading the dishwasher. This way, you can teach them how to perform everyday tasks and activities they will do independently in the not-so-distant future.
- Consider giving them an allowance and hiring them to help you with other jobs around the house to teach them about managing (and saving) money.
- Stay involved with your child’s school, team, or other activities, even if they don’t want you to. Get to know the other important people (adults and peers) in their life.
This is going to be an exciting year for your family!
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
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