The child at this age is at a definite cross road, not entirely a child but also not a teen. The child will sometimes be a bit of a mystery to their parent as they begin to emerge as individuals who have a more ‘adult’ view of the world. At this stage, there are observable changes in three areas of their lives; the cognitive, the physical and the social.
Parents with children at this stage need to know what to expect so that they can identify whether or not their child is on course or not.
· Capacity to reason: One of the greatest observable changes, especially in the 11year-old, is the child’s capacity to reason, use logic and make deductions. They begin to work things out in ways they could not before and the parent will enjoy having more ‘adult-like’ discussions with them.
· Original ideas: This child is now able to come up with original ideas, even providing solutions that the parent hasn’t voiced. Because of this development, they can tend to be a bit ‘smart-mouthed’ and a parent needs to correct this without crushing the child’s newly acquired independent thought capacity. They also begin to challenge adult authority and will not settle for the simplistic answers they would have a couple of years back.
· Body changes: The physical changes that will increase rapidly during puberty begin at this time and it is not uncommon for girls to begin their menses at this time. For boys, the body changes are not as dramatic – these come at a later stage - as girls but they can begin having nocturnal emissions at this time.
· The best friend: Whereas before your child socialised with others in the same way, this is the stage when the ‘best friend syndrome’ begins to be manifested. Your child now shows definite preference in being with a particular friend or two and will be very selective in the activities he/she engages in.
· Friends ‘rock’: Your child will probably, for the first time, show a clear preference to his friends norms. This is the beginning of his/her independence and may begin to be influenced by his friends on what to wear, how to walk, talk etc This calls for adjusting by the parents and a delicate balance where they need to give the child space but also keep an eye on his interactions. Sleepovers also become an interesting pass time at this age, especially with girls. They are doing this to move away from their parents and begin living a little on their own.
· Flirting: Each child develops at his/her own pace but it is not uncommon, especially with the 11 and 12 year olds for interest in the opposite sex to be first exhibited. While the admiration may be at a distance for some, others may have the boldness to flirt and show off with members of the opposite sex.
· Groups: While there is the pull to have a ‘best friend’, children at this age also show increased interest in group activities like clubs. The boys especially enjoy involvement in competitive activities while girls do well in forums that encourage relational building.
Like already stated, it is important for the parent to at this stage provide their child with space. They shouldn’t be so clingy and afraid to let the child ‘fly’; they need to realise that their ‘baby’ is no longer a baby but is beginning to grow up and needs space to grow, stretch and move into the next phase of their lives.
It is also important to involve this child in the day-to-day activities of the home. Allow them to help around the house, give them age appropriate chores, have them help with the care of younger siblings etc.
This is important because as they venture towards their teen years and then adulthood, they need to learn responsibility. They also need to be taught that things do not just happen; they need someone to make them happen.