Parenting Perspective: Normal behavior for 11-year-olds

Friday, April 02, 2010

Eleven-year-olds are just beginning the transition to adolescence. It's a tricky age, but not impossible to live with if you know what to expect.

What is "normal" for your eleven-year-old? Chip Wood, editor of YARDSTICKS: CHILDREN IN THE CLASSROOM, AGES 4-14, has some great benchmarks for gauging your child's pre-teen behavior and dealing with it effectively.

First, 11-years-old marks the beginning of major body changes, especially in girls. Children tend to gather now in boy groups or girl groups and quietly check out the body changes going on. Elevens are also in the middle of changing their learning strategies and approaches. What sounds like rudeness is really inquisitiveness, and they are usually surprised to find out that they've offended you with their awkward approach. It is common for 11-year-olds to question every topic; question their teachers, argue about doing homework, question adult authority in general. Try to consider these attitudes signs of cognitive and social-emotional growth. As for living with your 11-year-old who has "attitude," add some extra patience and you may be able to neutralize the situation.

"Saving face" is also key for 11-year-olds. Try NOT to correct your tween in public, certainly not in front of their friends. Find a time afterwards and away from the group to gently point out errors. At 11, the awkwardness of becoming a teenager is just starting. Try to see through the pouts, foul moods and rude language to understand and interpret your child's efforts to establish their own identity.

Now for the good news.

11-year-olds are open to brand new areas of learning during this time too. They are good at foreign languages, music and art. In fact, they would rather learn new skills than review or improve prior work. They are better at big-picture thinking like understanding what "justice" is. They appreciate humor, imitate adult language patterns, but can be impulsive - regularly talking before thinking.

They often behave best when they are away from home. They will tell a teacher an assignment is too easy or "boring," then complain about how hard the work is later that night. Again, use patience to sort out the real story behind the complaints. They might just be tired or need a snack to get a brain boost before tackling homework. And they can use your help managing their time.

Eleven-year-olds are also developing new abilities in deductive reasoning. So, science, math, debates and hands-on learning are some of their strengths. They enjoy board games, intellectual puzzles, tests and brainteasers. They also love to read to smaller children and take on weeklong projects.

Favorites themes for your 11-year-old include games, history, government, body systems, plant growth and government.

Pack your patience and try to gently reassure your 11-year-old as you both brace for the tempest still to come.

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