1. Pre-teens
  2. Behaviour
  3. Understanding behaviour

Pre-teens behaviour overview

9-11 years

It’s normal for children to push the boundaries in the pre-teen years. In fact, this is an important part of their journey towards independence. Positive behaviour management for pre-teens is all about clear rules, warm relationships and an understanding of why pre-teens act the way they do.

Pre-teens behaviour: what to expect

Developing independence and responsibility is a key part of growing up.

To do this, your child needs to test out independent ideas and ways of behaving. Sometimes this involves disagreeing with you, giving you a bit of ‘attitude’, pushing the limits and boundaries you set, wanting to be more like friends and even taking risks.

Although it can be stressful for you, this is all a normal and common part of adolescence. And this phase will pass.

Some of the changes in teenage behaviour are explained by the way teenage brains develop. The parts of the teenage brain responsible for impulse control don’t fully mature until about age 25. The brain changes offer upsides and downsides – teenagers can be imaginative, passionate, sensitive, impulsive, moody and unpredictable.

Confident teenagers have the ability to avoid people and situations that aren’t right for them, and to find those that are. You can build your child’s confidence by looking for practical and positive activities that give your child a good chance of success, and praising your child for putting in a good effort.

Behaviour management for pre-teens

Encouraging good behaviour in pre-teens is about using effective discipline. And effective discipline for pre-teens focuses on setting agreed limits and helping children work within them.

Rules, limits and boundaries help your child learn independence, manage and take responsibility for her behaviour and solve problems. Your child needs these skills to become a young adult with her own standards for appropriate behaviour and respect for others.

Teenage discipline is most effective when you communicate openly with your child, are consistent and keep up a warm and loving family environment.

Video

Deciding family rules

4:51

In this short video, mums, dads and teenagers talk together about why family rules are important, how rules are decided, and how household jobs are shared out. They also talk about how to sort out conflict over the rules.

Praise and encouragement are powerful motivators. At this age children might seem more self-sufficient, but your child still needs your approval. When you praise your child for positive behaviour, it can encourage him to keep behaving like that. 

Handling disrespectful behaviour

Rude or disrespectful behaviour is pretty common in children in the pre-teen years – although not all children behave this way.

If this kind of behaviour is an issue for your family, setting clear rules lets your child know what you expect. For example, you could say, ‘We speak respectfully in our family. This means we don’t call people names’.

Involving your child in these discussions means you can later remind her that she helped make the rules, and that she agreed to them.

Modelling these rules in your own behaviour shows that you mean what you say.

If you need to talk to your child about some rude behaviour, staying calm and picking your moment will help the conversation go better. It can also help if you focus on your child’s behaviour. Instead of saying, ‘You’re rude’, you could try saying something like, ‘I feel hurt when you speak like that to me’.

Our Talking to Teens interactive guide shows how different approaches to pre-teen behaviour management can get different results.  

Common concerns about pre-teen behaviour

Fighting with siblings
Teenage sibling fighting can be stressful, but it’s normal and helps children learn important life skills – like how to sort out problems, deal with different opinions and treat others with respect.

When you coach your children in sorting out their conflicts, you help them develop these skills. You can also motivate them to resolve fights themselves. For example, if they’re fighting over the computer, you could take away their access to it until they can work out a solution together.

Peer influence
Peer influence is when you do something you wouldn’t otherwise do because you want to feel accepted and valued by others. It isn’t just doing something against your will, and can actually be positive. Sometimes it might involve following scenes, trends and fashions to feel part of a social group – this is normal for older children and teenagers.

If your child is confident, with a strong sense of himself and his values, it’s more likely he’ll know where to draw the line when it comes to peer influence.

Video

Peer pressure

3:46

In this short video, we see parents’ and teenagers’ perspectives on peer pressure. They discuss the need to feel part of the group and to be seen as ‘cool’, and the pressure to have the latest technology. Peer pressure doesn't necessarily lead to risky behaviour.

Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is using modern communication technology to deliberately and repeatedly harrass, humiliate, embarrass, torment, threaten, pick on or intimidate someone. It can be tough to spot, but there are steps you and your child can take to prevent and stop cyberbullying.

Risk-taking
Risk-taking is an important way for older children and teenagers to learn about themselves and try new things. It can go from trying new tricks at the skate park to staying too late at parties, truancy, smoking, drug-taking, underage alcohol use, unsafe and underage sexual behaviour and gambling.

You can help your child learn to assess risks. Talking about your family values and keeping the lines of communication open is also a good idea. And you might be able to channel the desire to take risks into extracurricular activities or community activities such as sports, music or drama.

Video

What is risky behaviour?

3:32

In this short video, teenagers talk about what risky behaviour is, how they work out whether a situation or action is risky, and how they react when their friends are doing something that they think is risky. Parents discuss how they deal with their children doing potentially risky things.

If you’re worried about pre-teen behaviour

A lot of pre-teen and teenage behavior is a normal part of growing towards young adulthood.

But you might be worried if there are changes in your child’s attitude or behaviour, along with other changes such as mood swings, out of character behaviour changes, withdrawal from family or friends and usual activities, or poor school attendance.

If you’re concerned about your child’s behaviour, you could:

  • discuss the issue as a family, to work out ways of supporting each other
  • talk to other parents and find out what they do
  • consider seeking professional support – good people to start with include school counsellors, teachers and your GP.
Talking to other parents can give you perspective on your child’s behaviour. Other parents can also support you when you’re finding it hard. You can connect with others in our online forum for parents of children in the pre-teen years.

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Last updated or reviewed
26-05-2015

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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