A note about child development: The purpose of this series is to help parents and caregivers recognize normal stages and to provide age-appropriate activities, nurturing and guidance.  Each child is unique.  Rates of development can differ widely among normally developing children, and each child can have “fast” or “slow” rates of development in different areas and at different times.  These descriptions are merely based on typical behaviors for the age.  If your child is not exhibiting “normal” developmental behaviors, there is no cause for alarm.   However, discussion with a development specialist can help you to determine if any special interventions are necessary.

Ten is a well-rounded number.  At this age, a child generally is comfortable with who he is and is accepting and flexible with those around him.  This is usually a year of few conflicts with parents, teachers and other involved adults, for whom the 10-year-old has a great deal of respect.

Individual Interests

Part of enjoying himself among others comes from spending time doing what he likes to do.  Over the past couple of years, he may have shifted from gymnastics to art class to butterfly catching as easily as changing his socks.  Now he follows more intense interests that may differ from his close friends and even his parents, seeking out that niche in the wide world that is just right for him.  Rock collecting may consume his free time.  A period in history may fascinate him.  He may pore over world records in various categories – since this is an age of hero worship – imagining he might one day have the loudest burp or convene the largest group of people to run into a wall and fall down (51 as of October 19, 2011).

This is a good opportunity to encourage personal fulfillment through reading, especially for the child who somehow missed that lesson, by leading him to books, websites, magazines even comics that have adventures and information in line with his passion.  Nonfiction books will satisfy serious enthusiasts, while more whimsical aficionados will drink in science fiction, historical novels or joke books and joke websites (pirate humor is a genre all its own).

Productivity

After spending time during the past year assessing his interests, strengths and weaknesses, at age 10 he has a pretty good idea of who he is and who he wants to become.  He may have some very clear career choices picked out and he eagerly observes adults hard at work as potential examples of what he will do in the future.  This is a good time for short “apprenticeships,” working alongside a neighbor or relative on a “real” project, such as installing a backyard pond or detailing a car.  A boy or girl of 10 can be a real asset to a neighboring family with younger children.  It’s good experience for a career with children as well as future parenting.  Although he’s too young to babysit on his own, he can entertain a tot with books and toys in one room of the house while the parent is within earshot in another.  The neighbor may be so grateful for some respite that a modest wage can be earned!

Your 10-year-old wants to do well in whatever he does, so he watches carefully and pays attention to instructions.  Think about adding a degree of difficulty to household chores – cooking, laundry, bathroom cleaning - as he steps closer to eventual independence.  School work can be another source of skill mastery and pride.  Help him fine-tune his homework habits – time management, quizzing before a test, research skills, preparation for a good presentation – so that by middle school he can carry out most of this by himself.   Since adults usually find a 10-year-old to be flexible and easygoing, the feedback he gets as they coach him to learn new skills reinforces this sense of self-satisfaction. 

Peer Standards  

Looking good to the peer group is important.  Much attention is paid to fashion, popular culture and who said what to whom about so and so.  Personal grooming, especially prior to school and other social activities, becomes a larger part of his daily routine.  In fact, your former bath avoider may turn overnight into a shower hogger!  Don’t be surprised if boys as well as girls start asking about nail care and hair mousse.  Put some age-appropriate limits on style and expense if you don’t agree with what he claims are the peer standards.  Checking in regularly with some of the other parents is a good way to keep tabs on false rumors of what “everyone else” is allowed to do.  Dyes, straighteners, weaves, extensions and other investments of time and money needn’t be rushed into at this stage of childhood. 

Solid and reliable friendships are good for parents and 10-year-olds alike.  The adults stay on top of trends to unite against (how many ear piercings, if any, are acceptable, for example) and your 10-year-old benefits from the group loyalties developed from the long term relationships that are fostered through a sport, children’s theater or scouts.   When you’re one of the gang, you are united by shared struggles and triumphs, confided secrets and inside jokes.   Conforming to the trust and standards of the group helps him to feel that he fits in. 

Since most 10-year-olds are pretty good at relationships, the one who isn’t so good stands out.  Adults can be on the look-out for the “misfit” and deftly work with the emerging peer standards of assuring fairness and abhorring prejudice to handle a difference or deficit. Children at this age appreciate an adult who can help the group to achieve social acceptance for all.    

My Body

Capitalize on a comfy parent-child relationship this year to have a few “birds and bees” talks with your child.  Read up on human anatomy, fitness and the latest recommendations for teen health and hygiene, so that a good rapport and good habits are well-established before the rocky years just ahead.  This can be as simple as why it’s important to change our socks (bacterial growth can irritate skin and cause offensive odor), or as complex as the challenges of too-early parenthood.  While there is much variation for the timetable of puberty, with girls usually two years ahead of boys, your child will be interested to hear from a caring and reliable source about what’s in store for him and his friends. 

It seems there is an increase in health hazards threatening teens today, with powerful media influences undermining the traditional protections family and community once provided.  Body image concerns, for example, worry some 10-year-olds (some studies say half of the girls) into counting calories unnecessarily, later correlating with a high rate (a third of teen boys and half of teen girls) of unhealthy weight control behaviors such as laxatives, induced vomiting and cigarette smoking.  Tragically, accidents, homicide and suicide are the top causes of teenage death.  So help your child dodge the statistics by being topical—and not too alarming—in discussing health issues, including gun safety, safe driving, substance abuse, depression and body-smart eating and exercise.  Parents and other close and caring adults still have a strong voice.  Messages that bear repeating should be repeated, and good examples should be regularly modeled by the adults with whom your child has real relationships. 

There are strangers whose motives do not have your child’s best interests at heart. If unchecked, they can threaten your child’s ideas about health and safety.  Starting with junk food commercials, parents must diligently protect children from the dangers of unhealthy and inappropriate messages and models in all the media, including the Internet.

By all means bask in the success of a blossoming 10-year-old.  And in return, in about 10 years from now, at age 21, his appreciation of all you have done will reappear.


Deborah Wood is a child development specialist residing in Annapolis.