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How a Child’s Brain Changes Ages 9 to 10

Posted April 30, 2013

This is Part 3 of my series on “How a Child’s Brain Changes by Age”.

I have written about how a child’s brain evolves at ages 5 to 6 and at ages 7 to 8 in previous articles. It’s quite fascinating to see the changes children go through in their cognitive abilities from such young ages all the way up to adulthood. Below you will learn about what happens in children’s abilities at ages 9 and 10 years old. Every kid progresses at her own pace, but each one does go through pretty much the same path.

This is according to a great article, “Mind Reader – Your Child’s Blossoming Brain, Age by Age: a Road Map of the Awesome (and Aggravating) Changes” by Holly Pevzner (February 2013).

So here’s a description of what’s going on with your child’s thinker at ages 9 and 10.

9 Years Old “The Manipulator”

Ahh…this is the age when kids start testing their ability to stretch the truth. They have been able to come up with lies earlier, but now they are starting to understand how to tell more sophisticated fibs. You will also notice that your child is whole-heartedly starting to express independence. She may begin to talk back to you more. And she may be bending the truth more. The good news is, this does not mean that you are raising a con-artist. She is attempting to test the boundaries, and how others react to her.

Fun fact: Today, April 30, is National Honesty Day!

9 Year Olds Test Stretching the Truth
9 year olds start to stretch the truth

The best thing to do at this stage is to guide her moral compass. Whenever you find yourself able to chat, like at dinner or while spending quality time with your kids, ask them about their day at school. Specifically, ask about friends or what happened at recess. If you get details, you can ask them if they think what they heard is gossip, if they think it’s the truth, and if they think perhaps it’s not quite the truth. Discuss what bending the truth means, and what consequences lying may have in their world.

Here’s an honesty game you can play with your kids:

The Consequence Game.

This game can help children understand that the consequences of honesty are always better than the consequences of lying.

Make these consequence cards. Have your children look at the front of the cards where the scenario is described, then ask her if she thinks that scenario is something she thinks she should do. Then, flip the card and discuss the consequence of her choice.

Consequence Cards

Front Side - Scenario

Back Side - Consequence

You see a lady drop $10 on the floor, but she doesn’t realize that she dropped it. You wait for her to leave, then go get the $10 and spend it on a new toy.

You know the money wasn't yours. You start to worry that the lady who dropped it might have needed it to buy something she needs like medicine or food. Every time you play with your toy, you will feel guilty and think about the poor lady that you took $10 from. You don’t feel good about it at all and the toy isn’t worth feeling bad.

You see the lady drop $10 and you go right over to her and tell her so she won’t lose it.

You feel good and happy because you were honest and helped someone. You tell your parents what you did, and they are so happy too and give you lots of hugs and kisses. You still want that new toy, but you love feeling this good about yourself!

You broke your friend’s favorite toy. When he’s not looking, you hide it and hope he will never notice it missing.

You feel bad that you didn’t tell your friend. You wonder how bad you would feel if he did the same thing to you. Then you wonder how long it will take for him to find the broken toy, and how mad he will be that you tried to hide it. Maybe he won’t ever want to be your friend again or what if he tells everybody what you did? You don’t feel so great now.

You broke your friends toy, and you go over to him and show him right away. You tell him how sorry you are and that it was an accident.   You offer to pay for it or replace it.

Your friend doesn’t get that mad, and thanks you for telling him. He tells you it isn’t a big deal. Your friend’s Mom is so impressed that you told the truth that she said she would replace it. Your Mom is very proud of you. You feel great.

Create more cards that fit your family. After flipping each bad consequence, ask your child what could have been done differently to be more honest.

10 Years Old “Social Explorer”
When your kids reach the age of 10, they start to expand their socializing skills. You kids will start to want more play dates and other opportunities to socialize with their friends. Perhaps the afterschool activity that they never were interested before now sounds like so much fun, because Terry and Liza will be there too!

When kids are younger, for the most part, they will play with whoever may be available to play at the time. At 10, they are now looking for specific playmates and start to create a group. They are more interested in belonging to a group, and talk about their peer group with enthusiasm. Be careful during these times, though, since they often start labeling and using stereotypes to assess playmates now. They don’t quite understand that it can be hurtful to label someone, or that labels may not be accurate. If their peers label someone, they are likely to fall into doing it as well.

Encourage kids not to have only 1 clique
Encourage kids to not have only 1 clique

Kids this age will tend towards sticking to their chosen group, so encourage them to interact with multiple groups. Perhaps the classmates, and the soccer pals, and the neighborhood kids. Centering different group interactions around activities is an easy way to ensure a variety of playmates.

Fun fact: According to the Journal “Developmental Psychology”, girls who played “boy” sports (basketball, soccer) and boys who took “girl” classes (cooking, art, music) when they were 10 showed more interest in math at the age of 12!

What did you notice when your children reached 9 and 10 years old? Was honesty an issue? Did they form cliques or were they able to interact with lots of groups? Please share your thoughts!

Stay tuned for Part 4: how does the brain change in 11-12 year olds! (Last part of this series)

Yours truly, Jade

Jade is the founder and CEO of Ahh! Products. Find her on

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