‘I’m not a baby’
For the tweens and preteens, mental health means finding an identity.
Children at this stage think that they are “too big to be called babies” or are “too young to be called adolescents”. There are always exceptions , with some 9-year-olds displaying physical characteristics of a older children and some 6-year-olds displaying those of much younger children.
The emotional needs of schoolkids
6-9 Years

At this stage, children are just starting to develop a sense of understanding of what rules are really about.
Before this age, they obeyed instructions or orders out of respect/ fear/ habit. They may never really obeyed them at all, which caused great frustrations for the adults in their lives.
At this stage, children are able to understand abstract concepts such as rules. They often start asking for some order in their lives, needing a routine, a sense of stability and certainty.
If there are changes in the child’s daily life, such as changing homes or schools, parents getting divorced, the child needs to be told about such changes in advance and be prepared for them so that they can think and prepare for the new routines and rules that come with the change.
Children who do not have this stability or opportunity to discuss changes may become very insecure, clingy, anxious, have nightmares, start wetting their bed – in general this shows the signs of emotional stress.

Children also develop a strong need for involvement in some type of group.  Very often ‘little gangs’ develop at school or the child develops a strong attachment to a ‘best friend’. These are signs of developing a sense of identity away from home and family; beginning to be able to select people according to his/ her own likes or dislikes.

Children who feel insecure, uncertain of themselves or ‘second best’, often find themselves friends who are similar to them or isolate themselves. They tend to form friendships with the loners and outcasts in the class.

Parents at this stage should spend time getting to know what it is their child relates to– instead of telling their children not to mix with those considered ‘inferior’, trouble-makers or those not good enough. If a child considered to be ‘clever, well behaved’ starts hanging out with ‘lazy, trouble-makers, under- achieving children’, parents must try to understand why the child’s perception differs and how it is that s/he developed such a ‘negative’ perception of him/ herself.

10-12 Years

This age group is known as pre-teen stage. Children no longer think of themselves as ‘little’ and like to be consulted about any event that influences their lives. This does not mean they are old enough or emotionally mature enough to make serious decisions about their lives, but it means that they need to be included in the process.

Sometimes this leads to early experimentation and can be disastrous for the child. If the pre-teen has over the preceding 10-12 years developed a trusting, open relationship with at least one parent or a primary caregiver, the child will be more likely to ask questions and less likely to experiment.

Curiosity is natural, and often the pressure from a peer group can encourage a child to experiment anyway. At this stage, pre-teens have a great need to be accepted by their peers. They might go as far as dressing the same way, develop ‘cool walks’, make up their own coded language– anything to form a sense of group identity.

The more secure a child is with themselves, the less likely they are to need the safety and anonymity of their peer group. Parents need to allow their pre-teens the space to join peer groups and be ‘alike’ in ways that do not harm the child.

If a child joins a group that is considered ‘bad’- drinking alcohol, smokes dagga - usually it may be a ‘cry for help’ from a desperate child trying to find a place to make him/ herself heard.

Pre-teens are often concerned about life and death issues. They have a great concern for the world around them and may sometimes become very depressed when they realize how much pain and suffering there is around them. Parents need to be comfortable in answering questions about life and death, and help them understand that saving the world is not entirely their sole responsibility.

Another important aspect of this stage is children often go through a major growth spurt. Their appetite increases tremendously and they may be constantly hungry. Nutrition is important, because unhealthy diets influence brain development, immune system development and the body’s ability to fight off illnesses.

Mentally healthy children need to be physically healthy, encourage them to exercise or be involved in sport.

Mental health for toddlers

What are the essentials of mental wellbeing for schoolchildren?

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