The Middle Schooling Years: Emotional and Physical​ Development

Girl Talk is an 8 weeks program designed for the middle school years about the journey and joy of growing up. Check out an excerpt from authors Kym Keady and Chantale Wilson about the emotional and physical development of the middle years (9-14) and what to expect.

Let’s talk a bit about the development of girls and guys during the pubescent years. It’s a period of rapid growth and change! Not only is there rapid growth physically, but a lot is going on in their hearts and minds as well, as they grasp more mature concepts and begin to understand their place in the world a little more.

  • Brain development

Perhaps some of you have seen the BBC series, called ‘The Human Mind’ (narrated by Robert Winston ©BBC). In this program, they discuss three periods of, particularly rapid brain development: the nine months in the womb, the first year of our lives, and puberty (or adolescence) which begins around the age of ten.  During these periods of really rapid growth, there are literally thousands of new connections being formed between the synapses in the brain; think of these as new ‘computer connections’ that speed information around the brain.  During puberty, a lot of this brain activity occurs in the frontal lobe – the decision-making centre of the brain.  New connections are forming – breaking off – reconnecting – and forming again, which can cause all sorts of mood and behaviour changes in the pre-adolescent child. This can explain why, for example, the pre-adolescent child sometimes misinterprets the feelings of others and comes across as insensitive or confused. It’s literally a ‘traffic-jam’, with a million neurons shooting all over the place… phew!  Our children are normal after all!

  • Puberty!

As we’ve said, this is often the age that puberty begins and even the most placid kid can have moments of irrational thoughts or outbursts that can leave you wondering, “Where did THAT come from?!” Hormones kick in and with that comes the ups and downs of moods – don’t us women know it! We might ask our child, “What’s wrong?” only to be told, “I don’t know why I’m crying!” or “I don’t KNOW what’s wrong with me!” or “I feel so angry!” This is a normal phase of development. The trick is helping our middle schooling children develop strategies to manage these moods.  One strategy is to ‘go have a shower and wash the day away’ while another’s is to get outside in the fresh air and ‘jump’ their way out of the mood on the trampoline.   Different strategies will work for different children, so take some time to consider the possibilities for your child.

It’s important to talk with your sons and daughters about the physical changes they are facing at this stage. Choicez Media produce a value-based resource all about puberty, sexuality and growing up called “Things are Changing, Parent/Child Pack” which may help you talk about some of the things they are experiencing. It’s available online at Real Talk also has puberty retreats available for your child’s school.  Head to

  • Increased awareness of self

With puberty comes an increased awareness of self.  This is because the extra connections in the brain stimulate the pre-adolescent child’s awareness of themselves, others, their environment and how they personally interact with the world around them.  This magnified awareness of self continues into the teenage years until adulthood, where it settles into a more balanced perception of self.  Until then though, pre-teens may be hyper-sensitive about the tiniest pimple or the one piece of hair that isn’t doing what it’s supposed to; the growing pain or the butterflies in their tummy – and all usually at the most inconvenient moment! It takes a great adult to mother and father them at this stage with patience and generosity of heart! J

  • Confusion

When children are younger, they have a simple perception of right and wrong, black and white. In the early years, things are and need to be, simple.  In other words, there is no ‘grey’ in the young mind.     This is an invaluable stage in which to help our children form a clear sense of basic morality, a ‘what is right and what is wrong’ from which to navigate life. This is one of the main reasons fairy tales are so appealing and relatable to young children…  what looks good is good and what looks evil or bad, actually is evil or bad.  This is important for children in the early years as they begin to form their conscience and sense of what is right and wrong. Take the early Disney movies for example. Ones when Walk Disney was still alive.  Movies like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Good looks good, bad looks bad and the good always wins.  Simple messages designed to teach children under 12 lessons of life.  On the flip side, look at the latest Pixar movies like Up, Despicable Me, or Inside out.  Complex stories and meanings, designed for the parents of under 12s (so they’ll take them to the movies!) These concepts of the villain having a back story and now being the goodie and of mental health etc are ones that over 13 years olds would better understand in their age of development.

Around the ages of 11 or 12, and especially towards the end of this age-bracket, things do start to become more confusing.  As the brain begins to make new connections and facilitate more intricate thought processes, issues and situations are no longer as black and white as they once were. You may around the age of 12 or 13 have to teach the life lessons again, but with more explanation this time and more complex meanings – life is messy,  life doesn’t always work out the way we want and sometimes we make mistakes.

  • The importance of Mentors

We have found that at this age especially, there seems to be an increased desire to ‘be around mum’ or women the girls admire, to ‘practise’ being a woman.  They are constantly watching, learning, questioning and ‘trying it on for size’.

God designed girls at this age with a natural desire to be around ‘the mother’, or primary female role model and mentor.  Same with boys – we have seen time and time again boys feeling drawn to spend more time with dad during this time.  This is God’s natural way for preteens to absorb all the information they need before the natural confusion of the teenage years kick in.  By investing in our children at this formative age we are saving them (and ourselves) enormous potential heartache and confusion later on!  It is so important that WE be the ones who teach our children about life.  If we don’t, who will? Girls and guys by default will begin to listen to their friends or create their own conclusions, which can so often be distorted.  It’s at this tender age, just before the teenage years, that our voices as parents are still ‘just that little bit louder’ than society or friends in our children’s ears. This is an extremely important time for us to input into our children’s lives, to make time to listen to them, to be patient with the constant chatter and questions our children ask, as they formulate foundational opinions and values for the future.


For more information about Girl Talk head to


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