Raising a preteen and mental health (ages 9 to 11)

Your preteen is also becoming reluctant to show public displays of affection. Or they might be asking for more privacy.

This is a natural part of preteens developing their independence.

You still have a powerful role to play in providing the safe base they need to build their confidence and explore the world.

Having strategies for staying connected with your preteen can help.

To do this, looking after your mental health and wellbeing is as important as ever.

Your self-care can help you and your child adjust and adapt to this new stage of their development.

About the time your child turns 9, 10 and 11 you’ll notice their friends are becoming a bigger influence. So are celebrities.
Illustration of boy looking in the mirror seeing himself dressed as a super hero

Understanding your preteen

Children aged from 9 to 11 years are at a stage of fast change and growth.

Most preteens are focused on school, friends and exploring new interests.

They are becoming independent.

To help you support their mental health, it’s important to understand what your child might be experiencing.

This can help you encourage their sense of self and teach them about making healthy choices.

It’s also an opportunity for you to establish expectations about your preteen’s behaviour and personal safety.


Puberty can start at any time between the ages of 8 and 15. It’s triggered by new hormones from the brain sending messages to the body.

Each child has their own experience of the onset of puberty. These are some common changes to expect
  • growth spurts
  • changes to body shape
  • changes to emotions and moods.
Visit the Better Health Channel website to learn about parenting your child through puberty.

Sense of self

What we believe about ourselves influences how we behave.

A strong sense of self can help your preteen better navigate school life. It equips them to face peer pressure and adversity.

Help your child develop their identity by continuing to:

Gender identity

As they grow, children receive ideas about gender from the world around them.

They use this to develop their own ideas of what they feel and think about gender and gender roles.

If your preteen is beginning to show gender diverse behaviour, it’s important to protect their mental health and wellbeing.

You can:
  • listen to them
  • have conversations that help them feel accepted and loved
  • seek further support for yourself and your child.

Sex and sexuality

Your preteen child might become curious about sex. This is natural.

Preteen children might start to have crushes. They might also be discovering who they are attracted to.

For preteens, discovering more about their sexuality is a process that can take time.

They will get information from all around them. This might be from friends, online and school sex education classes, among other places.

You can support them by being:
  • interested in their perceptions 
  • receptive to their questions
  • prepared with answers pitched to their age and level of readiness.
Visit the Raising Children Network website to find more information to understand sexual development.


Your toddler or pre-schooler may have come to you for answers. Your preteen more likely needs you to listen first of all.

Offer your preteen child empathy. Help them figure out their own solutions to small problems (try not to find the solution for them).

Here are tips to help you actively listen to your preteen.
  • Be available to hear about your child’s day.
  • Ask open-ended questions about what they’re telling you. For example: “Why do you think she said that?” or “What happened next?”
  • Encourage them to reflect on what they think and feel about their experiences.
  • Stay curious about your preteen’s interests. Try to exchange interests and ideas.
Check out the Raising Children Network website to find ideas for how to actively listen to your child.

Managing moods

As they head into their teenage years, you might notice your preteen’s moods changing.

They may become quiet, withdrawn or irritable. They may also spend more time alone.

It’s helpful to understand that this might be because preteens often feel strong emotions that are sometimes overwhelming (like shame or humiliation).

They might have trouble recognising these emotions when they’re upset.

As well, because of the ways their brains are developing, they don’t always have the skills to express and manage these emotions.

You can support your preteen to develop their emotional awareness. Encourage them to:
  • tune into their feelings
  • name their emotions
  • take time out if they need it
  • share their feelings with someone they trust
  • be aware of when they might be taking their moods out on others. 

Illustration of a family having fun in the pool

Routines, rituals and boundaries

Your child needs to feel safe and connected even as they learn to become more independent. So, providing your child with guidance and boundaries at home is important.

Routines and rituals

Establishing and following family routines and rituals:
  • create a sense of belonging
  • foster trust and security.

Boundaries through family rules

Discuss rules as a family to help give everyone more ownership of the process.

Think about the sorts of rules that will help you all get on and function well together. Consider these aspects of rulemaking.
  • Rules don’t have to be negative.
  • Provide reasons for rules. This will help your child accept limits.
  • Establish and agree on the consequences for not following a family rule.
  • Reward good behaviour. This can be as simple as noticing and praising something your child has done.

Resolving family conflict

As your preteen becomes more independent, they may assert themselves more.

It’s important to be calm and constructive with your child when dealing with conflict.

By role modelling this approach, you can help your preteen see conflict as a problem that can be resolved fairly.

This teaches them negotiation and compromise. It also sets them up for strong relationships.

Try this step-by-step approach to working through an issue if there’s sibling conflict.

You can also use these principles to sort out disagreements with your child or between any members of the family.
  • Help kids see conflict as a problem they can sort out fairly with help. You might say: “It looks like there’s a problem here. I’m sure we can sort it out.”
  • Ask your preteen to explain how they see the conflict. Focus on what they want or need – rather than blaming the other person.
  • Re-state each person’s concerns so everyone’s on the same page. For example, “So, you’re trying to make it to the next level of the game, and you’re worried that if you stop now you won’t get to it.”
  • Suggest at least three different solutions together. For example, “What are some ways to solve this so you can all feel okay about it?” You can also offer ideas for solutions.
  • Help them agree on a solution that will work. Put it into action.
  • Offer praise and support to your preteen for working through the issue.

Supporting school relationships

School life is an important part of your preteen’s social and emotional development.

Parent-teacher connections

A collaborative relationship with your preteen’s teacher is important. When you and your child’s teacher share the same information and strategies, your child knows what to expect.

This gives children consistency in approach, which is important for their mental health.

A good relationship is also helpful if there are any issues or concerns about your child. It allows a ready exchange of information to support your preteen.

Visit the Raising Children Network website to find out more about building strong relationships with teachers.

Teaching your child about friendships

From ages 9 to 11 friendships take on a whole new meaning.

Preteens often start to develop intense or close friendships, which can sometimes be short-lived.

It can be hard to protect your child from a friendship ending or from being left out of a social group.

You can use these strategies to help them build their resilience.
  • Pay attention to the friends your child is making.
  • Help them understand that friendships can change over time.
  • Encourage your child to spend time with new and different friends.
  • Teach them that it’s okay to say “no,” especially when it’s respectful.
  • Talk to your child about how to include friends – or let them down gently.
Go to the Raising Children Network website to learn more about friendships and friendship skills for your preteen.


Bullying can impact your child’s mental health and wellbeing. It can damage their confidence and self-esteem.

Bullying can happen in any environment – online (cyberbullying), in school, in the home or in another environment.

Bullying is never okay. It’s important to listen carefully and talk to your child if they say they’re feeling bullied.
  • Take it seriously
  • Intervene quickly.
  • Get support from school.
  • Comfort and reassure your preteen at home.
Visit the Bullying No Way website to understand bullying and notice the signs.

Read about this advice from the eSafety Commissioner to learn what to do if your child is bullying someone.

Digital technology and screen time

For most children, digital technology and screens are a regular part of life.

Computers, tablets, phones and gaming consoles can all be useful for play and learning in a healthy way.

Make sure your preteen:
  • also engages in activities where they move, are creative and social
  • watch or listen to quality content on their devices.
Visit the eSafety Commissioner website to find advice to help your child stay safe online.

Seeking support for your preteen

At this age, your child’s body, moods and social relationships might be changing rapidly.

It can be tricky to notice what is normal and when your child might be unsettled or struggling with their mental health.

What to do

Here are some practical steps to take if you’ve noticed your preteen is struggling.
  • Start by having a conversation with them.
  • Speak with their teacher or school counsellor to share information, gain insights and discover strategies to support them.
If your preteen’s change of behaviour lasts for more than a few weeks and is interfering with their daily life, speak to a health professional such as a GP.

Get urgent support

If you’re worried that your child is showing warning signs of suicide or self-harm, get help as soon as possible.
Call Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800)

Looking after your mental health and wellbeing

The demands of everyday life can sometimes feel overwhelming.

These stresses can increase if you are unsettled or struggling with your mental health, or your child is.

It’s important to get help early.

Support can come from your friends or family, or a health professional.

Take the anxiety and depression test (K10).

Improve your mental health and wellbeing journey with our Wellbeing Action Tool.

Get mental health support.

Supporting someone else

If you’re worried about someone who’s experiencing parenting stress, you might ask them how they’re doing. It can help.

Use these tips to talk to a parent you’re concerned about.

Further resources

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