Cognitive Developmental Milestones of a 10-Year-Old

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Watching a child grow can sometimes feel like watching a kaleidoscope turn -- you know something is changing, but it’s hard to put your finger on the exact change. The primary change happening to a 10-year-old happens inside her mind. But paying attention to her actions will let you keep track of her as she grows. How she thinks will come out in how she acts.

Better Brains but Worse Test Scores?

By the age of 10, children should have begun to demonstrate abstract thinking skills. For example, 10-year-olds will begin to understand mathematical concepts such as variables, which aren’t numbers but mere placeholders for numbers. Regardless of where they appear, these abstract thinking abilities mark the movement from mental childishness to mental maturity. Yet, according to Hunter College, the 10-year-old’s abstract cognitive ability is fragile; under stress, 10-year-olds lose their ability to concentrate on abstract ideas and begin to think in more concrete terms, which can often explain low test scores in light of high homework performance.

Mind Reading: Even a 10-Year-Old Can Do It

As children enter their 10th year of life, they are beginning to understand the hopes, motives and needs of those around them. This ability stems from a cognitive ability that psychologists call the “theory of mind.” While children tend to develop the theory of mind at early ages, they only begin to actively use it to infer the thought processes of others near this age, according to John Gottman, developmental psychologist and author of “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child." Because of this cognitive ability, 10-year-olds are better at staying out of trouble, avoiding conflicts with those peers who seem to have it out for them.

Waking the Robot

While it might seem strange to hear that children “become self-aware” at approximately the age of 10, this is, in fact, true. After a decade of life, a child’s brain becomes increasingly self-aware, especially in terms of knowing its own feelings, needs and worldview. For the reason that they’re harder to order around, a parent often finds dealing with 10-year-old children to be more problematic than dealing with younger children. A 10-year-old is much more insistent on her actions, which often stems from possessing a different worldview -- a worldview that states that parents and children live in different worlds. Simultaneously, 10-year-olds begin to exert some control over their actions in response to strong emotions. They might feel sad but not cry, jealous but not act out. In the end, parents will find some good in this aspect of their 10-year-olds’ cognitive development.

Spock of the Social Realm

The emergence of logic in a 10-year-old’s brain leads to many logical actions, especially in the social realm, which is becoming of increasing importance to your child at this age. This is a time in which your child will actively seek out like-minded and popular friends in a conscious attempt to become better known and appreciated among his peers. He will begin dressing “in” and acting “cool.” And, while some parents might see such actions as conformity, in fact, these actions are simply logical responses to social cues. This is a time period in which your child will go far out of his way to avoid embarrassment and to obtain the acceptance of his peers. For this reason, he will also begin to hide his feelings, both from you and his peers, as certain types of emotional displays, such as crying after being teased, could be embarrassing and lose him “school cred.”