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Brace yourself -- your 9-year-old is entering the phase commonly known as the tween years, the threshold of adolescence. Although physical growth during this period is generally slow compared to his growth as a young child and the growth coming in the teen years, mental development is substantial. By age 9, as he enters the third or fourth grade, your child has conquered the basics of reading and math. Schoolwork focuses more on helping him understand what he learns and apply it to other situations than on rote memorization or the mechanics of learning to read.
Increased Attention Span
At age 9, you start to see a big difference in your child's attention span. He can now sit and concentrate for 30 to 45 minutes at a time, unlike his earlier years where it was difficult for him to maintain concentration for that long. Hobbies that require closer attention to detail and better hand-eye coordination, such as building intricate models, often absorb him. A 9-year-old is an enthusiastic game player, able to handle more complex games that involve money, property or strategy. At this age, your child might spend long periods of time reading and enjoy both fiction and nonfiction, gobbling up series books that follow a character or group of characters through numerous adventures.
Very young children see the world in concrete terms. They take what they see at face value and can't look beyond what they're able to see and touch. Your 9-year-old can apply other information to a situation -- relying on past experiences and things he's read or been taught -- and make judgments. Having a 9-year-old might take you back to the preschool days of "Why, why, why." He'll want to know the reason something happened, not just what happened, and he might develop anxiety over the possibility of dangerous situations affecting him.
Feelings About Himself
A 9-year-old might vacillate between thinking he can do anything and thinking he can't do anything right. The world can be very black and white as far as right and wrong at age 9. At this age, kids often have great beginnings but poor follow-through. The child who starts with great enthusiasm to build a fort quits after nailing a few boards together because it's harder than he thought it was. He might have big dreams for himself and can imagine himself doing certain jobs as an adult. Because he realizes that he isn't the center of the universe, he will often enjoy helping out or doing things for others.
Your 9-year-old and his friends are at the right developmental age for private clubs, hidden handshakes and secret passwords. Kids this age love to belong to a group; friendships and rankings are very important. At this age, boys and girls often form separate groups, declaring "war" on each other or holding battle-of-the-sexes competitions. With this comes the advent of stronger peer pressure to conform to the group. Your 9-year-old might also make fun of other kids and exchange harsh insults even with his friends.
You're no longer the center of your 9-year-old's world the way you were when he was younger. Friendships, school and outside activities have displaced you as his primary interest as he starts the process of becoming independent, but you're still a big part of his life and your approval is still important to him. Allow your child to spend time alone and to have responsibility for himself to the degree that you find comfortable. Don't expect him to hang around the dinner table talking with you -- he has places to go and things to do.
Suzanne Robin is a registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology. She also has extensive experience working in home health with developmentally delayed or medically fragile children. Robin received her RN degree from Western Oklahoma State College. She has coauthored and edited numerous books for the Wiley "Dummies" series.