Prepubertal Period in Child Development

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Puberty does not occur all at once. It gradually appears at the end of physiological childhood, between 10 and 12 years of age in girls, and between 11 and 13 years of age in boys. This period of a child’s development is called prepubertal. In those years, sex hormones became more active and as a result, the body gradually underwent changes that would be fully manifested during puberty. From noticeable changes: in girls, the breasts begin to grow, hair appears around the genitals, and the pelvic bones begin to grow abruptly, taking on the typical female anatomical shape. Also in boys, the changes become visible through the formation of the body in a typical anatomical male appearance. During these years, many children gain weight, which interferes with their physical activity and also becomes the subject of ridicule among their peers. Therefore, obesity is a source of emotional distress in children in the prepubertal period. But this phenomenon is transient in nature, so children should be distracted from their physical appearance and subtly explained that this is a transitional period to avoid possible psychological distress.

Sometimes, erection occurs in boys before puberty. This usually happens in a dream before the morning, when the bladder is full, or in the daily activity when the boy is riding a bicycle, when he is scared on other occasions of a non-sexual nature. Erections are usually not yet accompanied by sexual desires or fantasies. Parents should not pay much attention to this phenomenon. If the boy complains of erections or mentions them in any other way, it is necessary for the parents to briefly explain the physiological mechanism of the erection, and its further connection with the sexual drive.

Upon ending of prepuberty period, the child begins to grow rapidly. At the age of 10, boys are on average slightly taller than girls. Because girls enter prepuberty approximately 1 to 2 years ahead of their peers, girls between the ages of 11 and 14 are on average taller than boys. At about 14 years of age, boys begin to grow rapidly. Along with the general growth of the body, muscle mass also increases. In the 11th year, the strength of the child’s muscles is twice as strong as in the 6th year, and by the age of 16 it will double again.

The accelerated growth of the child’s body causes a certain imbalance in its functions. Work of the heart, lungs, digestive organs, regulation of body temperature, and other vital functions are more susceptible to change than in previous years or during adulthood. Therefore, changes in a child’s prepuberty include: slightly elevated body temperature, headaches, rapid heartbeat, etc., and are not as healthy as in other periods of life. Relatively fast growth usually increases appetite. Usually children in that period feel an increased need for sweets, because sugar is the fastest way to quench the need.

In prepuberty, along with physical changes, mental changes occur. Children become stubborn, disobedient, and defiant of their parents. In addition, there is increased curiosity about everything that happens around them, especially they take interested in adult activities. During these years, children become critical of their surroundings, engage in adult conversations, do not tolerate criticism, and impose their opinions. In children of this age, psychomotor activity is particularly characteristic. They are constantly on the move, jumping, shouting, running, talking a lot, making unusual movements and are prone to impulsive reactions. In addition, they are emotionally unstable, which means that they easily change their moods, often exaggerate the effect, are overly cheerful or extremely depressed. Sometimes they start crying or laughing for no real reason.

Sexism towards peers of the opposite sex is also characteristic. Girls underestimate boys, ignore them and do not want to hang out with them. And the boys tease the girls in turn, make fun of them and even physically attack them. They use the word “female” in an offensive sense, as a synonym for weakness, clumsiness, incompetence, and consider any sensitivity to be inappropriate for a boy. This is why many parents complain about boys’ rudeness and (apparent) insensitivity. However, these are natural physiological changes in a young person that are temporary in nature, and therefore do not require re-education.

It is also noticeable for boys in prepubertal age to use vulgar expressions, swear words, draw genitals, and collect erotic illustrations. It’s just an expression of the awakening of their sexual urge, which they still don’t know how to deal with. Instead of being punished and reprimanded, they need a conversation in a calm, serious, and friendly manner to help them better understand themselves and find their way to more mature behavior.

In relation to the school, superficiality and negligence are noticed. This is one of the reasons why many children achieve poor results in the fifth or sixth grade of primary school. There is also negligence in the attitude towards oneself, the child neglects the already acquired hygienic habits, involuntarily maintains personal hygiene and its clothes are untidy.

Characteristic of prepubertal children is that they no longer see parents and teachers as perfect examples. They become critical, revealing their weaknesses, and as a result, often lose confidence. They talk about them with some underestimation, calling them “old” or reluctantly mentioning them. Sometimes, with pleasure or some disappointment, they conclude that their parents and teachers are neither perfect nor all-knowing. This increases their self-confidence to some extent, but also leads them to have a averse relationship, often due to disappointment with the idea of ​​a “perfect example” that they had created for their authorities by then.

When parents begin to lose their authority in the child, it becomes disobedient and defiant. Therefore, the propensity for defiant behavior is typical for prepubertal children. In the family it manifests itself with weaker obedience to the parents, and in school it manifests itself with undisciplined behavior and weaker interest in school obligations. Most parents and teachers react very badly to these changes. They usually take a number of authoritative measures to try to discipline the children: they scold them, threaten them, criticize and punish them. But in this way they only make the situation worse. When a child looks at any authority with distrust, it becomes too sensitive to any self-authoritarian rigorous approach. That is why it reacts to the actions of the parent or teacher with even greater resistance. Its more or less normal tendency towards disobedience in the prepubertal years turns into a real neurotic defiance, which is a serious obstacle in the process of upbringing.

Children at that age, especially boys, are often called “impossible” and “difficult to raise.” Parents rarely realize that they themselves are often the cause of such behavior. If the children were brought up properly by that time, their authority will not be significantly shaken when the children enter the prepubertal period. At this age, there will be a crisis in the relationship between parents and teachers on the one hand, and the younger generation on the other, if the relationship between parents and children has been inadequate for years. Then the disagreement that already existed between them will only worsen. It will be very difficult for parents who have brought up their child wrong from the start to spontaneously reorient to positive parenting when the child is on the verge of puberty. They are much more likely to make even more mistakes in their upbringing because they will face bigger problems than problems when the children were small.