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Brain Development in Children

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9 Years Old: The Manipulator

Milestone: Stretching the Truth

What You're Seeing: “Amelia started lying to get her big brother in trouble. In the past, I usually believed her over him when they squabbled because she was always honest in an innocent way. It's like she's trying to use my trust to her advantage now.” —Christina Lauro, Babylon, NY

Why: Fibs don't suddenly appear at 9, but they're surely more sophisticated now. Your kiddo is being “thrust full throttle toward expressing independence by talking back, at times even subtle manipulation, and lying,” notes Allison S. Baker, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist and director of the Adolescent Program at the ColumbiaDoctors Midtown in New York City. But it's not all negative. “Your child is figuring out how others react in different situations, which can only help in the future,” explains Dr. Baker.

Help Him Along: Guide his moral compass by way of dinnertime chitchat. The ol' “How was school today?” generally goes nowhere. “Instead, zero in on who sat with whom at lunch, or what they played at recess—that's when all the real action happens,” says developmental psychologist Melanie Killen, Ph.D., professor of human development and quantitative methodology at the University of Maryland. You'll hear about the social interactions going on at school and be able to segue into the consequences of lying and gossiping.

10 Years Old: Social Explorer

Milestone: Expanding Social Groups

What You're Seeing: “Shared interests—often, Minecraft—have become the focus of most playdates. They get together and just show each other the cool things they built.” —Kara Hill, Mechanicsville, VA

Why: A few years ago, they'd play with whoever was around. Now they're looking for reasons to choose playmates. And belonging to a group is becoming super important. “Further cognitive development depends on something called schemas,” says Rubin. They're like mental shortcuts that help kids quickly size up their surroundings, but they can also feed stereotypes (“girls wear pink” or “boys are good at math”). “A child this age doesn't have the frontal-lobe development to see that how he or others are being labeled may not be the truth,” says cognitive neuroscientist Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., chief director of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas and author of Make Your Brain Smarter.

Help Him Along: Ten-year-olds often can't see beyond the 20 kids in their class. “Diversify her portfolio,” says Killen. “Show her she can be a part of multiple groups.” Encourage out-of-school activities where kids can mix and mingle. And keep this finding from the journal Developmental Psychology in mind: Girls who played “boy heavy” sports (like basketball and softball) and boys who joined “feminine” classes (like art, music, or cooking) at age 10 showed more interest in math two years later than peers who didn't.