Emotional Changes in Preadolescence

Preadolescence is a complicated stage, even emotionally. Today we want to tell you about the emotional changes in preadolescence.
Emotional Changes in Preadolescence
María José Roldán

Written and verified by the psychopedagogue María José Roldán.

Last update: 17 March, 2023

Preadolescence is a complicated stage not only for parents but also for children, who begin to notice how their bodies and minds are changing. That’s why we’re going to tell you about the emotional changes in preadolescence so that you know everything that’s coming and, also, so that your children know that what’s happening to them is normal.

In fact, it’s a very important time, because children build their identity, which will mark their personality in the future. Normally, the preadolescence period ranges from 11 to 13 years old. In addition, as a parent, you’ll notice that your child, who until recently was a child who wanted to spend all their time with you, now seeks more independence.

The life they lead, school, friends, and pretty much everything begins to change for them. At this stage, new challenges appear that can generate stress and emotional vulnerability. All this happens because there are changes in brain development and, sometimes, preteens won’t be able to control or regulate their emotions. Therefore, they’ll have impulsive behavior that if not managed well, can lead to anxiety or stress problems.

Two pre-teem girls sitting outside talking.
The emotional changes of preadolescence are just as significant as the biological and physical changes.

The preadolescent brain

The brain is responsible for all of the emotional changes of preadolescence, as there are regions that are involved in emotional regulation, including the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex. At this stage, there begins to be a structural and functional development that’s extended over time.

Therefore, problems and disorders that occur directly due to poor emotional regulation may begin to appear. It’s at this age when severe problems such as anxiety, antisocial behavior, or even depression can appear.

Emotional characteristics in preadolescence

Next, we’ll explain what the most important characteristics or changes in preadolescence are. Don’t miss a thing:

  • Lack of emotional regulation. They have emotional reactivity and instability and take unnecessary risks.
  • Rejection of a part of their close environment. For example, rejection of parents in favor of highly influential friends.
  • Negative thoughts. Negative thoughts and intense emotions that are considered unpleasant appear.
  • They seek immediate rewards. These make them feel good and, therefore, they don’t think about the risk of their actions. They’re driven by impulsivity and don’t recognize long-term effort.
  • They want others to like them. They look for ways to make their friends like them because they’re a great influence on them. They’re capable of adapting their tastes and thoughts, even if it means moving away from their family on an emotional level.
  • They have feelings of shame. They may feel embarrassed about their physique or the changes that occur in their body.
  • They want to be alone. The search for intimacy becomes necessary and they want to spend time alone when they’re at home or with their friends, but they become progressively more distant from their parents.
  • Constant mood swings. One moment, they can be happy and laugh out loud, and the next, they can be angry or sad.
  • They’re selfish. Although they’re concerned about the opinions others have of them, they’re selfish and think only of themselves.
  • Changes in thinking or behavior. At this stage, there may also be changes in their way of thinking to disassociate themselves from the child they were before and begin to identify more with the adult world.
  • Sexuality appears. The discovery of sexuality can also make them feel some confusion. The time of masturbation and other aspects that should be treated normally may begin.
A pre-teen couple.
In pre-adolescence, children begin to have ideas of wanting to have a partner and to experience love, or begin to notice sexual impulses.

Parents must be present and be guides

At this stage, communication, empathy, and assertiveness must be worked on a lot to avoid constant conflicts. Children will need adults to understand them at all times and to be there to listen to them. And, above all, we need to be their guides whenever they need us. It’s a complex age, but it’s when they need their parents more than ever, even if they themselves don’t realize it.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Pellai, A., Tamborini, B. (2018) La edad del tsunami: Cómo sobrevivir a un hijo preadolescente. Editorial: Paidós

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.