Child development: Children (5-12 years)

The primary school years are a time of significant physical, cognitive, social, and emotional change. Children are rapidly learning new skills, absorbing new information and becoming more independent. Understanding child development during this period can help parents and carers support children's growth and development in a positive and meaningful way.

Developmental milestones

During the primary school years, developmental milestones become less formal, and the focus shifts towards monitoring children's performance outcomes in key learning areas at school. Every child is different in how they develop, and children may be stronger in some areas than others.

Ensuring your child is developing at the right speed or skill for their age allows them to be prepared to learn effectively. Working closely and collaboratively with your child’s school and teachers is important. Teachers are with your child every weekday and with other children of a similar age. They may also be able to identify any developmental delay or missed milestones in their learning and assessment. 

If your child is experiencing challenges with their fine or gross motor skills, talk with their teacher to see if individual adjustments can be made to support their learning and development.

Gross motor skills

Gross motor skills use larger muscles to help you perform basic movements such as walking, running, and jumping. In primary school, your child’s gross motor skills develop to allow for more speed and skill and improve body and object control. This allows for children to:

  • improve coordination and balance
  • develop social skills such as communication and teamwork
  • develop emotional skills such as winning and losing graciously
  • increase confidence in physical activities
  • be exposed to new sports.

Children are introduced to basic movement skills in predictable scenarios in the early primary school years. They practice movement, balance and control as they learn how their body can move.

In the later primary years, children focus on the quality of these movements and adapt skills to new or more challenging settings. Children learn to perform these skills with more precision and apply movement to various games and sports in different sequences.

Fine motor skills

Fine motor skills involve the coordination of small muscles in the wrist, hand, fingers, and even toes. Fine motor skills help your child manipulate or move objects and interact with the world in more detail. They include:

  • holding a pencil
  • tying their shoelace
  • cutting with scissors
  • holding a glue stick
  • typing on a keyboard.

In primary school, your child’s fine motor skills develop to allow for more accuracy, precision, skill, and speed. They also allow for children to:

  • express their ideas
  • showcase creativity
  • become more independent
  • communicate knowledge
  • develop new skills or hobbies.

Language and communication

Language skills involve the ability to document, communicate, and understand thoughts, feelings, and needs through words, speech, and texts.

In the early primary school years, children focus on the foundations including learning to read and understand texts, as well as writing and forming basic sentences. 

In the later primary school years, children focus on developing the depth and breadth of their vocabulary. They develop their reading fluency and comprehension as well as develop their grammar and punctuation.

Developmental delay

The term developmental delay is when a child is developing skills more slowly than other children in the same age group. Developmental milestones are a general guide, and some children may reach milestones earlier or later. 

Early identification

The earlier your child's developmental delay is identified, and supports are put in place, the better the outcome for your child and family.

Developmental delays can be a concern for parents, but it's important to remember that a delay in reaching certain milestones doesn’t always mean there is a long-term issue. In many cases, it simply means your child needs some extra time or support in some areas. There are services that can assess and support children with developmental delays to help them reach their full potential. 

Speak to your family doctor or paediatrician if your child isn’t developing at the same rate as other children the same age. 

Early intervention services

Developmental delay is treated with early intervention. Early intervention means providing support early to help children "catch up". This includes therapy, support, education, and monitoring from professionals such as: 

  • occupational therapists  
  • audiologists  
  • physiotherapists  
  • psychologists  
  • speech pathologists  
  • social workers.  

These professionals will help your child to develop the skills they need to thrive. Some children require less or no support as they get older due to early intervention.  

If you are concerned about the support for your child, talk to your doctor about the possibility of accessing support through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The NDIS provides funding to assist children under six years old with developmental delays in accessing therapy and support for early intervention. 


Neurodivergence is when a child’s brain functions differently from the majority of people who are at a similar age and stage. People who are neurodivergent may see the world differently from others. This includes diagnoses such as Autism and ADHD.

If your child is neurodivergent and you haven't already, talk to your doctor about accessing support through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The NDIS provides funding to assist children with neurodivergence to access therapy and support for early intervention as well as ongoing services. 

Skill regression

Regression is when your child goes backwards in their development and may behave, act or perform in a younger or needier way. Skill regression can occur at any age and may happen because children are in a new situation, such as attending preschool. Some skill regression is common; however, if you have concerns, speak to your family doctor or paediatrician. 

Social and emotional development

Positive social and emotional development is essential for children’s health, wellbeing, safety and success.


Your school-aged child is likely to have more independence than they have ever had before. This can be exciting, frustrating or stressful for you and your child. Although getting children involved may take longer to complete activities, it is crucial to their development as it:

  • increases their confidence
  • enhances motivation
  • builds self-esteem
  • helps problem-solving skills
  • fosters empowerment.

You can build your child’s independence by providing opportunities where they can safely make choices or complete activities on their own. If giving your child choices, give a few appropriate options. Open-ended questions may result in undesirable answers that could lead you to refuse your child's choice because it is either unhealthy or impractical.

Morals and values

As your child becomes more aware of themselves and the world around them, they will develop a stronger sense of what is right and wrong. Children are likely to question things to figure out what is fair, equal, or just in different situations. 

Their morals and values guide their decisions, impact their behaviour and subsequently shape their identity. You can help your child develop good morals and values by demonstrating and encouraging them to be:

  • honest
  • respectful
  • compassionate
  • responsible
  • generous
  • cooperative
  • caring.


As children become more aware of the world and experience new people and settings, they may develop fears that might be real or imagined. Children may have a fear of ghosts, the dark, or going to school. Even if you don’t necessarily find it threatening, take your child’s fear seriously, as it is quite real for them. You can:

  • ask your child about their fear to find out what they are worried about in particular
  • help your child put things into perspective
  • be honest and truthful in an age-appropriate way
  • provide reassurance that they are safe
  • ask what would help alleviate the fear and implement strategy if appropriate. 

If your child’s fear or anxieties are disrupting their everyday life, talk to your local doctor for support and guidance. 

See the Mental health or the Anxiety disorders factsheet for more information.

Starting primary school

Starting primary school can be an exciting and nerve-wracking time for you and your child. You can enrol your child in primary school if they are turning five on or before the 31st of July of that school year. Legally, all children should be in school by their sixth birthday. 

Education in public schools is free. However, schools may request families to make voluntary contributions.

Preparing for primary school

The transition to primary school can start well before their first day and helps them prepare for this change. You can:

  • talk positively about primary school with your child
  • read books about primary school
  • visit your child’s school to familiarise them with the environment
  • confirm your child’s immunisation schedule is up to date
  • inform the school if your child has or is currently undergoing tests for any allergies, health conditions, developmental delays or disabilities
  • ensuring your child has the correct uniform, including shoes that they can secure themselves
  • label your child’s items so they don’t get lost
  • practice consistent routines with your child, including waking times, morning tea and lunch
  • teach your child to:
    • carry and open their bag easily
    • go to the toilet independently and wash their hands
    • write and recognise their own name
    • open their lunchbox and containers.

Starting primary school

When your child starts primary school, there are some things that you can do to make their transition as smooth as possible. You can:

  • pack a spare change of clothes in case of accidents
  • always include a hat and water bottle
  • organise and communicate with you child their care and travel arrangements before and after school
  • pack a healthy and nutritious lunchbox
  • show them where the toilet is when they arrive in case they need to go urgently 
  • tell your child what you will be doing while they are at school so they do not worry about you.


Your child is likely to be given some homework from their school to practice new skills or reinforce the knowledge they have learnt. It is also an opportunity for you to see what your child is learning, how they are coping, and if any areas that need additional focus. 

You can support your child with their homework by:

  • providing space and appropriate equipment to complete homework
  • encouraging a regular time dedicated to their homework
  • guiding as opposed to showing children how to do a task
  • participating in activities that require your involvement, such as reading.

If your child is struggling with their homework, talk with their teacher for support or advice.


In primary school, children explore and develop friendships through play, activities, and games. School-aged children may understand that a friend is someone with similar interests, is close by who they get along with, or helps them achieve their goals. 

In the younger years, children may play with different friends day-to-day. As they get older, they may have a few closer friends or a group they enjoy being around more than others.

Childhood friendships look different to adult friendships. What children expect from a friend usually increases with age; therefore, your child may call someone a friend more easily than we would. 

Benefits of friendships

Friendships are important as they provide children with opportunities to:  

  • communicate and relate to others  
  • practice strategies to manage their feelings and emotions  
  • learn how to win and lose appropriately 
  • practice overcoming disagreements or arguments with others  
  • develop social skills such as empathy, patience, and sharing  
  • gain a sense of belonging 
  • grow their self-esteem. 

Making friends

Making friends is one step towards gaining greater independence. Some children will easily make friends; others may find it more challenging. If your child is struggling to make connections with others, there are things you can do to increase opportunities to make friends:

  • talk to your child’s school teacher to see if they can create opportunities for your child to play with someone with similar interests
  • build your child’s self-confidence and self-esteem by pointing out their good qualities to make them better appreciate themselves 
  • teach your child how to be a good friend 
  • place your child in organised activities that involve other children, such as dancing, to allow them to meet new people whilst also getting active
  • consider car-pooling with another child your child likes being around; this could also save you time and allow your child the time to develop stronger connections
  • see if the school offers lunch clubs or after-school activities that they could join
  • organise catch-ups with new people, such as a work colleague or an old friend with children of a similar age.

In addition to maximising opportunities to make friends, talk, engage and connect with your child to build stronger connections. You still have the largest influence on their growth and development at this age. 


In the primary school years, children are learning to share, regulate their emotions, and socialise with others. This can sometimes lead to disagreements and arguments and some children may be mean or rude. However, it is important to understand that there is a difference between disagreements and bullying.  

Bullying is considered to be intentional, repeated, aggressive behaviour toward someone. It is where an individual or group threaten, harm or control someone to cause harm or distress. It can take many forms and may include a combination of:

  • verbal
  • physical
  • social
  • cultural or
  • cyberbullying.

Bullying can be harmful to a child's developing sense of self and mental health. Keep an eye out for warning signs and maintain an open line of communication to ensure your child is comfortable talking about potential issues or concerns. 

See Bullying for more on warning signs and how you can help support children who are being bullied or who are bullying.


Hand hygiene

Children have immature immune systems, which makes them vulnerable to getting sick more often. Your child is frequently interacting with new environments and different people such as childcare, public playgrounds, and libraries. As a result, your preschooler comes into contact with new germs and bacteria that can easily spread and make them sick. 

Good hand hygiene and handwashing can prevent many infections.

See the Hand hygiene factsheet for more information.

Toilet hygiene

Daytime wetting

Daytime wetting is when a child cannot control their bladder and leaks urine while they are awake. Accidents can happen from time to time in the early years; however, if your child is over five years old and is regularly wetting during the day, speak to your family doctor. 

See the Daytime wetting factsheet for more information.


Children tend to start to be dry overnight between three and five years old. However, bedwetting can continue into the younger years of primary school. Around 1 in 5, five-year olds wet the bed overnight. 

See the Bedwetting factsheet for more information.


Constipation is when poo becomes too hard and difficult to pass through the rectum when a child goes to the toilet. It is a common problem in children and can be treated with a healthy diet and good toilet habits. Some children can poo three or four times a day, and others may go twice a week without any problems. Pay attention to what is normal for your child. 

See the Constipation factsheet for more information.


Encopresis is also called soiling. It is a condition where children have runny poo that they can’t control due to unknown severe constipation. This happens when there is a build-up of loose, liquid poo that leaks around the hard, older poo that is stuck in the bowel. Speak to your doctor if your child shows signs of encopresis or soiling. 

See the Soiling and encopresis - Constipation factsheet for more information. 

Mental health

Mental health is a key component of a person’s health and wellbeing. Mental ill health can impact the way your child feels, thinks, and acts across the day and can have secondary impacts on the way they perceive relationships, schoolwork, stress, and everyday life. 

Supporting your child’s mental health is an ongoing process. Talking to your child about their mental health may seem like a difficult task, but it is a critical aspect of raising children. 

Supportive environments early

Mental health challenges often begin during childhood and can contribute to poor outcomes if left untreated. Early intervention and prevention are key to promoting good mental health and wellbeing.

Finding relevant and useful services is one of the best places to start seeking some help around mental ill health. However, if you think you or your child are at immediate risk of harm, call Triple Zero (000) or visit any hospital emergency department.

See Mental Health in Australia for more information on support and services.

Physical activity

Physical activity is essential for your child’s physical development, emotional resilience, cognitive and social development. In primary school, physical activity may be through organised sport, active travel, play or incidental movement. Physical activity all adds up to create happy, active kids with habits that will benefit them well into their older adulthood. 


Children and young people aged 5 to 17 years of age should aim for at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day involving mainly aerobic activities. 

They should incorporate strengthening activities on at least 3 days in the week for example: 

  • climbing
  • hopping
  • jumping
  • running.

When exercising, your child will likely lose fluids and electrolytes faster than they normally would. Therefore, fluids are essential to maintain hydration, especially on hot or humid days.

Fundamental movement skills

The fundamental movement skills are basic movement patterns that assist your child in participating and mastering more complex physical and recreational activities. Children do not participate or master fundamental movement skills by themselves, naturally. They need to be intentionally taught by parents, teachers, coaches and role models in their lives. 

In the primary school years, fundamental movement skills should be introduced, if they haven't already, and intentionally taught. This is because children do not naturally master fundamental movement skills by themselves. In the primary school years, fundamental movement skills should eventually be mastered, however will depend on what stage of development your child is.

The more confident your child is in the fundamental movement skills, the more likely they are to be active and participate in sport and physical activity, both competitively and socially with friends. 

See Physical activity for more information.


Your child needs good quality sleep for their growth, development and learning. While they sleep, their brain and body are working hard to recover, restore and prepare for the next day. If your child has enough sleep, they are likely to be happier, have more energy, and be more active.

Sleep recommendations

Children aged 5 to 13 years of age need 9-11 hours of good quality and uninterrupted sleep every 24 hours.

Every child is different, and your child may need more or less sleep than the guide. If your child is having regular daytime naps at this age, is struggling with their sleep, or their sleep is impacting your family, speak with your doctor. 

See Sleep for more information.

"There is a huge reduction in negative mental health outcomes during adulthood if children sleep well during these important development stages. Think of it as an investment" - Dr Chris Seton (Paediatric & Adolescent Sleep Physician).

In primary school, children may use screens such as phones or tablets more regularly. Screens block the release of melatonin, a hormone that is released by the brain in response to darkness and helps children fall asleep. As screens emit light later at night they can offset melatonin and delay your child’s body clock. Screens should be avoided for at least an hour before their bedtime. 

Screen time

Screens have become increasingly a part of children’s lives and can be useful and enjoyable for families. They can offer time for children to connect with family, be creative, and learn. 

In primary school, screens are often used for homework, education, leisure activities, and communication with friends and family as they get older. 

See Online safety – screen time if your child does have their own devices and is connected to the internet.

Screen time recommendations

For children and young people aged 5–17 years, it is recommended they have no more than two hours of sedentary recreational screen time each day (this does not include required schoolwork).

While screen time has many benefits, excessive time spent in front of a screen can impact many aspects of a child’s growth and development, including their physical health, mental wellbeing, ability to form social connections, and disrupted sleep patterns. 

See Screen time for more information, including tips to help reduce your child’s screen time. 

Nutrition and eating habits

Providing your child with a well-balanced and nutritious diet is crucial to support their physical growth, immune system, cognition, and bone health. By primary school, most children have well-established eating habits; however, their appetites can change. 

See Healthy Eating for Children for information on encouraging healthy habits.

Being a good role model

Children watch others and learn from people around them. Remember to role model healthy food choices.


Tap water is recommended as the drink of choice and is essential for hydration. Active children should be encouraged to drink regularly to make sure they do not feel thirsty. Children should be encouraged to keep a water bottle with them and to drink during activities such as sports.

Children aged 5 to 8 years are recommended to have 5 cups or 1.2 litres of water per day.

Children aged 9 to 13 years are recommended to have 6 cups or 1.5 litres of water per day.

School nutrition


As your child enters primary school, you will need to start packing a healthy lunchbox for their school day. Involving children in choosing or packing their lunch can be a fun healthy eating learning experience. A healthy lunchbox contains:

  • a variety of food from the five food groups
  • no discretionary items
  • a refillable water bottle.

Ensure that children are confident with opening their lunchboxes, containers, or packets so they can access their food. Remember to pack any utensils your child may need, such as a fork or a spoon. You can pack ice bricks to keep food cool or use a thermos to keep food warm. 

See Food safety for information on keeping food at the right temperature.


Your child’s school may participate in a program called ‘Crunch&Sip’ or similar initiatives such as ‘fruit breaks’. These programs are set times during the day for children to refuel with fruit or vegetables and rehydrate with water. Contact your child’s school to find out if they are participating. 

See Crunch&Sip for more information.


Puberty is a normal part of growing up - everyone experiences it! It is when a child is transitioning into an adult and undergoing significant physical, emotional, and social changes. 

These changes are driven by a natural increase of chemicals in a child’s body called hormones, and these hormones help your child reach reproductive and emotional maturity.

Onset of puberty

Puberty happens at different times for different people, and there is no way of knowing when your child will begin puberty. Your child will develop at their own pace; however, girls tend to start puberty earlier than boys. The age range when puberty happening includes:

  • girls: generally, between 8 to 13 years
  • boys: generally, between 9 to 14 years.

Puberty won’t happen overnight. Your child will experience hormonal changes before physical changes gradually occur. 

Puberty can take anywhere between 18 months and five years to complete. Your child’s body will develop at the right pace for them. However, if you are concerned about your child’s development or the onset of puberty is before or after these ranges, speak to your family doctor.

Physical changes for females

The increase in hormones in your child will trigger the following physical changes in females: 

  • breasts: breasts will start to develop as small buds under the nipples. The skin around the nipple called the areola, will get bigger and darker and may grow hair. It is normal for breast buds to feel tender or sensitive while growing. Crop tops and training bras can be worn to give extra support.
  • body shape: the pelvis (or hips) gets wider, and her body may become curvier
  • hair: hair on the arms and legs gets darker. Hair will also start to grow around the vulva and underarms. There may also be hair growth on the nipples, stomach, back and face.
  • height: girls get taller, and this is often referred to as a ‘growth spurt’
  • muscles: muscles will start to grow, and they will become stronger
  • genitals: the external genitals will become darker in colour
  • vaginal discharge: there will be discharge (a clear, whiteish, or creamy-coloured secretion) that comes out of the vagina about 6 –12 months before the first period and between or during subsequent periods. This discharge is natural and can be thin, thick, sticky, or gooey. Discharge helps keep your vagina clean, moist and works to prevent infections. Your child may like to wear a liner in her underwear to keep them dry.
  • menstrual cycle: also known as a period, where the lining of the uterus grows, the ovaries release an egg, and the lining sheds when the egg is not fertilised. This may come with period pain such as cramps, back pain or aches. Your child may also experience pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). See the section below on ‘Periods’.
  • pimples: the glands in the skin get bigger and produce more oil. This can lead to dirt and oil build-up in areas such as the face, shoulders, back and neck, which have more oil glands. Increased oil production in these areas can cause whiteheads, blackheads and pimples. Severe breakouts of pimples can be caused by a condition called acne. See your local doctor or dermatologist if you are concerned.

There is a large variation in development throughout puberty, and it doesn’t look the same for everyone. Your child can increase their independence by learning to manage their different hygiene needs during puberty. See the 'caring for the body during puberty' section below for advice to support your child and their body during puberty.

Physical changes for males

The increase in hormones in your child will trigger the following physical changes in males:

  • voice: the voice will become noticeably deeper because the larynx (or Adam’s apple) becomes larger and may become more obvious. The voice may take a while to ‘break’, causing his voice to fluctuate in depth. 
  • hair: hair on the arms and legs gets darker and thicker. Hair also starts to grow on the face, underarms, pubic area, chest and back and can continue to grow into their 20s. Hair gets thicker and darker as they grow and age.
  • height: males get taller, which is often referred to as a ‘growth spurt’ 
  • muscles: muscles will start to grow, and they will become stronger
  • body and face shape: his shoulders will widen, his chest will broaden, and the shape of the jaw and face will change
  • pimples/acne: the glands in the skin get bigger and produce more oil. This can lead to dirt and oil build-up in areas such as the face, shoulders, back and neck, which have more oil glands. Increased oil production in these areas can cause whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, and acne.
  • breast development: it is normal for males to have some small breast growth and tenderness during puberty but this will usually go away as they age. The skin around the nipple called the areola, will get bigger and darker and may grow hair.  
  • genitals: the scrotum, which is the skin that holds the testicles, lowers and darkens in colour. The external genitals (penis, scrotum and testicles) also grow bigger. Penises come in all shapes and sizes and are unique to each person. Reproduction and sexual function don’t depend on penis size.

There is a large variation in how your child develops throughout puberty, and it isn’t the same for everyone. These physical changes mean that your child will need to take increasing responsibility for their hygiene to ensure they are healthy and clean. See the 'caring for the body during puberty' section below for advice to support your child and their body during puberty.


During puberty, the menstrual cycle will begin. 

The menstrual cycle is a process the female reproductive system goes through each month to prepare the body for pregnancy. The ovaries become active and release matured eggs around once a month. A period will occur if eggs aren’t fertilised and a woman doesn’t become pregnant.

The menstrual cycle

  1. Hormones in the body tell the ovaries to produce an egg, usually from one side of the ovary but sometimes both!
  2. While this is happening, the uterus will start to grow a lining full of blood and nutrients to prepare for an egg. 
  3. When the egg has matured, it will be released by the ovary. The egg will travel down the fallopian tubes and arrive in the uterus 16-32 hours later. This is called ovulation.
  4. Pregnancy:
    1. If there is sperm present, it can meet with an egg. This is called fertilisation.
    2. The fertilised egg can then bury itself into the lining of the uterus. This is called implantation.
    3. A fertilised egg that has implanted in the uterus can grow into a pregnancy.
  5. No pregnancy:
    1. If there is no sperm to fertilise the egg, the egg will continue to travel and eventually break down and be absorbed back into the body
    2. Because there is no pregnancy, the lining of the uterus is not needed and will start to break down
    3. Once the lining starts to break down, it will flow out of the cervix and vagina as a bleed, also known as a period
    4. While the bleed is happening, the ovaries will be preparing for the next cycle which will then repeat each month.

Did you know? The left and right ovaries usually alternate releasing an egg each month.


What to expect

The first period will usually start between 11 to 14 years old. Generally, a period or menstrual cycle is about 28 days, including 3 to 7 days of bleeding. This can vary and is not always the same. It is normal for periods to be irregular for the first few years, but they tend to settle into a regular pattern over time. Periods usually last anywhere between 3 to 7 days.

The cycle is counted from the first day of the period or bleed until the first day of the next period. Periods tend to be heavier on Day 1 and get lighter towards the end of the period.

What is normal for one teenager can be different for another.  A person's period is unique to them. A period can look different in terms of:

  • what colour or texture the bleed is
  • how it makes you feel physically and emotionally
  • how long the bleed goes for and how long in between
  • how old you are when you get your first period.

It is important that your child is familiar with what is normal for them so they can be confident in managing their period. Talk to your family doctor if:

  • you or your child have any concerns
  • something changes
  • mood swings, pain or other symptoms disrupt their daily activities
  • your child does not feel quite right.

Supporting your child with their period

It is normal for parents, carers and children to be anxious about expecting the first period and the many changes it brings. You can help your child by having early conversations about:

  • different period products, where you can buy them and how they are used
  • what to expect from your first period
  • how to dispose of used period products
  • managing cramps, pain and other symptoms
  • how they can continue doing activities like sports and swimming when they are on their period
  • eating and drinking well during their period 
  • pain and other signs that something might be wrong
  • where relevant, your own experience with periods.

Conversations with your child about sex, pregnancy, and the menstrual cycle are important to:

  • explain why their period happens
  • learn about how to prevent pregnancy
  • safeguard your child from harm
  • help your child understand how their body works and how to take care of it
  • reduce stigma
  • help your child know when something is not right.

Blood on clothes or sheets

Getting blood on underwear, clothes, or sheets is very common and is nothing to be ashamed of. It happens to most if not all, females at some stage throughout their reproductive years. If this happens, sheets or clothing can be rinsed, soaked, and washed with cold water and detergent.

Managing periods

You can help your child develop their independence and manage their period on their own by:

  • making a period pack that contains period products, tissues, spare underwear and other items 
  • encouraging them to keep track of their periods on their phone, an app or a diary
  • trying different products to figure out what works best for them.

In NSW, every public school offers free period products to support students’ access to clean and hygienic materials from clean dispensers. The period products available will depend on local needs and preferences and may include one or a combination of pads, tampons or period underwear. Talk to your child's Principal to see if this applies to their school.


Pads stick to the inside of the underwear and absorb blood that comes out of the vagina. There are different pad options depending on flow rate and activities participating in. Pads should be changed every 3 to 4 hours, or when they are full, and can be purchased at most supermarkets and pharmacies.


Tampons are inserted into the vagina and absorb blood before it leaves the body. Tampons are useful for activities such as swimming. 

Remind your child to wash their hands before inserting and removing a tampon. Tampons should be changed every 3 to 4 hours during the day, or when full, and should never be left in for more than eight hours due to the rare risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). Tampons can be purchased at most shops and pharmacies.

Period underwear

Period underwear looks like regular underwear but has an absorbent and leak-resistant layer. Period underwear can be purchased at most supermarkets and pharmacies. They are washable and reusable and can be used in combination with other period products.

Menstrual cup

Menstrual cups are small silicone cup that sits inside the vagina and catches blood before it leaves the body.  Follow the manufacturer's instructions on safely emptying, cleaning and reusing your menstrual cup. Look out for trusted brands to help prevent the rare risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).

Disposing of period products

Never flush period products down the toilet as they will block drains. Instead, place them in the bin or a sanitary disposable unit, if available.

Male reproductive system

Erections happen when the penis fills with blood and becomes thicker, stiffer and longer. This can occur when boys are excited, nervous, have lots of blood going through their body, have romantic/sexy feelings, or sometimes there is no reason at all. 

Boys begin to produce sperm in the testicles during puberty which allows them to ejaculate. If an erect penis is stimulated, sperm, in a fluid called semen, is carried through the urethra and out the tip of the penis. This is called ejaculation and allows males to reproduce. Males can’t urinate and ejaculate at the same time as there is a valve in the penis that only lets one through at a time.

Wet dreams occur when ejaculation happens during sleep. The name can be misleading as your child might not necessarily have a dream or physically wet the bed or sheets. It occurs whilst their bodies are getting used to sperm production and the frequency of wet dreams reduce as teenage boys gets older. If this happens, explain to your child it is a normal part of puberty and guide them through the correct hygiene tips to clean and wash any semen off clothes or bedsheets.

Social and emotional changes during puberty

Puberty causes social and emotional changes in addition to physical changes.

Mood changes

The increase in hormones during puberty will impact how your child thinks, feels and acts. Your child is still learning how to manage their emotions and, therefore, may have fluctuations in their mood. Your child may be happy and excited one minute and flat, sad or insecure the next. Some fluctuations are normal, and it can be useful to discuss helpful coping strategies with your child. However, if mood swings or negative emotions persist or disrupt daily activities, speak with your child and seek support from your family doctor. 

See Mental health for more information.


During puberty, your child might start to be attracted to other people and develop intimate feelings towards others. Physical and hormonal changes from puberty increase sexual feelings, thoughts, and desires. Children may develop a crush or be in a relationship with another person.

Your child may be interested in someone from the opposite sex, same-sex, or both sexes. Others may not be interested in dating, which is also common. There is no right or wrong age to develop an attraction towards others, and your child shouldn’t feel pressured to date, even if their friends are.

Body image

Body image is an individual's thoughts, feelings, and attitudes about their body and appearance, including their shape, size and weight. A healthy body image is when your child feels comfortable and confident in their own body and appreciates their worth irrespective of their physical appearance. 

During puberty, children may become more self-conscious about their appearance and vulnerable to developing negative body image due to the physical and emotional changes they experience. 

See Body image and self confidence for more information on supporting your child’s body image. 

Starting early conversations

Talk to your child about puberty before the changes start to happen to them. This will help your child understand what to expect and better prepare them.

Talking with your child about puberty

Having a child who is about to go through or is going through puberty can be challenging to navigate. It’s important for you to talk to children early about puberty to ensure they get the right information delivered in a safe and age-appropriate way. 

How to talk to your child:

  1. pick the right time when your child isn’t busy or distracted and seems open to talking
  2. find out what they know
  3. provide the correct information in a safe and age-appropriate way and correct any mistakes or misinformation
  4. give them the opportunity to ask questions 
  5. keep the line of communication open.

Supporting your child with puberty

When your child is going through puberty, there are some things you can do to support their healthy growth and development during this time:

  • Nutrition: during puberty, your child will have a bigger appetite and need more energy. Provide your child with a well-balanced diet and plenty of water. Foods high in calcium and iron, especially for girls who lose blood during menstruation, are essential for their bones, muscles, and blood circulation. Food and drinks that contain caffeine should be limited as they reduce the absorption of some nutrients such as calcium.
  • Sleep: during puberty, children start to produce melatonin, the sleep hormone, later in the day, meaning your child may want to go to bed later and not get up as early in the morning. You can help by ensuring they have a regular sleep schedule and get sufficient sleep. See Sleep hygiene for more information.
  • Wellbeing: there are a lot of social and emotional changes during puberty, so check in with your child regularly to see how they are coping. If they are struggling, get your child to talk to their local doctor. See Mental health for more information.
  • Exercise: encourage at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity or exercise each day to lower your child’s risk of excess weight gain. Exercise also helps increase self-esteem, lower anxiety and stress, and improve mood, which can be largely impacted during this time.
  • Privacy: your child will want more privacy and personal space as they experience changes to the way they look, feel, and think. It is important to respect your child's privacy and always knock before entering your child’s room.
  • Support: provide support and reassurance to your adolescent during this time. Remind them that changes are entirely normal. Be patient and keep an open line of communication to ensure they can come to you for any questions or if they are in trouble.

Caring for the body during puberty

During puberty, the body undergoes hormonal changes that cause the sweat glands to get bigger, become more active, and produce more oil. This increased oil production can lead to dirt build-up, clogged pores, and acne. Additionally, increased sweat production can cause body odour which your child may not have been previously aware of in themselves. Maintaining good hygiene during this period is essential to ensure your child is healthy, clean, and confident. 

Here are some key hygiene tips:

  • apply antiperspirant deodorant regularly to reduce underarm sweat and body odour, for example, roll on or spray deodorant
  • shower daily and pay extra attention to areas that tend to sweat more, such as the armpits, genitals, and feet
  • wash the face with a mild soap or cleanser or as recommended by your doctor or dermatologist
  • if pimples arise, avoid squeezing or scratching them, as this can scar or make them worse
  • wash hair at least once a week to clean the oil build-up on the head
  • wash clothes regularly as body sweat transfers to your child’s clothes, causing clothes to smell
  • if shaving, use a gel or soap, change the blade regularly (or throw it away if disposable), and rinse the razor every few strokes to prevent razor burn, cuts, or slices
  • for girls, always wash hands thoroughly before and after applying and removing period products
  • for circumcised boys, teach your child to always wash their penis every time they shower
  • for uncircumcised boys, teach your child to clean under their foreskin every time they shower and rinse thoroughly with water before re-covering the head of their penis. 

Speak to your doctor if you or your child have any concerns with these hygiene tips.

Dental hygiene

Dental development

Children start to lose their baby teeth from around six years of age. Adult teeth then replace baby teeth that have fallen out. From here, children will have some baby teeth, some adult teeth and perhaps some missing teeth while adult teeth are waiting to grow through. 

All teeth are important, and a lot of care should be taken to keep them free from infection or decay at this stage of development.

It is important that teeth fall out on their own. Pulling out teeth can damage your child’s gums and teeth or result in infection and unnecessary pain.

The permanent back teeth begin to come through at about six years of age behind the primary molars. These are sometimes called the 'six-year-old molars'. The permanent front teeth also begin to come through at about six years of age. 

Caring for your child's teeth

Your child’s teeth are important, and they need your help to look after them to keep them healthy. Until at least eight years of age, help your child to ensure they brush their teeth properly and regularly. If your child is quite independent, you can give them more responsibility in this process. From eight years, encourage your child to brush their teeth independently day and night. 

42% of children aged 5-10 years have tooth decay (dental carries or cavities) in their baby teeth.

Here is how to look after your primary-school child’s teeth to prevent tooth decay:

  • use a small, pea-sized amount of low-fluoride toothpaste until six years of age; after this, use adult toothpaste
  • brush twice a day with a small toothbrush that has soft bristles – morning and night is usually the most convenient time and can help set a good routine
  • teach your child to spit out toothpaste instead of swallowing
  • don’t rinse with water after brushing as the fluoride from the toothpaste is working to protect your child’s teeth.
  • remind your child to brush their tongue too
  • encourage your child to floss daily
  • book regular dental checkups every 6-12 months
  • lift their lip to check for signs of tooth decay once a month 
  • offer your child healthy snacks such as fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese and plain yoghurt
  • limit sharing cutlery, utensils, or cleaning items they put in their mouth with your saliva, as this can pass bacteria and germs that cause tooth decay to your child’s mouth. 

See the Teeth and gum care fact sheet for more information.

Sport and teeth

Sport is a great way to get your child active. It is also important to take precautions to protect your child’s teeth during certain forms of sport or exercise.

Sport and tooth protection

Children are often at risk of chipping, breaking, or knocking out their teeth from things such as contact sports, rough play, falls or accidents. Losing a baby tooth early from an accident is not usually a cause for concern, and treatment will focus on managing pain or infection to the tooth or gum. However, tooth injuries to adult teeth must be treated as soon as possible to avoid further injury, infection, and permanent loss. 

See the Tooth injuries in older children factsheet for more information, including treatment and management.

Sports drinks:

Where possible, sports drinks and sugar-sweetened beverages should be limited or avoided to prevent tooth decay. Regular sports drinks contain sugar, which interacts with bacteria in the mouth creating acid that can decay teeth. If your child does have a sweet drink or food, ensure they drink water and/or brush their teeth afterwards to reduce the risk of tooth decay. When playing sport, water is the best choice to rehydrate your child. 

If you would like further information about fluids, sports drinks or electrolytes for your child's specific sport, book in to see an Accredited Practicing Dietitian or a Sports Dietitian.

Immunisations and health checks

The best way to protect your child from serious, preventable diseases is to give immunisations on time and in line with the recommended NSW Immunisation Schedule. This schedule ensures that your child is provided with the earliest protection. All immunisations on this schedule are free if your child is eligible for Medicare benefits.  

Evidence of your child’s immunisation status must be provided for enrolment in primary school. If your child missed any immunisations in early childhood, talk to your vaccination provider or doctor. They can provide a catch-up schedule based on your child’s age, previous vaccinations, and medical history. 

Missed a vaccination?

Children who miss the recommended vaccinations on the NSW Immunisation schedule can still get them for free until they turn 20 years old if they are eligible for Medicare – but it is better to start a conversation with your doctor earlier rather than later.

Influenza vaccine

It is recommended that your child is vaccinated against influenza, more commonly known as the flu, every year. Getting the flu vaccine each year protects your child from the types of flu expected to be the most common that season. 

See the Influenza factsheet more information.

Health checks

Regular health checks with your local doctor are still important in the primary school years to ensure that your child's health and development is on track. Each child develops at their own pace. However, you know your child best. If you have concerns about your child, speak to your local doctor. 

Concerns may include, but are not limited to:

  • physical growth – overweight, underweight, overeating or undereating
  • movement – difficulty coordinating movement or finding regular movement patterns challenging
  • emotional development – are consistently unhappy, frustrated, angry, tired or anxious or alternatively have excessive and frequent mood swings
  • cognitive skills and thinking ability – difficulty concentrating, following directions, solving simple problems, or following directions
  • communication skills – difficulty with speaking, hearing, or writing
  • social skills – difficulty with eye contact, empathy or engaging with other children.

Your doctor can assess your child, provide advice and education or refer your child to appropriate services or professionals. You should also see your doctor if your child is unwell, sick or injured. However, if your child is experiencing an emergency, immediately call Triple Zero (000).

Last updated Monday 6th May 2024