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Teach Your Child About Puberty

Puberty has a bad reputation! The word calls to mind acne, awkwardness and embarrassing conversations. But the truth is- puberty is a normal and important life stage. It is indeed intense, but it is also relatively short.

Our bodies are programmed to change as we grow and age. This involves powerful hormones in delicate balance with one another. Puberty rivals only pregnancy and nursing in its complexity!

You will want to learn what you can about this amazing phenomenon. Being informed will make you far more helpful to your child as they approach and experience this time in their life. Remember that they will have no reference point to compare this to. Even though it may be hard to recall, you have had first hand experience, which can help you use compassion as you guide your child through this rite of passage.

Preschool

Preparing your child for puberty happens long before it starts happening. Helping your baby or preschooler feel good about themselves and their bodies will set the stage for a less bumpy transition to adolescence.

Experts recommend using the correct names for body parts. Using substitute words for anatomical parts and systems implies there is something wrong or different about those parts. Being casual but straightforward when discussing bodily functions will help your child be less likely to be embarrassed when the topic comes up.

Puberty is not only physical, but involves emotional and mental changes and upheavals. If you have been open with your child when they ask questions and have helped them develop a good self-concept, they should be able to handle the changes of adolescence when they happen.

It is not necessary or recommended that you discuss in graphic terms human reproduction. Letting your little one know that a man and a woman are needed to make a baby, and that they come together in a special way for that to happen, is probably enough. Children under 8 or 9 are not developmentally ready to receive the specifics of reproduction without experiencing fear or confusion.

Main points to address:

  • Help your preschooler feel good about their body.
  • Refer to body parts by their correct names.
  • Be open to your young child’s questions by responding in a matter-of-fact way.
  • Wait to discuss the specifics of puberty and reproduction until they are developmentally ready – at about 8 years for girls and 9 for boys.

Grades K-3

Children this age will ask questions indicating a growing awareness and readiness for more sophisticated knowledge.

Boys and girls go through different but equally baffling changes.

Some girls will begin puberty as early as 8 or 9; others not until 13 or 14. Physical and emotional changes will precede the mental changes that happen later in puberty.

Boys begin puberty somewhat later, some as early as 9, others not until 14 or 15. Physical changes precede emotional and mental changes. Your son may be ready for specific information about puberty and preparing for reproduction at about 9 or 10.

Kids need to be prepared for the changes they will experience. You don’t need to be an expert in anatomy and physiology. A simple explanation that lets them know what they will experience, and more importantly, how to cope with the changes will be sufficient. If they have questions you are not comfortable with, or that you don’t have answers for, search out the answers together, either in a book, a good website, or with a physician or nurse.

Girls and boys 5-7 will need less specific information. If they ask questions, explain that humans go through many stages in their lives and so will they. Again, reproductive questions should be answered in general terms at this age.

Main points to address:

  • Children ages 5 to 7 need only general information.
  • The onset of puberty varies between individuals and between boys and girls.
  • Prepare your child for the changes that they will experience.
  • Use books, a good website or your physician to help answer your or your child’s questions.

Grades 3-6th

Preteens will be experiencing some or all of the indications of puberty. For girls: body hair, developing breasts, adding height and weight and menstruation. For boys: body hair, changing voice, night emissions, and increased weight and height. Both boys and girls may develop acne and have body odor.

Helping children understand these changes before they happen is very important. Not knowing what is truly happening and why may cause them to imagine something horrible is happening. Letting them know that their body is “practicing” for when they are fully grown will ease their mind.

Kids this age may be embarrassed to discuss details with you. But hearing how they can deal with changes in a practical way will be appreciated. You may want to tell your child a little about your own “rite of passage”. Knowing they are not alone and that these changes are normal will help them get through this time of hormonal changes.

Provide your child with their own bathing supplies and deodorant to help keep body odor under control. Making sure girls are prepared for menstruation with sanitary napkins and a plan if indeed it starts when she is not at home will help her be less anxious.

Parents: Prepare yourselves for the emotional upheaval that puberty sometimes brings. The human brain goes through important changes at this time. Your child is beginning to think in more abstract terms and may question your beliefs and ideas. Regard them with compassion during this time. Give them a little space, but keep boundaries in place. They need to know you are still there for guidance and reassurance.

Main points to address:

  • Puberty may start as early as age 8 or 9.
  • Prepare them for the experiences they are likely to encounter. Share your own stories.
  • Keep necessary supplies handy. Teach your child how to cope with the practical aspects of puberty.
  • Remember that emotions and thinking are impacted by puberty.

Resources
Resources that can help you in your venture include:

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