Every parent dreads it, and some completely avoid it, but it is necessary to discuss puberty with your pre-teen child. Do not wait until she comes to you with questions (some never will). Plan a quiet time to sit down and have this important conversation. Here are some tips to help you approach the topic gently in a way that allows your child to feel comfortable.
Start the talk early.
The best ages to have “the talk” is between 8 and 10 years of age. I know this seems early, but changes are right around the corner. It is best to let girls know about menstruation before they get their first period. Most girls start puberty between 10 to 14 years, but for some it may occur earlier or later. It may take a year or two after puberty starts for a girl to have a menstrual cycle. Boys go through puberty a bit later than girls, usually around 12 to 16 years of age, but they need to know what is happening with their body beforehand.
Practice what you plan to say.
Take a few notes to keep you on track. Hit the highlights. Explain that puberty means that a child’s body is changing into an adult body. Explain that these changes are driven by hormones, which can make them feel a little out of sorts. These physical changes will happen over a few years. The hormones cause hair to grow under their arms and in their pubic area. Boys will have a deepening voice, facial hair, and enlargement of the scrotum and penis. Girls will experience breast development, vaginal discharge, and menstruation. These changes prepare the body for reproduction.
Choose a time when you can be alone with your child.
Perhaps after homework or just before bedtime. Set aside 15 or 20 minutes to talk. Start by explaining that you have something important to discuss and that you will be happy to answer any questions that your child may have.
Use appropriate medical terminology for body parts.
Hopefully, you have used appropriate body terminology from a young age so that they know the names for their private parts. If not, let them know that there are correct medical terms for different body parts and explain those terms.
Use an age-appropriate book to help you.
The American Girl book “The Care and Keeping of You” does a nice job of explaining things for girls. “The Boy’s Body Book” by Kelli Dunham is a good resource for boys. Consider giving your pre-teen the book beforehand, ask him to read it, and then check in later that week to review the key elements.
Answer questions simply but factually.
Let your child know that it is okay to ask you any questions. Answer them as honestly as you can, within their level of understanding. It is not necessary to go into a great deal of detail. Just answer what they ask. Do not assume that the school system has this covered. The school discussion may leave out key elements. As parents, we are ultimately responsible for informing our children.
Try not to act embarrassed. (Yes, you will feel awkward.)
Understand that your child is likely more embarrassed by all of this than you are. They may feel very insecure and alone in their changing body. You, as the parent, need to let them know that you went through puberty too and survived. You can reassure them that this is just a normal part of growing up.
Enlist the help of your pediatric healthcare providers.
They are your partner in providing care to your pre-teen. They are happy to speak privately with your child and answer any questions that he or she may have. Some children are more comfortable asking personal questions to a healthcare professional. This is a great time to schedule your child’s annual physical exam.
Conclude the talk with a normal activity.
After the chat, go out for ice cream. Perhaps make the day special with an outing to the zoo. If you are chatting before bed, wrap up the evening by reading a favorite bedtime book or asking about school. Just finish the conversation and go on with a normal routine. After all, puberty is simply a normal part of your child’s growth and development. Embrace it and celebrate it.