How to Talk to Your Child About Puberty

Regardless of when a child is going through puberty, it can be a time full of questions, worries, and comparisons: “Ethan’s voice has already dropped, so why am I still eating?” “When will my period start?” “When can I start shaving?”

However, early puberty can be particularly jittery. It’s never easy to be the first in a peer group to go through something, let alone something as confusing as puberty. The consequences can extend beyond mild distress: A 2018 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that girls who entered puberty much earlier than their peers face a higher risk of mental health problems, including depression, and these problems can persist in adulthood.

Kelsey Thorgerson Dunn, Child and AdolescentAnxiety Specialist atCompassionate Counseling in St. Louis, acknowledges that parents can be anxious too: How can I best educate my child about changes in their bodies? Sometimes it can seem like it’s easier to avoid a conversation than to risk doing something wrong.

“The point is, there really is no wrong way to start an open conversation,” says Dunn. “I encourage parents to start by asking their children what they already know or have heard about puberty. This gives them the opportunity to correct any misunderstandings and make sure they go through the missing pieces. “


When talking about puberty with a younger child, Dunn says it’s especially helpful to familiarize yourself with what she calls the “Puberty Rules”:

  1. Do not touch other people’s private parts.
  2. Do not look at other people’s private parts.
  3. Do not show your private parts to other people.
  4. Do not act or speak “like an adult” to make other people feel uncomfortable.
  5. It’s okay to touch your private parts if it’s alone and doesn’t take long.

As children grow older, Dunn notes, families can return to the discussion.

“There may be conversations about family rules when you’re old enough to safely explore other people’s private parts,” she says. “This is a great opportunity for parents to talk to their children. As a family, you might ask, “When is your child old enough to date, kiss, or have sexual touch? What do they think about the right age for these things? Why?'”

Resources to help

Dunn shares two resources she loves to help kids navigate through puberty: the puberty book American Girl, The Care & Keeping of You, and the YouTube WellCast series, which has great puberty videos ranging from introductory videos. for boys and girls and ending with more appropriate topics. for older teens, such as dating and loss of virginity. There are also videos on how to get out there, how to deal with embarrassment, build self-esteem, and get out of bad relationships.

The Care & Keeping of You covers topics such as bras, periods, and hair care. The Boys’ version of American Girl, Guy Stuff: The Body Book , also provides age-appropriate advice and facts from pediatrician Kara Nutterson on topics including voice changes, halitosis, shaving, and acne.

Hormonal treatment

“Premature puberty” is the period of puberty before 8 years for girls or 9 years for boys. If, for example, your daughter starts puberty at age 5, she may have her first period around second grade. Boys who experience early puberty may be shorter than expected in adulthood because they end up growing at an earlier age than their peers. This can make them worry about going to high school and looking like little boys.

In these more extreme cases, hormones can help. According to the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago , pediatric endocrinologists may offer treatment to suppress puberty for children who develop early: the child will receive injections every three months or an implant annually.

It is important to keep your child informed. In Rush’s words, “Explain that these changes are normal for older children and adolescents, but that his or her body is maturing on a different schedule.”

Start early

Louise Greenspan, a pediatric endocrinologist at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco, advocates talking to children about sexual development by age 6-7.

“Starting a conversation when the kids are young and maintaining open lines of communication can make the transition less intimidating, ” she tells NPR .

To deal with any discomfort associated with this topic, you need to acknowledge it and explain why the constant talk about puberty and sexual development is so important.

Puberty requires the same good parenting skills as any other age: to be emotionally available to children throughout their developmental stages, to witness their growing pains and to provide comfort when life challenges them … Scientific evidence shows that this kind Parental support builds emotional resilience, and this strengthens the health and relationships of children for years to come.

So, it’s not about getting all the answers; The point is to be there.


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