Two tips for parents that dread talking to kids about puberty: Do it anyway and do it early.
“Children trust their parents most,” said Dr. Lori Shepherd, a Marshfield Clinic pediatrician. “They’ll feel more reassured hearing about it from you than someone else.”
Start the discussion early, said Marshfield Clinic pediatrician Dr. Kathryn Schaus. Knowing how their bodies will change before it happens makes puberty less stressful for kids. Come back to the topic again when physical changes start.
Not sure what to say? These talking points will help you and your kids get through conversations about puberty.
Explain physical changes to expect
Most girls start puberty between ages 8 and 12, and boys between 10 and 14. Kids have growth spurts during this time, which explains why girls sometimes are taller than boys in middle school.
Girls often start puberty around the same age their mothers did, and boys around the same age as their fathers. Knowing roughly when to expect physical changes can be reassuring.
Girls may worry about their first bra and menstrual period, Shepherd said. Breast development and pubic and underarm hair come before menstruation. Sometimes girls develop body hair first, before puberty growth changes start. Girls usually have their first period between ages 11 and 13, about two years after breast changes begin.
“Everything doesn’t happen at once,” she said. “It’s slow and steady.”
Boys may worry about when they will become more muscular and grow facial hair. Those changes occur later in puberty, Schaus said. Boys will experience growth in their genitals, pubic hair and underarm hair first.
Hygiene becomes especially important during puberty, when boys and girls sweat more and notice body odor. Talk to pre-teens about showering and using deodorant.
Address emotional changes
Physical and hormonal changes during this development stage can affect kids’ emotions. Let them know they might notice mood changes, and make an effort to be an understanding parent when it happens.
Like physical changes, emotional changes are normal, Schaus said.
Puberty is normal
Remind children puberty happens to everyone, but not at the same age.
“Everyone’s body does what’s normal for them,” Schaus said.
Kids may be self-conscious about physical changes. Reassure them puberty isn’t as obvious as they think, Shepherd said.
Use books as a reference
Books can help parents get the right information, and kids can refer to them later. Shepherd recommends “The Care and Keeping of You Book 1: The Body Book for Younger Girls” and “What’s Happening to My Body: Book for Boys.”
“Some kids need to see the information multiple times before it makes sense and it’s not embarrassing,” she said.