Many health professionals recommend talking with them before they begin going through the actual changes of puberty. Reasons for talking before these events include:
- To prepare your young person for changes/occurrences they may not expect or are expecting yet they are nervous, anxious, or unprepared. Two events in particular are the first menstrual cycle (menarche) or experiencing wet dreams (nocturnal emissions). Some children who aren’t prepared for these events often think something is wrong with them once they occur. Seeing blood unexpectedly on one’s underwear has some young people thinking they are sick or dying. And waking up to a wet bed and pajamas makes some think they are reverting back to being a baby/toddler, when they used to urinate on their bed. Talking with your young person beforehand limits these thoughts and helps to prepare and empower your child with information of what to expect as their body grows and develops.
- To set the stage for more conversations. Think about it… talking about our body parts and everyday hygiene habits, including as we go through puberty, helps you and your young person communicate. Research tells us that our children want to hear from us, their caregivers, about these real life events. And having these talks now increases the chances that this communication will continue when more serious decision making is needed, including the decisions your child will make in future romantic and/or sexual relationships.
Many caregivers have this question. To help answer this, consider the following:
- Follow your gut. If you first need to take some breaths to figure out what to say, take them. Just like any other conversation we have in which we feel nervous beforehand, we need to take a breath or two. Also, you might want to practice certain conversations beforehand, in the shower, or other times when you are alone. If you haven’t spoken to your young person much about reproductive parts, puberty, and other sexuality topics, they, too, are not used to these conversations – therefore, give yourself and your young person time.
- Answer questions as honestly as possible. Children find out when we do not tell the truth. And, upon finding this out, they usually will not return to ask more questions of us. Yet, if you don’t know an answer, go to a reliable resource with your young person to learn the answer together.
- If your young person has not approached you, approach them by letting them know you are aware they will go through changes in the future and you will always answer their questions. Some families provide their children with reliable books to read. Also, remember to utilize teachable moments when possible. For example, when something is shown or said in a movie about puberty, or any other sexuality topic, this is an opportune time to chat about the topic.
- Remember to be patient and reassure your young person that changes occur throughout life. And that the physical changes of puberty are natural and normal.
- One last thing– attempt to prompt your young person with questions that allow for conversations. Instead of asking, “What do you want to know about puberty?,” ask questions like: “What are you noticing about some kids who are growing older?” or “How do you feel about the future changes your body will go through?” Your young person still might not answer these questions easily, yet asking questions regarding their thoughts and feelings may allow them to talk a little easier.
No. The physical changes that occur during the pubescent years are similar for all children. What will differ are the emotional, mental, and social aspects and needs depending upon the specific characteristics of your young person.
To help a young person with special needs, seek out resources that help to explain the changes to them. This may include your medical professional talking with you both.
Remember that, just like kernels of popcorn being popped, each individual has to “pop” at their own rate. Yet, if your teen seems to be experiencing delayed puberty, check in with your medical professional to ensure there are no physical concerns going on with your teen.
If your teen is the last to “bloom” in the bunch, remind them that everyone grows at their own rates. The important thing is that their body goes through the changes to become an adult, no matter when this change starts and ends.
Some children begin to show physical pubertal changes earlier than others. Some children may even experience precocious puberty – this means certain secondary characteristics, like budding breasts, pubic hair growth, and rapid body growth, occur before ages 8 or 9.
If you have a concern about early growth, check in with your medical professional. If the growth is part of your young person’s healthy development, prepare them for other eventual changes.
Also, be cognizant of how others may treat your young person due to early growth. Sometimes we, as adults, may see more physical maturity and think they are also emotionally and mentally mature. This isn’t always true. Remember that emotional and mental maturity takes time for young people to develop and that even though they may be getting taller, (almost as tall as you) this does not mean their brains are ready for adult responsibilities and decision making. Many parts of the brain, including the decision-making part (prefrontal cortex), continue to grow for most young people until ages 24 or 25.
In addition, some developing preteens and teens may receive attention that they haven’t received before. This attention can include being stared at and commented on. Some behaviors may seem complimentary, yet many can also be a form of harassment and inappropriate. Therefore, make sure to talk with your child about consent, healthy and unhealthy behaviors, and places to go for support and help. Also, remind your young person that their “gut” reactions are usually the most telling – if they feel something is weird or uncomfortable, then it probably is.
You are not alone if you feel challenged with these conversations. Some caregivers seem comfortable talking about anything with their children, yet some of us get “stuck” or unsure of what to do or say. There are many reasons why a caregiver may feel challenged, which include:
- No one modeled for us about how to talk regarding this topic when we were younger. Talking about human sexuality, including the basics of puberty, was not a common event in most households years ago.
- The constant messages in the media, including many television programs and movies, seem to portray these caregiver-child conversations as awkward and uncomfortable.
- We do not always know where to go for reliable, easy-to-understand information… yet you found this one!
- Having these discussions means our young person is growing up. This fact is sometimes difficult for us to accept, especially when we picture our preteens as the little ones who learned how to walk and talk in front of us.
Growing pains are another possible occurrence during puberty which can often be overlooked. Overall, growing pains are muscle-pains in which muscles cramp or feel achy. Some children experience something like this in their legs during their preschool years due to growth. They can also occur during the pubescent years and then usually go away after the growth is completed.
Some helpful habits to help ease growing pains include:
- Ensuring your young person is drinking enough fluids. Plain water is a great and cost effective beverage. For specific amounts to drink, consult a medical professional.
- Encouraging your young person to stretch. Perhaps you and your child can take yoga classes (in-person or online) together to stretch.
- Gently massaging your young person’s legs. Or, if you choose and can afford to, have a professional massager or physical therapist help out, including giving advice on simple exercises or stretches.
- Serving anti-inflammatory food in meals, including green leafy vegetables, certain fishes (like salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel), almonds, and tomatoes. Healthy diets usually help all aspects of growth.
- If you choose to, provide an over-the-counter medicine to help alleviate the pain.
- Remember to check with your medical professional if the pain is severe, seems to continue for a longer period of time, or is of any other concern.
Pulling away from a caregiver is sometimes a typical and normal transition a young person takes. Actually, becoming more involved in peer and friend relationships is a healthy developmental phase for young people to go through.
As challenging as this situation is, remember part of our job as caregivers is to help our young person become more independent. Some things to consider when this happens include:
- Remember to not take this pulling away personally. Young people begin to focus on new relationships, including those with peers and friends during adolescence.
- Think back to when you were younger. Did you also begin to pull away from your caretaker(s)?
- Still check in with them on a regular basis. Just because they are growing up doesn’t mean that they no longer need you or that you don’t need to check in with them.
- Plan an adventure to spend time together and connect. Talk about some fun things that interest the both of you. This adventure might be a spa day or a special dinner and a movie night out.
- If you are concerned about your young person experiencing depression or partaking in unhealthy behaviors, seek support and help. People you can turn to include those at your local school, your medical professional, as well as other community resources.
There are many ways to make talking about puberty and growing up fun. Here are just a few suggestions:
- Share a resource with your young person in which you both read the same section together and then talk about it. You can also do this with the BLOOM hub, a reliable book, etc. that exist on the topic of puberty.
- Find a podcast on puberty and listen to episodes as a family.
- Find basic plain body outlines and have your young person draw/write on the outline what they already know will happen to their bodies during puberty. Your young person can also add other changes as you both talk about them. Sometimes drawing helps us to start talking about life events.
- Have all family members write questions and comments about puberty on small pieces of paper and put them in a jar or small container. Then, at the dinner table, take one or two questions/comments out to talk about. You can also check out the “Chit Chat Discussion Cards” provided in the back of the book Common Questions Children Ask About Puberty or the TALK Puberty app.
- Remember that car rides are great for having puberty talks. There is something magical about being in the car together that illicit conversations.
- Celebrate the changes your young person is going through! Some caregivers have an actual celebration with their preteen or teen, their friends, and other caregivers.
This is something many caregivers wonder about, which is interesting: As children go through puberty and start to become more aware of the influences surrounding them, we, too, as adults can also be aware of outside influences. Truth be told, we have to do what is best for our young person and remember, if you are not the one to educate them, someone or some place else will– and where would we rather them get their information from?
If you are concerned that your young person may talk to others about your conversations, talk with them about this. Actually, you can set up “guidelines” or “conversation rules” for serious talks; doing this sets up expectations for current and future conversations. And, one recommended guideline is that personal information shared during your conversations stays between you and your young person, yet general information can be shared with others. Doing this also models respect and privacy, something our children need to understand as they grow older and enter into romantic and/or sexual relationships.