How to talk to your child about puberty

It might seem like babyhood was only yesterday, but by the time your child is in the middle of elementary school, they’re closer to needing deodorant than they are to needing diapers. We all know that puberty happens, but sharing the ins and outs of growing up with our kids can feel intimidating. If your kiddo has recently taken on a more noticeable odor after a hard day of play or if you sense the need for a training bra is on the horizon, you might be stressing about how to talk with your child about their changing body. Read on to learn more about how to talk to your kiddo about puberty. 

Recognize that it’s not going to be one conversation

Often, parents think they have to cram all the facts of life into “the talk”. In reality, most discussions about big topics should happen over and over as a child grows, with increasing depth. You don’t need to try to squeeze everything into one conversation and, in fact, kids learn more when you break things down into smaller pieces. 

Use real life to open the conversation

You don’t have to sit face to face with a PowerPoint presentation to clue your kid into how their body will soon be changing. Use things that happen in everyday life to spark the conversation instead. Next time you’re walking through the mall with your daughter and pass the bra section, have a quick chat about how she might notice her body changing soon and it’s completely normal. Or, when your son sees you putting on deodorant, use the opportunity to talk about why he’ll soon add it to his everyday routine. 

Ask what they know or notice

Sometimes, as parents, we don’t know as much about what kids know as we think we do. It can be helpful to start each conversation with a quick check-in about what they know or may have experienced. A question as simple as, “What have you heard about periods” can clue you into both the practical information they’re aware of and any beliefs or attitudes they’ve picked up from peers or the media. Another simple way to start a conversation is to ask them if they’ve noticed a difference between kids and adults. For example, you might ask if they’ve noticed how men’s voices sound different than younger boys or how some teenagers have mustaches but kids their age have smooth faces.    

Keep it positive or neutral

As adults, the body changes associated with puberty can bring up some big feelings about our own experiences or the attitudes of our family of origin. Puberty doesn’t have to mean the same thing to our kids as it does to us though. Aim to convey the information you want to share in a positive or neutral way. Don’t lead with how annoying it is to get your period every month or how painful cramps can be. Instead, share the information you want to share and let them come to their own personal feelings about what’s to come. 

Focus on the emotional as well as the physical

The changes that come to mind when people think about puberty are often those that are most visible to the outside world. While it’s important to discuss what sort of physical changes will occur with puberty, it’s also important to talk about the emotional shifts as well. Let your kiddo know it’s normal to wonder about their body and the bodies of others, that they and some of their peers might begin to experience crushes, and that shifts in friendship can be confusing but normal.

Be open to questions

One of the most important things a parent can do as their child grows is to be a safe space to ask questions and have hard conversations. Let your child know that you’re always available for questions and then do your best to answer them openly and honestly when they do come to you. If they bring you a question you’re not sure how to answer, let them know you’ll think about it and get back to them soon. 

Each stage of parenting has its challenges and, during the middle elementary school years, one of the big ones can be navigating new conversations. As you think about discussing puberty with your child, remember that as long as you’re open and honest, your child will know you’re there for them in the coming years.

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