For most parents, talking to their children about puberty – and all that comes with it – is tough. Everything from one’s personal experience, from humor to fear, can and does come into play, and some level of awkwardness is inescapable.
Still, by the time children are in the later years of elementary education – fourth, fifth, and sixth grades – they’re likely already going through certain aspects of puberty and have a right to reliable information about their bodies, feelings, and how puberty can change their lives. Parents and guardians are encouraged to openly communicate with boys and girls about this stage of life. As always, the ultimate goal is for our children to have loving support and problem solving skills.
How Young Is Too Young?
No age is “too young” to talk about puberty, though very young children, say first, second, or third grade, might simply be confused or disinterested. Further, sometimes an ongoing series of conversations is better than sharing everything at once.
Some parents think if their older child isn’t experiencing puberty or asking questions, bringing the topic up will frighten them or even ruin their innocence. The truth is, most kids have heard something on the playground, seen it on TV, or even seen things in their own homes that raise curiosity. The sooner you’re a known source of solid information and support, the less you risk them getting confused down the road.
In some families, body parts and functions are talked about from day one and this can make certain things about puberty easier. Of course, the change in hormones and brain development leading up to adolescence mean even the most educated children can feel uncomfortable, especially when talking to parents. Every child is different and will be ready in his or her own time. The essential thing is for parents to be honest and able to talk about sometimes sensitive topics.
Have Your Own Resources
Before answering questions and giving information, be sure you know what you’re talking about. I still remember when I got “the talk” even after all these years. Why do I recall it? My father handled it like a pro. He was open, sincere, and honest. In fact, I would use the realistic. Research may have changed since you got “the talk,” and new books might provide the details you need. Feel free to talk with friends and family who have gone through this before, and ask their advice.
If you are a single parent or guardian with a child of the opposite sex, the challenge can be greater. Of course, as a safe and comfortable source, you have an opportunity to normalize the topic and give insight a child might not get from a parent of the same sex. In fact, children should be educated on both boys’ and girls’ bodies, and this situation can reduce confusion in that area. It may also be appropriate to get help from aunts, uncles, cousins and older children if you need someone of the same sex as the child.
Address Their Biggest Concerns
Straight facts and clinical explanations are great, and provide defined answers. However, some of the most pressing questions might be less objective. First, feel free to say that you don’t know the best answer for questions about feelings, emotions and friendships. These vary from person to person. If a child is wondering if his or her body is normal, assure the child that it is, unless you have concerns that something is wrong. Even then, stay calm and discuss a doctor’s appointment.
Taking things a step further, don’t just blanket all puberty experiences as “normal.” Some kids have specific questions, like the size, color or shape of genitalia, sexual dreams and masturbation. Talk about the vast array of possibilities for all of these, and how, for the most part, it’s all normal.
It’s not easy for parents or kids, but talking to your kids about puberty is important. Emphasize health, safety and diversity, and be the reliable source your child needs.