My mom always tells me that, “To be a parent is to develop a high tolerance for embarrassment” and it really is true that parenting is full of uncomfortable moments. For some parents, talking with kids about sex and puberty is one of these moments, so it’s understandable that many parents delay talking to their children about sex and bodily functions. It is, however, important that parents be the people who discuss these issues with children, and the “puberty talk” should not be just one conversation but rather an ongoing series of conversations. Here’s an overview of when to talk to your child about puberty:
There is truly no age that is “too young” for children to begin learning about bodies and how they work. As long as you provide age appropriate information, your child can benefit from learning about puberty at a young age. Three year olds, for example, can hear, “When women become grown-ups, they grow breasts, but they don’t have them when they are kids.” Using proper terminology is vital and helps to prevent confusion.
Further, if you start talking to your child when he or she is young, this makes these conversations less embarrassing for everyone. Creating an attitude of normalcy about bodies and puberty will serve you and your child well when she is old enough to need very specific information.
Start Before Puberty
If you start talking to your child about puberty early, then you have plenty of time to make sure she gets all the information she needs before she actually hits puberty. If you’ve delayed a bit, though, the cardinal rule is that your child must know about puberty before your child hits puberty. A girl who gets her period but who doesn’t know what periods are can be frightened and horrified, creating unnecessary bodily shame. The average age of a girl’s first period is somewhere between eleven and twelve years old, but many girls start menstruating at nine or ten. Thus it’s advisable to wait no later than the ninth year to talk about puberty. Boys can wait a bit longer since there is no distinct moment for them that marks the onset of puberty, but boys should still understand the basics of puberty- for both boys and girls- by age eleven or so.
If you’re struggling with how to talk to your child about puberty, I’ve written an article about talking to girls about menstruation here. The general principles of talking to girls about menstruation can also be applied to talking to boys about puberty and other challenging, body-related topics. Most importantly, remember that the goal of the puberty conversations should be to provide your children with vital information. There’s no need to be embarrassed or uncomfortable discussing puberty, and if you manage to remain calm and relaxed about the process, your child is likely to have a better body image and be more comfortable with the process of puberty.
Child Psychology: Development In a Changing Society