When and How to Talk with Kids about Puberty

Robin Pittman, MS, CHES – Senior Health Educator

 

About a year ago, I got a call from my good friend. She was crying.  She and her husband scheduled a meeting with their nine-year old son to discuss puberty and his changing body.  They sat down on one couch with their son on another in front of them.  They had a big book filled with facts about puberty sitting by their side.  As soon as my friend and her husband started talking, their son literally got up from the couch and went outside to play basketball while my friend was in mid-sentence. What went wrong? Why didn’t the conversation go the way they imagined it would?

 

Most parents agree they need and want to talk about puberty with their children.  However, many parents are not sure when and how to do so.  So much information about sex and relationships is easily accessible to children via TV, the Internet, and social media.  By the time kids begin puberty, they may have a skewed perception of it all.  Talking to children about puberty remains an important job for parents to ensure their sons and/or daughters are getting accurate and reliable information.  Here are some pointers to help figure out the “when and how” of talking with kids about puberty.

 

WHEN should you begin the conversation?

Silhouette of mother and daughter walking and talking.

According to Kidshealth.org, “by the time kids are eight years old, they should know what the physical, emotional, and social changes are associated with puberty.”  Today by age eight, some girls’ breasts are beginning to bud, and boys’ voices may begin changing shortly thereafter.  As parents, we need to discuss the facts about adolescent development before kids are influenced by unreliable sources of information, such as well-meaning friends who likely don’t have all the facts themselves.

Ideally, parents should initiate the conversation.  Don’t wait for your child to approach you with questions about his or her changing body.  That may never happen.  When parents break the ice, kids are more likely to start asking questions.  It’s important to answer these questions about puberty honestly and openly.

HOW should you begin the conversation?

Silhouette of father and son walking and talking

A lot of parents aren’t sure how to bring up the topic of puberty.  By making it a matter-of-fact discussion, kids will have a healthier perspective of their changing bodies and why puberty happens. There is no need to schedule a formal meeting.  Some kids feel more comfortable talking to mom, some to dad, and some to both.  Every family is different.  Do what’s most comfortable for your child.

For some kids and parents, face-to-face communication is what frightens them. Take advantage of opportunities when you don’t necessarily have to sit face to face, such as car trips, doing chores together, walking at a park, etc. One good way to start the conversation is to let your child know that his or her body is going to begin growing into an adult.  When that happens, there will be some changes to his or her body.  He or she might not want to listen, but keep talking!

Get Help.

You are not in this alone! There are several great books that can guide you and your family through these discussions.  It’s important to use books along with discussions.  A book alone won’t be as effective.  Books, such as It’s So Amazing, The Ultimate Girls’ Body Book, and The Ultimate Boys’ Body Book, are great resources for both parents and children to read together.  The Poe Center also offers a series of adolescent development programs for mothers/daughters and fathers/sons. These workshops help guide and foster communication between parents and children.  For more information contact Robin Pittman at r.pittman@poecenter.org or (919) 231-4006 extension 322.

Everyone goes through puberty.  You made it through, and so will your child.  If you’re not entirely comfortable having a conversation about puberty, practice what you want to say first. The more you talk, the easier the conversations will become, and the more comfortable your child will be with their changing and growing body.


Interested in bringing this topic to your school or organization?

  • The Poe Center offers family life and adolescent development programs for grades 4th – 12th.
  • Consider registering for Girl Talk: Mother-Daughter Workshop – Saturday, October 7 from 9 a.m. – 11 a.m.
    Girl Talk addresses the timely topic of adolescent growth and development and the physical, social and emotional changes that girls experience during puberty. 3-D theater exhibits, hands-on activities, movies and candid discussions help moms and their daughters explore a range of topics  from the workings of the reproductive system to the menstrual cycle to feminine hygiene protection & more. Girl Talk has been specifically designed with activities that foster and encourage open mother-daughter communication.


For the Classroom: Puberty Kit

Grades: 4-5 grades

Objective: Recognize and understand the function of items needed during puberty.

Supplies:

 

  • bar soap and wash cloth
  • antiperspirant/deodorant
  • sanitary pad and cotton underwear
  • hat
  • socks
  • sports bra
  • razor and shaving cream
  • toothbrush/toothpaste
  • shampoo
  • jump rope
  • plastic apple
  • A bag or basket

Directions:

  • Ask for 11 volunteers from the audience to help the educator build a kit of items boys or girls will need when their bodies are changing.
  • Pass the items out to the volunteers and have them stand in a straight line facing the audience.
  • Ask each volunteer to
    1) identify the items
    2) what it’s used for and
    3) if the item is important during puberty.
  • If the student answers correctly, put the item in the kit. If not, give another student a chance before the educator tells the class what the correct use of the item is.

Description of each item:

  • Bar Soap and Wash Cloth: Important for washing away dirt and oil. Can help with reducing acne. Applying hot wash clothes to pimples will reduce redness.
  • Antiperspirant/Deodorant: During puberty people may sweat more and develop body odor.  There are several different types of deodorant on the market.  Some are designed to reduce sweat (antiperspirant).  Others are designed to reduce sweat and body odor (deodorant).
  • Sanitary Pad and Cotton Underwear: These products are available for females to manage their periods.  Are sold in grocery or drug stores.  Good for girls to keep an extra of in their book bag.
  • Hat: Hats left unwashed can become dirty and cause acne on the forehead.
  • Socks: Socks need to be changed daily. Baking soda or baby powder can be sprinkled into shoes to keep them from smelling.
  • Sports Bra: Bras help to support a female’s breasts. Some males will temporarily develop larger breasts during puberty. This is normal and will eventually go away.
  • Razor and Shaving Cream: Some men choose to shave their facial hair. Some women choose to shave their leg hair. Some people use shaving foam while shaving.
  • Toothbrush/Toothpaste: It is important to take care of your teeth and gums and brush your teeth at least twice a day.
  • Shampoo: Wash your hair regularly to remove dirt and oil.
  • Jump Rope: Physical and recreational activities, such as sports, walking, having fun with friends outside, etc. improve energy, physical, and mental well being
  • Plastic Apple: Eating healthy foods improves energy, physical and mental well being. Work towards increasing fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while minimizing high fat and high sugar foods/drinks.