How to Talk to Your Child About Puberty

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How to Talk to Your Child About Puberty

You knew it would come sooner or later. The time is now. It’s time to have the puberty talk.  When should this happen? Should both of you do it? What do you say? Should “the talk” be different for boys than for girls? If surviving three daughters into their teens means anything (your guess is as good as mine), I am a veritable expert. Here’s what I suggest.

What age is best?

Of course, there is no exact correct answer. It is a good idea to have “the talk” before all those changes actually start, so take the lead of most elementary schools. Fifth grade is when they separate the boys and girls and have the puberty lesson. Age eleven is a good time, if not a little late, to talk to your kids about growing up. Ideally, this is an ongoing conversation that started when he or she was learning to talk and learning the names of body parts. Hopefully, this is just an extension of many conversations you’ve had over the years about your child’s body. If not, it’s definitely the time to open that door (just try not to fall through the floor laughing).

Mom, Dad or both?

This might depend upon the child’s gender, the comfort level of each parent and the overall family dynamic. Girls don’t want to talk about periods with dad, usually, but some are more at ease with dad, particularly if living with a single dad. Boys don’t really want mom to explain about pubic hair or masturbation (or dad either, for that matter), but it is a conversation you should not leave entirely to school. Some families have found kids are more comfortable talking to a trusted young adult, like a babysitter, au pair or nanny. What’s most important is starting the conversation and letting your kid know you’re there to answer questions (even if you don’t want to).

What to say?

So you’ve decided he or she is old enough and who is going to do the deed, but what on earth are you supposed to say? When I asked my eleven-year-old son how he thought it best for parents to talk about this topic to kids, his first response was ask them if they want to talk about it. Then he advised, be subtle. (This kid cracks me up!) He’s right, though. Don’t force this conversation down your kid’s throat and keep it light, at their level, and open-ended. The conversation doesn’t need to take hours or be very detailed. In fact, a bunch of little short convos seems ideal to me. Offer to answer questions that might come up, and then be prepared to answer them, honestly. I was relieved when my young teen daughter came to me with her questions about oral sex (about a scene she had read in a book), but I chose my words carefully when explaining, just enough but not too much! My point: be prepared for tough questions!

Boy talk vs. Girl talk?

Yeah, the content will be similar, but different. Your son should know what goes on for girls, generally speaking, without all the gory details. Your daughter should know boys experience changes in puberty too, but probably don’t need visual aids. No matter the gender, pre-teens, or tweens as they are called these days, need to know Bob Dylan’s wise and true words, “the times they are a’ changin.” Content of each conversation will differ slightly with the overall theme that body changes are normal, adults understand and are available to help or answer questions, and there is light at the end of the tunnel of adolescence (except it’s this sometimes crappy thing called adulthood with jobs, responsibilities, taxes and wishing you were a kid again).

You’ll survive it. Remember “the talk” with your own parents? It is okay to feel nervous or weird, or both. After all, you spent years trying to prevent your kids from talking about these “inappropriate” subjects. In the end, be sure to make your child feel like you are available, if a bit uncomfortable. Humor helps. Be sure he or she knows you will give honest answers. Don’t sugarcoat it, but don’t give more information than you think your kid can handle. When you have an older child who has already gone through, or is in the midst of adolescence, you may have another resource. Make sure, though, that your older child doesn’t give false or too much information to your younger one. You may be answering questions sooner than you like or find yourself clarifying some interesting misnomers! Good luck and call your mother with any questions.

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