Talking to Kids About Puberty

Thinking about sitting your child done for "the talk"? Before you begin spouting off about the birds and the bees while your child stares at you in horror, take a look at some of these tips to make your talks more valuable.

What Should You Talk About?
When it comes to talking about sex, it is always better to approach your child first rather than wait for him to come to you. While it can be uncomfortable for you (and often excruciatingly embarrassing for your child), broaching the subject with your child sends the message that she can come to you if she ever has any questions. Of course, it is best to make sure your talks are age appropriate. Your seven-year-old does not need to know where to buy condoms just yet. So, what should you be discussing?

By age eight, your child should know:

  • The correct names for both the female and male reproductive organs
  • Where the reproductive organs are located
  • How the reproductive organs function
  • The basic physical and emotional changes his body will be going through during puberty
  • The basic physical and emotional changes children of the opposite sex will be going through during puberty

While seven years old may seem too young to be discussing puberty, some kids will have already started puberty by the time they are eight or nine. Although some changes, like breast development and facial hair growth, are more gradual, other changes, like menstruation, can seem more sudden. Therefore, it is important that your children know why their body is changing before it begins to change.

By age 12, your child should know:

  • All children go through puberty although it begins and ends at a different age for everyone
  • Once a girl starts ovulating and menstruating, she is capable of becoming pregnant
  • Once a boy begins to produce sperm and ejaculates, he is able to cause a pregnancy

If you haven’t started already, when your child is around the age of 12 you should discuss issues around intimacy and sex including your family’s values, abstinence, contraception and sexually transmitted infections.

In School
Most schools offer their students sex ed classes that teach children about puberty and the changes going on with their bodies. However, as a parent, you shouldn’t rely on the school to be the sole educator of your child when it comes to sex. It is best to view yourself as your child’s primary sexual education teacher.

If you know when your child will be learning about puberty in school, make an appointment with the teacher to find out more about the curriculum your child will be taught from. Use this curriculum as a springboard to start your own discussions with your child and fill in any gaps that you think might be missing from the school’s curriculum.

Parting Words
Here are some final tips to help you get the most out of your talks:

  • Avoid focusing solely on the physical changes during puberty. There are also a lot of emotional changes going on with your child during this time. Puberty can also breed insecurity about one’s body, so be sure to emphasize the normalcy of the process.

  • Skip having one long formal talk about puberty. Instead, have mini-conversations whenever you have the chance. Be on the lookout for segues all the time – if your son asks why you’re buying tampons, take the opportunity to explain about the menstrual cycle. Your daughter wants to know why the man on TV needs to shave? Then tell her how, through the stages of puberty in boys, men start to grow facial hair.

  • Another reason to avoid the long lecture about puberty: your child is likely to feel overwhelmed and intimidated by the subject matter. And this means he may not feel comfortable asking questions. The goal of your discussions is to encourage a two-way conversation; you want your child to feel comfortable asking you questions now and in the future.

  • Make sure you feel comfortable with the subject matter. If you are unwilling to talk about the topic and honestly answer your child’s questions, your child is more likely to feel that the topic is off limits for discussion. And if your child asks you a question that has you stumped, don’t make something up. Instead, find out together what the answer is. If you feel truly lost, then there’s no harm in chatting with your child’s doctor about how to discuss puberty with your child.

  • Avoid limiting your child’s puberty lessons to information from a parent of the same sex. Dad shouldn’t just talk to Junior while you’re responsible for Alice. You should both talk with your child about puberty and the changes in the male and female body during this time. If there is no Dad in your household, then ask another male that you trust, like an uncle or close male friend, to speak with your child.