You know it’s coming. Soon your child will begin transitioning, and it probably feels like it’s coming too soon. Though you might want to, you can’t stop time from passing, and these changes will start happening. So what is your plan? How will you talk to your child about puberty?
Buying a book and discretely placing it in their child’s room is a fine strategy, but it should be done in addition to not instead of talking to your child yourself. Your child is going through so many changes and he or she will need emotional support. Your child needs you. Avoiding the conversation now will set the tone for all of adolescence, so demonstrate to your child that you are comfortable discussing “private” or “awkward” topics and answering their questions.
First, explain to your child that puberty is the transition from an infertile child to a fertile adult. How tremendously exciting! This is the process that will make it possible for your child to be a parent and for you to be a grandparent. Explain that everyone goes through puberty, but it doesn’t happen for everyone at the same time. African American girls, for example, tend to enter puberty younger than girls of other races. Other factors besides our genetic heritage also contribute: The average age when puberty starts has been dropping worldwide, probably due to our diets and our exposure to chemicals. Interestingly, obesity and sugar consumption both cause puberty to start earlier, by a few months, and a strictly vegetarian diet is associated with a delay.
Next, describe the physical changes so your child knows what to expect. Both boys and girls grow taller, change body proportions, get deeper voices, grow underarm and pubic hair, and sweat more. These changes are controlled by hormones. The skin in particular is sensitive to the hormones, having almost an allergic reaction to them, which causes it to produce more oil. The extra oil creates a home for bacteria which get into the pores of the skin, and that’s why puberty is also marked by pimples. The hormones and oily skin can also lead to increased body odor, often caused by those same bacteria. To manage all this, it is a good idea to introduce your child to hygiene habits like showering daily, using deodorant, and laundering clothing more often.
You sons will change as they become men. Boys will grow facial hair and experience their voices cracking. They will get erections more frequently, often for no reason at all. Boys may experience nocturnal emissions, also known as wet dreams. Dads, share your recollections of what it was like to go through puberty. Give your son some ideas about what to do if he gets an erection or has a wet dream, especially in the locker room or at a sleep over or in some other public manner. Answer your son’s questions and let him know that these changes are completely normal.
As they become women, your daughters will change. Their breasts will begin to develop, and you may need to take your daughter to buy her first bra. Explain menstruation to her before it happens. Moms, tell your daughters about what you remember experiencing as you went through puberty. Show your daughters the supplies you use to manage PMS and your menstrual flow. Help her decide what supplies she wants to use, and make a kit that she can keep in her backpack or locker. You can also buy a first period kit to give her as a present (I recommend The Blossom Girl’s Survival Kit or The First Moon Kit). Help her mark her calendar so that she knows about when to expect her next menstrual flow, and explain that many girls are irregular at first. Again, keep it positive and exciting. Menstruation doesn’t have to be “a curse,” painful, messy, and dirty. That’s a male perspective, handed down to us from those who are not used to seeing blood. Let it be a time of self-care and female bonding. As a woman menstruates, a fresh egg cell develops in her ovary and will be ovulated two weeks later. The lining of the uterus is shed so that a fresh lining can be grown. Those days of menstruation are days of creation, cleansing, and renewal in the organs which give women the most amazing of all super powers: the ability to create new life.
Cultures around the world mark puberty with special rituals. Both Native American and biblical cultures gave women days of rest and seclusion as they menstruated. They granted freedom from work, time for self-care, pampering and female bonding. The Red Tent movement is reviving this custom. Traditional Japanese culture celebrates a girl’s first menstruation with a special feast. Jews celebrate the transition to adulthood with Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. Your heritage may have a ritual, or you might choose one of your own. Encourage your child to tell you when they notice a change, so that it can be celebrated in whatever way you’ve chosen. By talking about and celebrating the changes, you can help your child have a positive view of puberty and know without a doubt that he or she is normal.
Prepare your child for puberty by having many conversations over time. Lay a solid foundation. By talking about body changes and emotions, you show your child that these topics are not taboo and that asking questions is ok. If you’d like some support around having these conversations, please reach out to me. I’d love to help you clarify your values and craft your conversations.
In support of you,