Puberty can be an overwhelming time for parents and children as you navigate your child’s physical and emotional changes and challenges.
But puberty is also an incredibly natural and normal phase of life, not to be feared but to be prepared for. The best thing you can do for your child is to prepare him or her for puberty early. How do you this? By talking to them about their bodies and sex from an early age.
I don’t see puberty as a one-time conversation but an ongoing one. During the middle school years, these conversations will become more frequent as this is when most children hit puberty, but the best thing you can do for your child is to keep the conversation lines open about his body, what’s happening with it, and how to care for it. This way when your child does hit puberty, he won’t be afraid or ashamed to tell you what’s going on because he will feel safe talking about his body with you.
Here’s a sample timeline:
In kindergarten: Tell your child why he wears a bathing suit to the beach. Make him close the door when using the bathroom. This will begin to teach him body boundaries.
In second grade: If your child asks (or hears about sex at school), have the talk with her. Tell her about intercourse in a gentle and positive way. She will howl and run out of the room, but this is normal. If she doesn’t ask by third grade, you initiate the talk. Does that sound daunting? Don’t worry. I have a tool kit dedicated to this exact conversation: “How to Have The Talk with Your Child.”
In middle school: This is when most children hit puberty—though that age is getting earlier according to research—so it’s critical to keep the lines of communication open and inviting.
Tell your child that he will hear about sex and may see friends doing things. When he does, let him know that he can come to you to have his questions answered. Establish yourself as the go-to person when it comes to understanding sexual things.
If you have a son, make sure he knows what is happening to his body is his business and no one else’s. Boys become curious about their budding sexuality in middle school and many touch and fondle one another to experiment with physical sensations. We need to tell them to keep their bodies private without making them feel ashamed.
If you have a daughter, talk to her about menstruation and body changes. Be clear, matter-of-fact, and try not to act embarrassed. She will feel embarrassed and she won’t want to talk about it but press on. She needs to hear about puberty from you because she needs to know the facts and feel good about the changes. Don’t leave her education up to a teacher. This is your job. Be positive. Have her carry a Ziplock baggie with a feminine pad and a pair of underwear. This will help her feel prepared and it will prevent her embarrassment of going to the school office for supplies if she starts her menses at school.
In high school: Ask what your teen’s friends are doing. Are they dating? Having sex? What does he think about that? Should he be sexually active? Why or why not? When he answers, really listen. Then tell him why he must put the brakes on and wait for sex. The dangers of intercourse (with or without a condom) are too great for teens. I know this is tough news, but it’s the medical truth.
Don’t wait until your child hits puberty to start talking about her body and sex. The more we can destigmatize conversations on these topics, the more your child will come to you with questions, and this is much better than going to her peers with questions. Think of puberty as an ongoing conversation that starts early with talking about your child’s body and boundaries. This will set the stage for a much smoother puberty transition in which your child feels body acceptance and curiosity rather than fear and shame.