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How and When to Talk to Tweens About Puberty

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If you are a parent of a tween you may have grabble with WHEN to talk to your child about puberty, knowing that it could potentially be a daunting topic for them. Besides the obvious age pressure to get it done before it gets them to (lol), you might be wondering if there any other signs they are ready? And HOW do parents best start those conversations to ensure they feel great about their changing body.

The good news is that they were born ready. Think about it. It’s literally in them. You can’t really have conversations too early. With little ones, our challenge is communicating in a natural and age-appropriate way, so they aren’t overwhelmed or over exposed, and they can live with that information maturely.  (If they are under 8 focus on correct names of body parts, body safety and answering any question they have in a straight to the point way.)

The not so good news is that you can have conversations too late. Because our kids are living in a highly sexualised world, chances are they asking questions much earlier than we ever did. Talk at school and discoveries online can also prompt their curiosity.  And let’s not forget, a girl’s body clock also gives parents a very firm deadline to work towards (the average age for starting puberty is 11.5 years old). 

Research uncovers come signs kids are ready for more information, which may also be a helpful guide. However, you know YOUR child and the world they are living in. There are often legitimate reasons why children need education very early, or a little later. Each of our children have their their own special needs which may include trauma, birth order, disabilities, learning challenges or emotional maturity.

Some signs they are ready:
* Become embarrassed about being naked in front of others
* Start gravitating towards same sex friends
* Curious about gender differences, pregnancy, sex
* Begin to discuss sexual concept without any degree of accuracy
* Interested in knowing more about their bodies
* Ask questions
* Look at parent’s bodies differently

Setting yourself up as the expert as early as possible is the safest option for our kids these days. When it comes to a deeper puberty chat, I recommend working back about TWO YEARS from the time you think they NEED the information. Our kids deserve time to be able to process and ask questions before the event. Between the ages of eight and ten is a perfect time to make a start.

Remember too, schools often begin sexual health education around Year 5, when most kids are about 9 or 10.  At the very least you want discussions to coinciding with those at school.  Your guidance will bring reassurance and bring clarity to their formal education.

And now for the HOW….

And now let’s talk about HOW to start a conversation about puberty and in doing so, open up lines of communication that will (hopefully!) last throughout the teenage years. Below I have outlined thirteen practical tips to help you initiate conversations.  And if things get off to a rocky start, remember that the more conversations you have, the easy they will become – guaranteed.

  • Your parents may have handed you a book about puberty and said, “Come to me if you have any questions.”  Did you go to them?  Probably not. Chances are your kids won’t come to you if you use this either. Don’t leave it to them to ask questions, although I still think a book is a great addition to any chat.
  • If we want open hearted conversations with our kids about tough topics we have to be prepared to initiative them in an open-hearted way.  I personally think that they should never have to be the one who initiates difficult conversations, so always assume they need you and step into that space. Let’s be prepared to go to them, and in doing so grow with them.
  • Remind yourself that a high-quality conversation has choice, joy and safety. Ideally you’d like this conversation to have all three of these things, so come with a smile, ask them where they’d like to start and be reassuring (even if you have to fake it a bit!). Try saying, “I want to have a grown-up conversation with you – just you and me. Do you want to sit in your room or go for a walk?”
  • Let them know how long it might take. I know this might sound weird, but they need to know you are going to shut up at some stage! Try saying, “It’s going to take us about 40 minutes.” I also recommend spending less than an hour so you leave things are on a high. You can always pick it up again another time.
  • Try making a list of puberty related topics and asking them to choose the topic they want to talk about. That way they can choose their comfort level and entry point.  
  • Be prepared to layer over time. You don’t have to talk about everything in one conversation or one weekend. Start with the least sensitive information (like using deodorant) and slowly build up. When they start glazing over (or they hyperventilate) start again another day. You might like to designate a day each week to continue the chat.  
  • Don’t just talk about body changes. Prepare them for how they (and their friends) might feel about puberty. It’s easy to talk about growth spurts, periods and pubic hair, but don’t forget the emotional changes that come with see-sawing hormones and brain changes.
  • We want our kids to know that it is normal to talk to their friends about puberty, but they won’t be the best ones to go to when you need questions answered.  Sometimes friends come up with crazy, off the chart silly answers to questions. We want them to have all their questions answered correctly, the first time. Set yourself up as the expert!
  • You might set up a shared journal, as another place to have conversations about growing up! Make sure you have a strict turnaround time of 48 hours with your response. Tweens live in the moment, so patience isn’t their strength.
  • Be Mrs Nobody! Confidentiality establishes a platform of trust, so aim to be a volt during the tween years. They are watching what you share with others and how you speak about their personal life.
  • Notice when they just hang around. A dad said this to me once, “I know my girl. When she really wants to talk she will come to me and ask me about 20 questions, none of them of any significance and then right at the end she will ask me what she really wants to ask me.”  Kids test the water with the insignificant chats (to check if we are too tired or if we are interested) before they really open up to us.
  • This is not a fool proof tip and very dependent on their personality and maturity. Young ones who ask questions about growing up, body parts and sex and are content with relatively quick, to the point answers. Those who are ready for more info will tell you so by the follow up questions they ask. If they are asking questions don’t fob them off – answer them!
  • Important last point. Remind them about appropriate disclosure, and not sharing sensitive material with little kids or friends whose mums may have not spoken to them about puberty. With knowledge comes power and responsibility.

RECOMMENDED READING: You might like to check out A Girl’s Guide to Puberty and A Guy’s Guide to Puberty.

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