Preparing yourself and your kids for puberty

Any parent would agree: There are milestones in our children’s lives that give us thrills and chills. Watching our children take their first steps, play a team sport for the first time, receive an honor from a teacher — the list goes on. What about the onset of puberty? For many boys and girls, this is happening earlier in life.

The typical age range that girls go through puberty is 7 to 13 years old, with the entire process taking three to four years. The average age girls start to menstruate (get their period) is around 10 1/2 years old. Signs of the onset of puberty include:
• Body odor
• Pubic hair growth
• Acne
• Growth spurt

If a girl starts to demonstrate signs of puberty before age 7, a medical evaluation is recommended to determine the cause. In as much as 90 percent of cases, the reason for early onset is unknown. Risk factors such as obesity and exposure to growth hormones could play a role, but that only pertains to about 10 percent of girls who start puberty before age 7.

Most discussions around puberty tend to focus on girls, but the truth of the matter is boys are beginning to embark on puberty early too. The typical age range that boys go through puberty is 9 to 14 years old, with the entire process taking three to four years. Most boys will start puberty by 11 1/2 years old. The onset of puberty in boys is marked by:
• Body odor
• Pubic hair growth
• Penile growth
• Acne
• Body and facial hair growth
• Growth spurt
• Deepening of voice

If a boy starts to demonstrate signs of puberty prior to age 9, a medical evaluation is recommended to determine why. Typically, early onset in boys is caused by a contributing factor such as structural abnormalities in the brain or brain tumors, exposure to radiation, inherited disorders or exposure to hormones or hormone-like compounds in the environment, among other factors.

How can parents prepare themselves and their children for puberty? By first making sure you have all the answers to be able to explain puberty to your child. This means all the answers! Kids have lots of questions and they’re not afraid to ask. Next, engage in conversations well before puberty has started and on multiple occasions over time. Finally, demonstrate supportive and positive behaviors in response to your child’s changing body and questions they may ask.

Tips for starting conversations

• Make time for just the two of you. Whether it’s father and son, mother and daughter or some other combination — make it just the two of you. Make these conversations a priority. Consider even going someplace special like a park or favorite ice cream shop.

• You know your child best, so prepare how you will start the conversation. Will she respond better to a funny, personal experience that you share? Does he open up when you start with small talk?

• Pace yourself. There’s a lot to cover, and too much information may overwhelm your child. Think through the variety of topics and pick one or two to cover in each conversation. Then make plans for the next round. The opportunity for conversations should never stop. Some parents find that once they get their child talking and more comfortable with the topic, the child begins initiating future conversations.

• No questions are off limits. Prepare yourself for anything and everything when it comes to questions from your child, and don’t shame your child for asking certain questions. Remember to provide straightforward, factual information and use correct terminology for body parts and processes. It’s a great opportunity to build rapport and bond. And remember, if you don’t answer a question, your child will ask someone else — probably a peer — and who knows what kind of answer he or she will get.

Resources for arming yourself with the answers
“The Care and Keeping of You” volumes 1 and 2
“What’s the Big Secret? Talking About Sex With Girls and Boys”

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