Kids are curious about bodies- their own bodies and other bodies. They start asking questions even when they are toddlers or preschoolers. Although it can be quite a daunting task and we can be stressed as a parent explaining the right answers for them but giving kids the right and timely information can help them understand, appreciate and respect themselves and others.
Today, kids are exposed to so much information about sex and relationships on TV and the internet that by the time they approach puberty, they may be already familiar with some advanced ideas. More and more kids have started asking puberty and sex related questions and that too at a younger age.
In a country like India, where any kind of sexual talks in public are considered a taboo even in adults, we can imagine the horror when kids start asking. We either rebuke them, find ways of not answering or simply just shoo them away. The result, kids turn over to internet or friends to satisfy their curiosity and thereby falling prey to online predators or half-baked knowledge.
There is another flip side to this.
On one hand some parents even if they want to talk, they feel tremendous anxiety in taking up this talk. It might seem easier for them to avoid the talk all together rather than risk doing it wrong.
On other hand some may ask whats the need. When time comes, they will themselves understand or know. We had no one to talk to or no one discussed this with us beforehand, still we all have turned out to be ok. To those I might say, let us not compare our childhood with our kid’s childhood. There is an unfathomable and unimaginable difference in both the times with respect to technology, education, access to information and practically almost everything.
So talking about the issues of puberty remains an important job for us parents because as I said not all of a child’s information comes from reliable sources.
Depending on the age and understanding of the kid, these issues can be discussed. But today I will be writing only about puberty.
The “Why, When, What and How”??
Why I need to have this talk?
Puberty brings about so many changes (Acne, mood changes, growth spurts, and hormonal changes) that it’s easy for kids to feel insecure, self conscious or embarrassed (about their appearance). They might feel alone. The main worry with both girls and boys is whether they are “normal” especially if they enter puberty earlier or later than their friends. Many children have a decrease in self-esteem and body satisfaction while others feel embarrassed when it seems like everyone has gone through puberty except them. They go through major hormonal and developmental changes during these and coming years.
Though they might not be especially interested or embarrassed in talking with their mom or dad about this. But that doesn’t mean that your opinions and values don’t matter: They’re still looking to you for boundaries, guidance, and support, even if it doesn’t always seem like it. It’s vital and better for them to be able to approach a parent or trusted adult about what’s happening to their bodies rather than finding on their own.
Talking with them about what’s going on can make puberty less scary and help them understand that the changes they’re going through are totally normal.
When to start talking?
Ascertaining one ‘right’ age for all to start conversations on puberty can be a difficult and sometimes a misleading task, because of the various factors that need to be considered like what ‘right age’ means, nature of upbringing, the family environment, the child’s ability to understand, peer group influence, their body’s response etc.
BUT ALWAYS START EARLY !!
Don’t wait for your child to initiate a discussion about his or her changing body — that day might never come, especially if your child doesn’t know it’s OK talk to you about this. They might be looking to you to kick off the more difficult conversation
Since the toddler years, kids have questions and we try to dodge these questions as much as possible or cook up some imaginary story. Same thing happens when the child grows up. Either we don’t know the answer or even if know, we don’t know how to explain.
Most kids especially girls have started hitting puberty by the age of 8. That may seem young to you for this kind of talk, but its not.
By the time kids are 8 years old, they should know what physical and emotional changes are associated with puberty. Preparing them for changes that come with puberty before they happen will help them know what to expect and worry less.
Just as we try to acquire all knowledge about any new gadget before actually buying it, kids should know about puberty before actually hitting it. Talk as they enter the puberty bracket (wide age range and varies from kid to kid).
If your daughter/son is not close to puberty yet, know that there is no such thing as ‘too early’ to talk. Make use of the relative advantage and sensitize them in small, age-appropriate ways.
With girls, it’s vital that parents talk about menstruation well before their daughters actually get their periods. If they are unaware of and unprepared for what’s happening, they can be scared or confused by the sight and location of the blood.
Most girls get their first period when they’re 11 or 12 years old, which is on an average about 2 years after they begin puberty. But some might get them as early as age 9, while others get it as late as age 16.
On average, boys begin going through puberty a little later than girls, usually around age 10 or 11. But they may begin to develop sexually or have their first ejaculation without looking older.
Nowadays most schools take up small sessions on sex education but the lessons are usually segregated, and the girls hear primarily about menstruation while the boys hear about hairs and changing voices. It’s important that girls learn about the changes boys go through and boys learn about those affecting girls, so they learn to respect each other’s bodies. It is also a good idea to discuss these lessons with your child, since kids often still have questions about certain topics and they might feel shy asking in front of class.
What to Say ?
When talking to kids about puberty, it’s important to be reassuring.
It can help them to know that all this is normal and part of growing up and becoming an adult. Everyone goes through these changes (you as a parent also went through it), however awkward they might be. They also should know that the timing of these changes can vary greatly among different people, so not everybody grows at the same pace.
Girls may begin puberty as early as second or third grade, and it can be upsetting for your daughter if she is the first one to get breast buds. Sometimes the developing breasts tend to hurt. She might feel scared seeing that lump. Talking with her about these changes can help her understand it better and accept the changes.
Similarly, with boys, changes may start as early as third or fourth grade. He may feel awkward being the subject of stares from his classmates.
Not surprisingly, kids usually have lots of questions as they go through puberty. It’s important to make sure you give your child the time and opportunity to ask questions — and answer them as honestly and thoroughly as possible.
You can help them develop a healthy body image — meaning a positive attitude about their body. Think about what matters to you most when it comes to body image. Is it self acceptance and love? Or maybe strength and fitness? Share your beliefs with your preteen. Be a good role model when it comes to having a healthy body image.
Because life is full of ups and downs, it is wise to share both the positive and negative aspects of puberty, because then it will be more relatable to your kid.
How to Prepare for These Conversations
Now comes the difficult part!!
As a parent, it’s your job to try to discuss puberty — and the feelings associated with those changes — as openly as possible. You might feel embarrassed or awkward discussing these sensitive topics, but take the lead and initiate the conversation. Let your child know that you’re available any time to talk.
You should prepare firsthand and be ready to answer any question that comes up. The type of questions your child asks can give you a good idea about what they already know. This gives you an opportunity to correct any misunderstandings and to ensure that they’re going over any missing pieces. If you’re not entirely comfortable having a conversation about puberty, practice what you want to say first. Let your child know that it may be a little uncomfortable to discuss, but it’s an important talk to have.
The following tips can help you get started.
- Remember it is not a one time discussion. Do it in bits and pieces.
- Take time, make time: Find a time when you and your kid wont be disturbed or interrupted. Some discussions are to be held privately, not because they are shameful to discuss but your kid might need privacy to discuss it openly and honestly.
- Know the body parts and how system works: Learn the proper names for each body part. Don’t use nicknames or slangs for the body parts. This applies to both the male and the female reproductive systems. Its easier to talk if you know the subject matter.
- Give simple factual explanations about physical changes
- Relate: Tell stories about your own experiences growing up. Discussions can stem from day to day situations, so take advantage of the opportunities that allow you a natural way into conversation.
- Be an active listener: Don’t ask too many questions and keep it general.
- Be respectful: Never tease, blame, shame or belittle your child’s ideas and feelings. Don’t dramatize the conversation. Choose a quiet, private area to talk. Avoid words “right or wrong”.
- Respect their choices: Respect their desires to only talk to Mom or Dad about certain subjects. Don’t feel offended if your kid wants to talk to other parent and not you. Try not to force communication when your child doesn’t want to talk.
- Address appearances: Bring up acne, mood changes, growth spurts, and hormonal changes and how these things can happen at different times for different kids and how that is totally normal. Don’t compare your child with other kids.
- Compile resources: Create a list of websites and books that offer information about puberty that you think are accurate. Go through them first and filter out what is appropriate for your kid. Or else sit with them while going through the resources and guide them about age appropriate stuff.
- Be honest and open
Still if there are questions or concerns that you can’t answer, you can always ask your child’s doctor for advice. Don’t unnecessarily worry your children with vague comments.
Puberty calls for the same wonderful parenting skills as at any other age: being emotionally available to kids through their various phases of development, witnessing their ups and downs, and providing comfort when life throws them curveballs …Remember that it’s never too early or too late to start these conversations. Simply letting them know that you are available to talk any time might be enough to get the conversation going. The more you explore the facts together-the more normalized and less taboo these topics will be.
Just try not to give them too much information at once. Once the subject is on their mind and they begin to feel more comfortable talking to you about it, they may come back later with more questions.
The point is not to have all the answers; the point is to be there, when they need you.
Pic courtsey: QuotesGram
Healthy kids, Happy kids !!
Dr Garima| themoppetsclinic 🙂