Starting a conversation about puberty
Having a series of open and relaxed conversations before the physical changes of puberty start will help your child feel OK when their body starts to change.
You can use a three-step process to start a conversation about puberty:
- Find out what your child knows. For example, you could ask, ‘Do they talk about puberty and physical changes in health classes at school? What do they say?’
- Give your child the facts and correct any misinformation. For example, ‘Everyone goes through these changes, but not always at the same pace’.
- Use the conversation as an opportunity to talk about your values. For example, ‘If you have a wet dream, don’t worry – just strip the bed and take your sheets to the laundry’.
Sometimes, you can start a conversation by picking up on a scene in a movie or TV show, a book that you’ve both read, or a comment on the radio as you’re driving in the car.
It’s a good idea to have big or difficult conversations when your child is ready to talk and listen. During puberty, children might want more privacy and time to themselves. It’s about picking the moments when your child seems open to talking.
Also, your child might not want to share everything with you anymore, so try not to force communication when your child doesn’t want to talk. Your child might also be interested in talking with the school counsellor or a GP.
To handle the changes of puberty, your child needs support, reassurance and facts. You or another trusted adult can help by:
- giving simple, factual explanations of physical changes – for example, ‘Periods are when blood comes out of your vagina. The blood is the lining of your uterus’
- reinforcing that physical changes happen at different times – for example, ‘Some children start getting pubic hair when they’re around 11, but it can be earlier or later’
- using the right words when you’re talking about body parts – for example, ‘It’s normal for your penis and testes to start getting bigger around now’.
It’s also important to:
- reassure your child that puberty is an important and exciting life stage
- avoid words like ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ when it comes to development
- not compare your child with others.
Talking about puberty with gender-diverse children
Gender-diverse children might need extra support during puberty.
It can help to start the conversation by asking what your gender-diverse child wants to know about puberty and how their body will change. If your child can see you’re comfortable talking about these issues, your child will feel more comfortable too. If your child asks questions that you’re unsure about, talking about it together with your GP can help.
Your child might feel uncomfortable or worry about going to classes about puberty, particularly if the classes divide into boys and girls. If your child agrees, it can help to talk to class facilitators or teachers about how they can make your child feel more included.
Healthy lifestyle choices for children in puberty
In puberty, your child is coping with many physical changes. If your child eats well, gets enough physical activity and sleep, and looks after their personal hygiene, they’ll be more likely to feel OK about their changing body. Here are some ways you can help.
Encourage healthy eating
Your child is likely to have an increased appetite and need more food. You can encourage your child to eat a healthy, balanced diet and meet your child’s nutritional needs by:
- providing healthy foods and drinks at home
- encouraging healthy choices when you’re out
- eating healthily yourself.
Support your child’s physical activity
For good physical and mental health, your child needs at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. You can keep your child active by encouraging daily movement and keeping them involved in team and individual outdoor and indoor activities.
Encourage healthy sleep routines
Teenagers need enough good-quality sleep. You can help by:
- encouraging your child to stick to a regular bedtime
- encouraging ‘winding down’ before bedtime – try having no screen time for at least an hour before bedtime and avoiding high-sugar foods and caffeinated drinks
- making sure your child has a quiet, comfortable sleeping environment.
When you’re worried about your child and puberty
If you’re concerned about your child’s rate of development or about the way your child’s body is changing, talk to a health professional – for example, your GP.