Do you have children? Are they approaching the ages of 7-14? Then puberty is upon you.
Puberty is a time of rapid change, both physically and emotionally. As a parent you may worry about how your child will manage the changes and how best to guide them through these. As doctors, we often get asked for advice on how best to discuss these sensitive issues with children.
Tips for dealing with puberty
Here are some of our tips to help you through what can be a challenging time.
Don’t shy away from the facts
Puberty is caused by a brain ‘pop’ when the pituitary gland starts the cascade that results in children developing into adults. The pituitary gland secretes FSH and LH that stimulate the production of estrogen and progesterone in girls and testosterone in boys.
Puberty can start between the ages of 7-14 years, and end between 16-19 years. It is important to emphasize that the changes can happen at any time during this period and differences between your child and their friends can be normal. Honesty is always best, for example using accurate terms for body parts.
Tell your child what to expect
It is a good idea to outline the changes that will be happening to your child so they don’t get scared or shy when things start to happen. Give them advice on what to do if they notice any changes and encourage them to ask you, your partner, older siblings or their teacher for advice or help when they need it. Kids often think they are the only ones experiencing something – remind them all adults have been through puberty before!
Tell them they can expect the following changes:
- Become taller and curvier if you are a girl
- Adam’s apple grows larger and muscle development in boys
- Voice changes in boys
- Breast development
- Pubic and underarm hair – think about using deodorant as sweat secretion increases.
- Mature genital organs in boys, wet dreams
- Oilier skin and acne – and teach them to clean their skin regularly and use oil free products.
Periods – what it all means
Often when we explain what periods are to teenagers, inevitably there are questions about why periods happen. We recommend that you are honest with your children, but try to tailor your answers to how mature you think your child is – you don’t want to scare them off! GP’s can be a great resource to help you have this conversation with your child, so ask for help if you need it.
Prepare your girls for their first period. Unfortunately lots of girls can get their first period at school, camp or a friend’s house. Tell them how to manage this. Show them sanitary products before their first period and help them get a pack ready to keep in their school bag in preparation for this. Remind them that most of their female teachers at school have had periods, so ask them for help if they need to! If painful periods or irregular periods happen, see your GP.
Emotional and Cognitive Changes
Puberty can be a time of significant psychological change. There include emotional changes in the strength and type of feelings teenagers experience. There are often changes in social relationships between friends, family, parents, teachers and of course how they view themselves.
As teenagers reach adolescence their hormones can cause them to change their sleep patterns. They often need more sleep but this may occur at different times to what you are used to. This is a physiological change – so if possible, allow your child to change their sleep patterns slightly, ensuring they are still getting adequate sleep.
Mood swings can be normal as teenagers learn how to cope with their changing feelings and bodies. Try to be patient with your child and remember what it was like for you during puberty!
Motivation can change. School and family may become less important, friends and socializing may become more important. Try to allow your child to explore these new interests but set boundaries to keep them safe and on track.
The internet and social media can be a minefield for children. Learn about cyber safety so you can talk to your child about safe and unsafe areas and remain one step ahead of your child. Teachers and schools are often excellent resources. Many psychologists can be invaluable in talking to you and your child about social media and the internet, as well as the other host of psychological changes during puberty.
Puberty resources for parents
If you are concerned about talking to your child about puberty or are experiencing difficulties with your child, there are many resources out there to help you. Puberty is a time that can shape who your child becomes, so try and make it as positive as possible. Ask your GP, psychologist, teachers or school for help or advice if you need it.
If you are interested in learning more, Family Doctors Plus regularly holds information sessions for parents and their children about puberty. The session is run by GP’s and psychologists and can help equip you and your child with knowledge to face puberty with confidence. See our website for more information.
Many thanks to Dr Fiona Raciti and Dr Maria Boutlon, General Practitioners at Family Doctors Plus, for this article.
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