Lets Talk About Puberty

Following on from my ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ post, today’s post is all about talking to children about puberty.

There is a little crossover between this subject and sex because puberty is essentially your body developing into adulthood and a lot of that is about developing the ability to reproduce. So for example, when my daughter asked where babies come from, the answer is about sex but might well (and in fact did) have follow up questions about how her body will change in order to grow a baby.

Talking about what life will be like when they’re grown ups is pretty normal for kids. Their future careers and lifestyle choices and often under discussion, although frequently changing as the child learns more about the adult world or simply changes their mind. The first time we had a real discussion about how her body would be different as a grown up came when my daughter saw me taking a sanitary pad from my desk drawer and asked what it was. I explained what it was and why, as a woman, I need one. I explained what a period was and why women have them. I explained that while they might not seem like a pleasant thing, periods are a sign that your body is functioning as it should.

A few more questions followed:

When would she start having them? Answer: Probably between 4 – 8 years from now (she’s 7). Girls start at different times, there’s nothing wrong with starting earlier or later.

So they can just start any time? You don’t get a warning? Answer: Yes but that’s ok because you’ll be ready whenever it does start. When you’re a little bit older, I’ll make sure there are always pads for you to use and you’ll know what’s going on because we’ve had this talk!

What does it feel like? Answer: Well, you can’t feel it happening exactly. But you might get an ache in your tummy. That’s unfortunately a pretty normal thing, although some women get it worse than others. You can use a hot water bottle to make it feel better or you can take a painkiller if it’s really hurting you.

That was about it for that conversation. She’s also asked me about when she’d ‘get boobs’. I said they’d probably start to grow at roughly the same time as her periods arrived but they can keep growing until she’s about 19.

As yet, we’ve not had any questions about puberty for boys. She knows they won’t have periods because their bodies don’t grow babies. I can only assume that at some point she’ll have some curiosity about how a boy develops into an adult too. Like sex, puberty is bound to be a subject discussed in the playground too. I distinctly remember a schoolfriend of mine telling me that when a lady decides she wants a baby, she has ‘pyramids’. The friend couldn’t tell me what a pyramid was or how they might help in making a baby and I was left pretty confused. Periods weren’t discussed with teachers at all and only when I was in Year 6 did a nurse come to talk with us about it. A friend of mine started the year before that, at age 9, and was totally panicked by it, having no clue what was going on. We were separated from the boys for the nurse’s visit and it was years into high school before we learnt about how puberty affects the opposite sex. I knew boys who had very little idea of what a period was. I guess my experience made me keen to make sure my daughter had all of the facts, although it’s possible that it almost two decades, things have moved on a bit!

Puberty is a big stage in anyone’s life. You’re changing in every way and it can all be a bit overwhelming, especially as your emotions can be pretty out of control. It’s my opinion that knowing what’s happening in your body well in advance is helpful in feeling more in control of it.

How are you handling telling your children about puberty? Did you wait for questions or take the lead to start a conversation?





Let’s Talk About Sex

The big talk. The birds and the bees. Where babies come from. It’s the conversation most parents dread. When their tiny innocent child looks up at them with their big angelic eyes and asks, ‘What is sex?’

Once upon a time, parents might have been able to put it off for longer. But now it’s talked about everywhere and your child hearing the word is pretty much inescapable. Pip was two years old when she asked us where babies come from. We told her they come from their Mummy’s tummy, where they grow. She accepted this readily.

It was  a few years later (thank goodness!) that she asked what sex was. I’m not quite sure where she first heard the term. As I said, it’s such a common subject that it’s quite difficult even to pinpoint where a five year old might have heard it. She could have overheard the news, a conversation in the street or indeed a conversation between myself and Husband that wasn’t really intended for her to hear (anyone else had that horrifically awkward moment when you’re discussing grown up stuff and you turn to find a child you had no idea was in the room, blinking up at you with a very confused look on their face?).

I find she asks about these things every now and then, perhaps a couple of times a year. It’s like she’s aware that she’s grown a little older and more knowledgeable and is ready for an update. She does glean a little more information each time. There have been issues I wrestled with. Commonly parents seem to tell their kids that sex is nothing more or less than how you get a baby. I can see the appeal of this explanation. It leaves out anything about adult relationships and sticks to something that can be explained in scientific terms. But this does not fit in well with our family rule of never telling our daughter lies, for that is what this is. Sex, for most adults, is not simply for reproduction. It’s an important aspect of most adult romantic relationships and it’s enjoyable! So I told her this. I didn’t go too much into the mechanics of the act, deciding instead to tell her that it’s ‘like a special cuddle only for grown ups’. Again, she seemed to just accept this and ended her line of questioning there.

Now she’s seven and getting to a stage where playground gossip is playing a part in the information she gets. I’ve made it clear that she can talk to me about anything a friend tells her, there’s no need to be embarrassed. Which is probably why a couple of weeks ago she asked me if grown ups have sex in the bath. Bearing in mind again that I don’t lie to her, I said yes, sometimes they do. I then asked where she’d gotten that idea from. She replied, ‘I don’t know. It definitely wasn’t [name of schoolfriend]!’ Aha.

I really think the key to these tricky issues is a balance of honesty and openness while keeping in mind what a child will understand at different ages. I might have skirted the sex in the bath question if a three year old had asked it, for example, and probably been far more concerned about where they’d heard such an idea.

Sex is a part of the adult world. It’s our job as parents to make sure our children are prepared for that world.

How do you handle questions about sex and adult relationships?