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?