We’ve talked before about making sure that you provide an open opportunity for your children to talk with you about sexuality. An important part of that conversation is talking with your children about the changes that puberty will bring to their bodies. According to the National Institute of Health, puberty usually starts between the ages of 10-14 for girls and 12-16 for boys. But, the National Research Center for Women & Families says that studies dating back to 10 years ago suggest that almost half of African-American girls and about 15% of White girls are showing signs of puberty as early as the age of 8. You may not have expected it, but if your 7 or 8-year-old daughter is beginning to show some early signs of puberty, that may not necessarily be unusual. Signs of puberty include:
- Breast development
- Mature body odor
- Growth of hair under the arms and in the pubic area
- Enlargement of testicles and penis
- Mature body odor
- Growth of hair on the face, under the arms, and in the pubic area
- Muscles grow, voice deepens
Changes in your body can be uncomfortable and upsetting if you’re not expecting them, so it’s important for parents to start talking with their children early about the changes that will occur. Since some girls are beginning to show signs of puberty as early as the age of 7, this means parents need to start talking with children about how their body will be changing at that age. Even if your child’s body isn’t changing, some of her/his classmates may be, and understanding what’s happening will help them be more supportive of the changes their friend may be going through.
A great book for girls that I’ve personally used with all three of my daughters is The Care & Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls, which is an American Girl book. This book is very girl friendly and has great illustrations. I’ve used it to talk with my daughters starting at the age of 7, and they were able to understand it and enjoy it. What I love about this book is that it doesn’t just address “sex,” it talks about body changes and how to take care of your body. Topics range from hair to skin, how to choose a bra and breast development, how to choose healthy foods and respond to the over focus on food and weight that some girls in puberty start dealing with, menstruation and more. Because the book is divided up into different topics, you can also choose the things that are most appropriate for your child’s age and focus on those. For boys, I’ve been told that What’s Happening to My Body and It’s Perfectly Normal are good books, however, I haven’t used either. I’d love to here recommendations for books for boys from those who’ve found one they really like.
If anyone has other books for girls or boys that are good to jumpstart a conversation on puberty, please share them! The great thing about books like this is that you can read parts of them with your child to begin the conversation about body changes and then move into answering their questions. Some parents are uncomfortable talking about this, so having a guide can be really helpful. Here are some more suggestions on how to talk with your child about puberty.
- Start early: Take opportunities when they notice an older friend’s or relative’s development to talk about how it’s normal for our bodies to change as we get older. You can talk about how the bodies of girls and boys are different from those of women and men by simply using yourself as an example. You can say something like, “my body looks like this because I’m a grown up woman/man and yours looks like that because you’re still a child. Someday your body will start to change, and you’ll slowly start looking like a grown up too. It doesn’t happen all at once, but a little bit at a time.”
- Be open: You want your child to feel comfortable talking about changes they may be experiencing, so open up that conversation yourself. Talk about how their bodies are changing and what it feels like. Let your child voice their feelings about these changes as well. They may feel embarrassed or excited or ambivalent, any and all of these emotions are okay.
- Provide support: It is vital that you provide your child with the physical things that they need as they go through puberty. When you start noticing that body odor, get them their own deodorant. Take your daughter bra shopping when she starts showing signs of significant breast development. Buy pads BEFORE your daughter starts her period so that you have some on hand. In fact, make a small kit with her that she can take to school that has one or two pads and an extra pair of underwear tucked discreetly in a little make-up bag or something similar. This way she’ll feel secure in knowing that if the occasion arises, she can take care of her needs.
- Early Puberty: If your child is below the age of 7 or 8 and is beginning to show signs of puberty, they may be experiencing what’s called precocious puberty. This is a medical condition that you need to see your doctor about rather than normal development. A visit to the doctor will help you feel confident in knowing if your child is developing normally or if some medial intervention is needed.
- Everyone develops differently: If your child starts showing signs of puberty at 7 or 8 and your doctor assures you that all is well, don’t panic thinking that they will fully develop in the next year. In fact, girls who start showing some early signs of puberty at the age of 7 may not start their periods until they’re 12 or 13 while girls who show no signs of puberty until 10 or 11 may start their periods that year. Everybody develops differently, so just prepare your child, open the door for conversation, and try not to worry.
Talking about puberty is an important conversation. You don’t want your child to be one of those who starts experiencing body changes and thinks there’s something wrong with them because nobody told them that this would happen! Body changes are natural and good, and your calm, open communication about them will allow your child to feel confident as their body begins to change.